Young terror

Date published: 04 August 2014

Athletic 3, Huddersfield 1

JONSON Clarke-Harris’s world-class strike was the clear highlight as Athletic rounded off a promising pre-season programme, securing another win against Championship opponents who were successfully stifled for most of the contest.

His manager Lee Johnson rightly wants his star asset to register more goals inside the penalty area. But if the young tyro — who has netted six times in pre-season — bangs in another 25-yard shot at Colchester on Saturday, he won’t be complaining.

Three minutes after Nahki Wells’ neat finish at the end of a potent Huddersfield counter-attack had halved the deficit for Mark Robins’ team, up stepped Clarke-Harris.

Taking a pass from Carl Winchester on the right flank, he flicked the ball cheekily between a defender’s legs before unleashing a dipping, curling shot from the angle of the edge of the penalty area. Town goalkeeper Alex Smithies had no chance of stopping it.

Wells’ goal aside — which came after out-of-touch Danny Philliskirk had lost possession down Athletic’s right — Johnson’s men were surprisingly comfortable in dealing with what Huddersfield threw at them in the second half.

Timothee Dieng was imperious in the heart of defence and Winchester’s sumptuous pass for the first goal scored by James Dayton was the best moment of another good performance from a player pushing hard to start the season in the first team.

George Elokobi, the strong trialist who came on for the final quarter, didn’t have too much to do, while French winger Michael Rolandos, stationed on the right flank, failed to make too much of an impression.

What was particularly pleasing for Athletic here was the tactical flexibility.

Starting in a 4-3-3 formation, the team were starved of the ball for opening section of a game in which Oliver Norwood’s shot was deflected narrowly wide by a Joseph Mills block and Sean Scannell should have done far better than lob horribly wide of Paul Rachubka's goal.

The away kit on show was luminous, but the home side’s play wasn’t.

Down came assistant manager Tommy Wright, from his vantage point in the directors' box to the touchline; up went the decibel levels from the dug-out; up stepped new signing Jonathan Forte to partner a previously isolated Clarke-Harris; and down went Huddersfield’s dominance from thereon in.

Athletic’s opening goal came after a slick move. Brian Wilson charged down the right where he was fed by a perfectly-timed pass from Winchester which sliced open the West Yorkshire side’s defence.

His cross was missed by Forte, but racing in behind him was Dayton, who finished neatly with his left foot.

The second goal wasn’t long in coming. Clarke-Harris got goal side of Huddersfield skipper Lee Peltier, who hacked him down inside the penalty area.

Picking up the ball and plonking it straight on the spot, Clarke-Harris’s spot-kick was decisive but well stopped as Smithies dived to his right. Athletic captain Liam Kelly followed in where no Huddersfield players bothered — perhaps indicative of the visitors’ mindset on the day — and though his shot wasn’t the cleanest, it slipped under Smithies.

Huddersfield were curiously shot-shy and there was no better example than when Adam Hammill charged into the box but neglected to pull the trigger, with Dieng nipping in to effect a tackle.

Such sorties were few and far between. Wells’ goal came on the counter-attack after a strong race down the left from Paul Dixon, but Athletic showed a solid spine which bodes well.