Passionless play costs Huddersfield

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The fragility of Huddersfield's elevated position in the First Division was heartily exposed yesterday by a Charlton side, who, in the first half at least, fizzed with invention and flowing play.

The fragility of Huddersfield's elevated position in the First Division was heartily exposed yesterday by a Charlton side, who, in the first half at least, fizzed with invention and flowing play.

Despite a feisty last 15 minutes, in which Steve Bruce's men threatened to salvage a point, the result never looked in much doubt from the opening forays, when John Robinson and Shaun Newton made light work of Huddersfield's patched up back-four to provide a host of chances for Andy Hunt and Martin Pringle.

Had Hunt been able to convert either of the early heading opportunities offered by the wingers, and if the referee had awarded the penalty he should have when Jamie Vincent clearly tripped Newton in the box, a rout may have been a possibility, such was the effectiveness of Charlton's swift, close-quarter passing. The home side, who looked ponderous from the whistle, offered little.

"We were woeful in the first half," Bruce, the Huddersfield manager, said, "and we just didn't compete. A few words were said after the game."

Unwilling as he was to share those private concerns in public, the timbre of Bruce's dressing room diatribe is not difficult to estimate. Losing is part of the game, it is the manner of losing which matters and, quite simply, too few Huddersfield players appeared sufficiently eager to retain their unbeaten record until the closing moments.

"At least in the second half we had a go and showed some of the spirit I demand," said Bruce, who refused to blame a flu bug sweeping the camp. "I am not going to look for excuses. It was simply that we did not work hard enough from the first whistle. We were playing against a decent side in a big game and the result is disappointing."

Having already made the home side's back-line look leaden by back-heeling for Powell to cross for Hunt - the final effort just crept over the bar - Robinson repeated the trick, clipping the ball into the path of Hunt, who swept goal-wards and struck his 10th goal of the campaign low past Nico Vaesen.

Robinson's next contribution was even more audacious. Drifting inside from his berth on the left, he attempted to swing a pass into the box but, when it ricocheted back off Steve Jenkins, he volleyed home from 30 yards.

"It was a big game for us but we won't get carried away by the win," Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager, said. "In recent weeks we've played well for periods but not managed to hold on, today we did when they applied the pressure late on. It is our home form which we need to sort out now."

Matching the first-half performance was always going to be a tall order, but Charlton, worryingly for their long-term ambitions, allowed Huddersfield to muscle back into the game 10 minutes from time.

Vincent had made a number of runs on the left which threatened to unpick Richard Rufus's stranglehold on the activities of Clyde Wijnhard and Marcus Stewart before delivering the free kick which Stewart headed past Dean Kiely.

Goals: Hunt (29) 0-1; Robinson (36) 0-2; Stewart (79) 1-2.

Huddersfield Town (4-4-2): Vaesen; Jenkins, Armstrong (Horne, 49), Gray (Dyson, 19), Vincent; Gorré, Irons, Beech, Thornley (Donis, 67), Wijnhard, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Sellars, Margetson (gk).

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely; Shields, Rufus, Youds (Todd, h-t), Powell; Newton (Salako, 77), Jones, Kinsella (Brown, h-t), Robinson; Hunt, Pringle. Substitutes not used: Ilic (gk), MacDonald.

Referee: M Brandwood (Staffordshire).

Bookings: Huddersfield: Dyson, Jenkins. Charlton: Salako.

Man of the match: Rufus.

Attendance: 17,415.

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