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Town’s one and only pre-season fixture on home soil ended in victory as French giants Olympique Lyonnais provided the Terriers with another tough test as the build-up to the new Premier League season continues.
Terence Kongolo and Laurent Depoitre (2) contributed to a 3-1 success after Maxwel Cornet had given the Champions League participants an early second-half lead, and although the victory will no doubt boost morale levels having overcome top quality opposition, another key outcome of the evening saw the majority of the squad experience a healthy amount of playing time to enhance the conditioning ahead of what is going to be yet another demanding campaign.
An initial slice of action at the John Smith’s Stadium arrived on the back of several friendly fixtures against Dynamo Dresden and SV Darmstadt in the recent trip to Germany, which also saw Town compete in the Interwetten Cup in Essen, where that overall match fitness was crucially built in clashes with Real Betis and Werder Bremen.
As expected, the Head Coach made nine changes at half-time, as summer additions Ben Hamer, Ramadan Sobhi and Adama Diakhaby were all named in the starting XI; further recruits Juninho Bacuna and Erik Durm weren’t a part of the 25-man matchday team. Jonas Lössl and Mathias Zanka also played no part in HD1 having only just returned from World Cup duty with Denmark, whereas Aaron Mooy started for the first time throughout this pre-season campaign following his World Cup adventure with Australia.
It couldn’t have been a nicer evening for the visit of the French side, who secured automatic qualification to the UEFA Champions League group-stage thanks to a third placed Ligue 1 finish in 2017/18.
A highly successful Club on the French domestic scene, with seven top-flight titles, five French Cup triumphs and the sole League Cup victory to their name, contained a number of hot prospects in their squad, as well as former Premier League stars Bertrand Traoré, Rafael Dasilva and Memphis Depay.
Ahead of kick-off, both sides and the large crowd inside the John Smith’s Stadium impeccably observed a minute’s applause to celebrate the life of Town legend, Ray Wilson MBE.
And as proceedings got under way, Town looked comfortable in possession. Ramadan Sobhi stretched his legs to latch onto the end of a ball over the top from one of last season’s defensive lynchpins Christopher Schindler, but the winger – who joined from Stoke City whilst embarking on his own World Cup journey with Egypt – came inches from bearing down on goal before an on-rushing Mathieu Gorgelin effectively cleared his lines.
It was evident from the start that Lyon possessed a sublime amount of pace, and it wouldn’t take long for that to come to the fore.
Jon Stanković mis-timed a sliding clearance on half-way, a slip which alLöwed Dutch forward Memphis Depay to race away with an electric burst of acceleration. Despite a number of Blue and Whites scrambling back, the ex-Manchester United player had a clear path to goal with only Ben Hamer to beat.
However, it would be Town’s goalkeeping recruit from Leicester City that kept the scores level by showing excellent agility to dart off the line and smother Depay, who took far too long to initiate an effort.
Depay folLöwed up with another chance shortly after, receiving a terrific reverse ball from Bertrand Traore, who himself had used lightning acceleration to win back possession in the central areas before driving with purpose at the heart of the Town backline.
Events were certainly allowing the only home friendly encounter to be of an entertaining nature. Of course, what was crucial to the Terriers was to ensure that those vital minutes against quality opposition instilled increasing fitness levels ahead of the season opener against Chelsea on Saturday 11 August.
Adama Diakhaby will have known all about the evening’s visitors having appeared for AS Monaco – a rival of Lyon’s in the French top division – in 2017/18, and one of Town’s own pacey threats announced himself on the Kirklees stage in powerful fashion.
The Frenchman – who could also represent Senegal at International level – breezed past opposition skipper Antonio Marcelo with an exceptional burst, but the move failed to materialise as Diakhaby opted for un-selfish play instead of taking the shot on himself; an arriving cavalry of Steve Mounié and Elias Kachunga came within a whisker of causing Gorgelin real trouble.
Kachunga once more saw a half-chance fall his way, with the resulting effort only falling straight into the arms of Gorgelin following Florent Hadergjonaj’s cross from the right flank.
Both Town and Bruno Genesio’s Lyon seemed to have impressive levels of energy already in the tank. The contest was physical, and a real battle especially in the central midfield sections. Nonetheless, Aaron Mooy continued where he left off last season as him industrious self in possession of the ball, alongside Abdelhamid Sabiri who was putting in an excellent shift to work his openings.
The identities of each outfit had refreshing similarities. Knock the ball around with intent, with necessary patience to work scarce opportunities. But as soon as possession was ultimately lost, both were quick to instigate a defensive press.
Steve Mounié had been quiet in terms of sightings in-front of goal, with good hold-up play and physicality against the demanding Lyon back-four being the mainstay of a so-far determined performance.
The Benin striker had a great chance to nod his side in-front. Chris Löwe’s pin-point delivery from the left channel found the number 24 in the box. As with many occasions last season, you would’ve put your money on Steve to power home a trademark headed finish. In fairness, Gorgelin got down well to ensure there was no possibility of the attempt potentially squeezing into the back of the net.
In terms of a result, Memphis Depay had come closest to breaking the deadlock thanks to a combination of wayward finishing and an inspired Ben Hamer.
As the first 45 drew to a close, Hamer produced two fine saves which kept the clash goalless at the break.
The first of Hamer’s key stops saw Tanguy Ndombele’s corner-bound strike from the edge of the area tipped round the post on the stretch, before ex-Chelsea striker Bertrand Traore was denied by strong wrists having lashed with venom in a bid to catch Hamer out at the near post.
A number of changes were made at half-time for the Terriers as the whole group looked to capitalise on that elusive increase of fitness; among the replacements was Terence Kongolo, a first appearance back on home turf following a permanent move from AS Monaco in June.
As the second-half commenced with an upbeat tempo, Lyon took the lead through Maxwel Cornet.
Just minutes earlier, another of the half-time substitutes, Philip Billing, found Gorgelin in the way yet again as the ‘keeper comfortably saved from distance.
The opener arrived courtesy of Cornet showing good composure to round Hamer and slot home, but that opener may well have come seconds earlier had Bertrand Traore not side-footed wide after being one-on-one from a central through ball that seemed to split the new defensive partnership of Kongolo and Michael Hefele.
The work rate was there for all to see from David Wagner’s men; Jonathan Hogg especially brought extra combative qualities to the play, as Lyon found it difficult to completely control the match down to sheer Town defensive persistence.
After the visitors had made 10 changes themselves, one of them the appropriately named Martin Terrier, Town managed to equalise.
Philip Billing leapt highest at the far post ahead of Gorgelin to knock-down invitingly for the unlikely figure of Terence Kongolo. The Dutchman duly tucked home to make it 1-1 on the night.
Attacking styles on other side made for a thoroughly entertaining friendly. Chances may have been few and far between, but the effort levels were impressive to say the least. Laurent Depoitre – another man introduced at the interval – was definitely making his presence felt up top, especially when matched up with hot prospect Oumar Solet.
Referee Anthony Taylor had little to do in the way of important decisions, and the man with the whistle waved away any shouts of a Town penalty from Collin Quaner going to the ground in the area under pressure from a cluster of Lyon defenders.
As a thoroughly enjoyable game entered the last 10 minutes, Laurent Depoitre would take centre stage by netting twice in a matter of minutes. Lolo’s first was certainly a deserved end product of a tremendously innovative Alex Pritchard assist. ‘Pritch’ was sharp to pounce on a sloppy pass out from the back, and excellent decision-making and vision resulted in Depoitre receiving a perfectly weighted chip on a sixpence inches inside the box. The Belgian couldn’t miss the rebound after Gorgelin scrambled away, completing the score-line turn around in the process.
Rounding off what had been a hard-working performance in every single department, Depoitre gallivanted his way through the Lyon half having taken Philip Billing’s pass in his stride and completed his break away by firing expertly past Gorgelin to make it 3-1.
A superbly positive result aside, David Wagner will undoubtedly be very happy with his side’s application and performance against one of Europe’s elite.
The Club now heads on a pre-season tour of Austria, with games against Italian Serie A outfit Bologna (Brixen im Thale, Tuesday 31st July, 5pm GMT) and Bundesliga side RB Leipzig (Schwaz, Friday 3rd August, 4pm GMT).
TOWN’S STARTING XI
Ben Hamer; Chris Löwe (Scott Malone, 46′), Christopher Schindler (c) (Terence Kongolo, 46′), Jon Gorenc Stanković (Michael Hefele, 46′), Florent Hadergjonaj (Tommy Smith, 46′); Abdelhamid Sabiri (Philip Billing, 46′), Aaron Mooy (Jonathan Hogg, 46′); Ramadan Sobhi (Rajiv van La Parra, 46′), Elias Kachunga (Alex Pritchard, 46′), Adama Diakhaby (Collin Quaner, 54′); Steve Mounié (Laurent Depoitre, 46′)
Joel Coleman, Jordan Williams, Lewis O’Brien, Rarmani Edmonds-Green
LYON’S STARTING XI
Mathieu Gorgelin; Rafael Dasilva (Ferland Mendy, 62′), Maxence Caqueret (Jérémy Morel, 62′), Antonio Marcelo (c)(Houssem Aouar, 66′), Kenny Tete (Oumar Solet, 66′); Tanguy Ndombele (Jordan Ferri, 62′), Cheikh Diop (Leo Dubois, 66′), Christopher Pereira (Lucas Tousart, 62′); Memphis Depay (Martin Terrier, 46′), Maxwel Cornet, Bertrand Traoré (Marcelo Diaz, 62′)