An equaliser in the 89th minute denied Huddersfield Town their first win of the 2011/12 npower League 1 season at Rochdale this afternoon after goals from Lee Novak and substitute Danny Ward had put them in the driving seat.
Novak was absolutely fantastic on the afternoon and deserved to put the Terriers ahead in the opening stages, but after a late first half equaliser Ward had to emerge from the bench to net his first of the season and put the Terriers back ahead.
Unfortunately for the travelling horde of Town fans, the home side levelled the scores in the final minute of normal time through Ashley Grimes to grab a share of the spoils.
Town, wearing their full away strip of red shirts, black shorts and white socks for the very first time, started the game in the same formation that served them so well at Port Vale in the Carling Cup during midweek. Only skipper Peter Clarke returned to the side at the expense of loanee Liam Cooper as the Terriers setup in a 4-3-3 formation.
Lee Clark's men started the game well and one promising early run from right back Jack Hunt had the travelling army on its feet, but the home side soon enjoyed a spell of possession and Ashley Grimes had the first shot of the game in the 9th minute after picking up a loose pass. However, his effort from long range drifted well wide.
There were plenty of early fouls that disrupted the flow of the game, but in the early stages Rochdale striker Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro looked lively. One enterprising run saw him skip past Jamie McCombe down the right, but he crossed too early and had no targets to aim for in the box.
Gary Roberts - making his 150th Town appearance - was then flattened on the left by former Town loanee Neal Trotman; 'Robbo' picked himself up to take the free-kick, but at the back post Lee Novak just couldn't stretch far enough to tap the ball home.
GOAL - The Terriers then took the lead just before the quarter of an hour mark, with the in-form Lee Novak netting his third goal in just two games. Goalkeeper Ian Bennett started the move, collecting a loose ball and quickly bowling it out to left back Naysmith; the defender found the chest of Novak with a forward pass and the striker laid the ball off to Scott Arfield, who had made a great run forward. Scott was aware enough to see Novak's clever run and immediately returned a pass in behind the defence for Novak to run onto, and the striker made no mistake with his finish - blasting the ball underneath the goalkeeper to put his side ahead!
Lee Clark was busily encouraging his team to press the ball as Rochdale tried to fight back, but the large travelling army of Town fans were making all the noise in Spotland as their side continued to take the fight to the hosts.
Hunt was fouled on another great run forward in the 19th minute, allowing Roberts to curl another free-kick into the area. With everyone keeping a close eye on the giant Jamie McCombe at the back post, the ball was delivered to the near post and Tommy Miller went inches away from opening his Town account with a header - placing the ball just wide of the 'keeper's left-hand post.
Novak was winning a lot in the air against the imposing figure of Trotman and the home fans were becoming increasingly frustrated at proceedings as the Terriers continued to dominate. Peter Clarke was winning everything in the air when Rochdale tried to attack, whereas Naysmith was constantly free down the left when Town looked to build attacks.
Oscar Gobern sent a daisy cutter well wide of goal in the 29th minute after good work from Novak and Roberts as the game continued to be played at a fast pace.
The Terriers went very close to extending their lead in the 34th minute - through the unlikely source of Gary Naysmith. The Scottish left back played an excellent one-two with Novak on the overlap to advance into the penalty area and took the ball around the 'keeper, but his touch ran too far and a defender got a vital foot to the ball. Rebounds fell to Novak and then Arfield, but first goalkeeper Kean and then a defender got vital blocks in on the line to keep the score at 1-0.
BOOKING - Town were out-battling their hosts as the final ten minutes of the half approached, but Oscar Gobern picked up a very odd looking yellow card for what was seemingly a clean tackle in the midfield area. The Town bench and players were not happy with the referee - and made no secret of it!
Roberts then switched with Donal McDermott and delivered an excellent cross from the right side that evaded the centre back at the near post, but unfortunately for the men in red it was also just too far ahead of Novak and the ball ran dead.
The Dale tried to fight back in the closing stages of the half - and managed to equalise with their first shot on target.
GOAL - The equaliser came in the 43rd minute, with the lively Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro scoring it. The striker found space just inside the Town area, just to the right of Ian Bennett's goal, and when a pass hit a defender and looped into his path he steadied himself before sending a low volley past the helpless 'keeper from 15 yards.
The home side were buoyed and finished the half strongly, with Ashley Grimes shooting wide from 20 yards with teammate Nicky Adams well positioned to his right.
HALF-TIME: ROCHDALE 1 HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 1
Town were back on the attack early in the second half and good work from Hunt, Arfield and Miller resulted in McDermott having a decent-looking shot deflected wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Novak then went close to finding Arfield in the area with a looping through-pass, but the Rochdale goalkeeper was quickly off his line to smother the danger.
Town went very close to regaining the lead in the 56th minute through a real 'route one' move - a long free-kick forward from Ian Bennett dropped right to the feet of Gary Roberts on the edge of the box, but his instant right-footed volley was fisted away strongly by the goalkeeper.
SUB - Lee Clark made his first substitution in the 58th minute, with McDermott replaced down the right by Danny Ward.
Novak was still winning everything in the air for his side, but the second balls just weren't running for the Terriers.
However, Ward was almost instantly into the action - allowing a right sided throw-in from Hunt to run across his body onto his favoured left foot before shooting wide of goal. Despite the miss, the Terriers were back on top.
GOAL - The Terriers then took the lead in the 69th minute, with Danny Ward scoring his first of the season to put his side ahead. It was another good passing move that resulted in the goal, with Miller sliding a low pass to the left to put Novak in by the dead ball line; the striker looked up before sliding the ball across the face of goal, where Ward had drifted infield to bundle the ball over the line from close range.
Impressive Rochdale midfielder Nicky Adams then curled a shot wide of Bennett's far post in reply before Oscar Gobern collected a short pass from Tommy Miller on the edge of the box and forced Kean to tip his curling shot over the crossbar.
SUB - Rochdale made their first change in the 75th minute, with Joe Thompson replacing Jason Kennedy.
Some great play between Roberts, Miller and Hunt saw the young right back fly past Adams down the right upon the restart and his cross found Lee Novak - but his acrobatic overhead kick was never going to seriously trouble the goalie.
Ward then failed to spot Scott Arfield in acres of space down the right on a speedy Town break and the chance evaporated. Roberts did similarly in the 83rd minute - opting to send a curler at goal that was easy pickings for the goalkeeper with Jack Hunt overlapping on his outside.
Adams shot wide from range as the final five minutes approached before Novak fared similarly at the other end.
Rochdale manager Steve Eyre threw big Neal Trotman into a makeshift striker role as the closing minutes approached, but it was another source that scored the leveller.
GOAL - A mistake from Town's Gary Roberts led to a late equaliser for the home side. The winger tried to chest the ball down inside his own half but his loose control presented the ball to Rochdale skipper Gary Jones, who played a through pass to Ashley Grimes; the former Manchester City youth teamer stepped infield onto his right foot and curled the ball past Bennett and into the far corner to break Town hearts.
FULL-TIME: ROCHDALE 2 HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 2
Town's team (4-3-3):
Ian Bennett; Gary Naysmith, Peter Clarke (c), Jamie McCombe, Jack Hunt; Oscar Gobern, Scott Arfield, Tommy Miller; Gary Roberts, Lee Novak, Donal McDermott (Danny Ward 58)
Unused Subs: Nick Colgan, Calum Woods, Antony Kay, Jordan Rhodes
Town Booking: Oscar Gobern (34)