Town were hoping to start 2013 in a positive manner in a difficult-looking tie at Leicester City after a run of nine games without a win – but were put to the sword by their clinical hosts in a below-par performance.
The Foxes dominated the first half and went into the interval three goals to the good thanks largely to their debutant Chris Wood, but Nigel Pearson’s men weren’t finished and French winger Anthony Knockaert netted a brace as they scored six – with Scott Arfield’s first goal of the season a mere consolation.
As impressive as Leicester were, the Terriers were poor, often gifting their opponents possession in key areas and being punished for it.
Town lined up in a new 4-5-1 shape to start the game, with Hammill and Novak flanking former Foxes loanee Vaughan in attack, but the hosts flew out of the blocks and forced Town onto the back foot. New boy Chris Wood – who had put Town to the sword on loan at Millwall earlier in the season – was at the heart of everything and he forced a goal-line clearance from a Town player in the opening 20 seconds of the game.
Striker Vaughan fired over from an acute angle soon after, but it was all Leicester in the opening quarter of an hour. Wood tested Smithies with another low snapshot inside the fourth minute and although the ‘keeper saved with his legs, the rebound fell to Marshall and it took a good block from Jack Hunt to deflect his follow-up over the bar.
It didn’t matter two minutes later, when Chris Wood netted his first goal for his new club. French Under-21 international Anthony Knockaert had tormented Town when the sides first met in Huddersfield in October and he tormented Keith Southern down the Town left before standing up a cross; Smithies did brilliantly to push Nugent’s initial close range header into the air, but Wood towered above his marker to nod the rebound home.
Former England international Dave Nugent forced Smithies into another excellent save with a low shot in the 11th minute and only a last ditch interception from Joel Lynch denied Wood a second when Nugent tried to find him unmarked in the penalty area four minutes later – it was one way traffic.
Vaughan’s claims that Wes Morgan handled his overhead kick fell on deaf ears soon after as the Terriers finally got into their opponent’s half and soon after home goalie Kasper Schmeichel was needed to punch away a couple of decent deliveries from Adam Hammill on the Town left.
However, the Foxes soon scored a second with an incisive breakaway attack in the 24th minute. Murray Wallace, making his first away appearance for Town, found the run of Vaughan in the area with a good slide rule pass and the striker looked to push the ball into the path of Keith Southern on the edge of the box, but a Leicester man intercepted and sent a pass to Chris Wood. The New Zealander flicked the ball down the right channel for Nugent and the striker waited for his strike partner to enter the area before giving him a return pass, from which Wood’s first time finish was very impressive – giving Smithies no chance as it flew in off the far post.
Vaughan tried to respond for Town only to see his ambitious left foot volley fly high and wide, but a switch to 4-4-2 after the half hour heralded the few positive moments for the Terriers in the half as they tried to pass the ball. However, it still brought about no chances for Town.
Knockaert and Wood missed half chances for the hosts as it looked like Town would go in two goals down during the interval, but the two minutes of first half added time brought around a third for the Foxes. Hunt’s poor pass into Lynch was too tough for the centre back to control and the ball fell to Knockaert, who drew the defenders before sliding it right to Ritchie De Laet – and the overlapping right back made no mistake in powering a shot past Smithies’ right from a narrow angle to complete a dominant half.
Smithies’ injury proved too much for Town’s only remaining ever present to continue after the break, so Ian Bennett came on for the 550th appearance of his career.
However, the veteran custodian could do nothing about Leicester’s fourth in the 49th minute. In another lightening quick break, Wood found left back Paul Konchesky’s run with a clever first time pass and his low pull-back was expertly converted by Anthony Knockaert, who fired past Town’s ‘keeper from 20 yards out.
Town almost replicated that move at the other end when Hammill collected Hunt’s low cross, but his shot was bravely headed clear by centre back Michael Keane.
That prompted another attack – and goal – for Leicester in the 52nd minute. Wallace gifted possession to Anthony Knockaert on the wing, but there was still a lot to do for the Frenchman. He was allowed to jink between Wallace and Southern far too easily, but when he got into the box his curling effort was perfectly out of the reach of the despairing Bennett and inside the post.
Town’s best move of the game heralded a goal for Town on the hour mark – and the 855 Town fans in attendance deserved it for sticking with the side. Clayton found the run of Lee Novak in the area and his first time lay-off was perfect for Vaughan; the striker pushed the ball right for Scott Arfield and although his initial shot was well saved by Schmeichel, the former Falkirk man buried the follow-up with his left foot for his first goal of the season.
That gave the Terriers a lift and they could have easily scored two soon after; first goalscorer Arfield headed a very presentable chance over from a good Hunt cross and then Hammill played Novak in on goal, who’s shot was saved by the legs of Schmeichel.
The lively Adam Hammill fired wide of target in the 67th minute after good play from Clayton and a superb switch of play from Arfield before Vaughan flashed a superb low cross across the face of goal soon afterwards. It was too late, but Town were creating chances nonetheless.
At the other end Ian Bennett could only watch as the sublime Knockaert stepped inside Dixon and curled the ball millimetres wide of his far post; he will have been happy to see the winger replaced immediately afterwards by Paul Gallagher.
Leicester soon had a sixth goal through fellow substitute Martyn Waghorn and although it was well taken, the move was too easy for the hosts. Konchesky curled a precise cross onto the head of Chris Wood at the back post and his knock-down was perfect for the substitute, who volleyed past Smithies from inside the area.
The home side had chances to score a seventh – a sliding challenge from Gerrard stopped Dyer from pulling the trigger inside the area soon after Waghorn’s goal before fellow sub Paul Gallagher’s superb long range drive beat Bennett before flying narrowly over the bar.
Bennett was called into action to save late shots from Dyer and Konchesky as Leicester turned the screw even further, whereas Hammill forced Schmeichel into a routine save at the other end with a long range shot.
Town’s team (4-5-1):
Alex Smithies (Ian Bennett 46); Murray Wallace, Joel Lynch (Paul Dixon 55), Anthony Gerrard, Jack Hunt; Adam Hammill, Scott Arfield, Adam Clayton (Oliver Norwood 81), Keith Southern (c), Lee Novak; James Vaughan
Peter Clarke, Sean Scannell, Anton Robinson, Chris Atkinson
Joel Lynch (43)