A gutsy and determined performance from the Terriers paid dividends at Hillsborough this evening, with Town inflicting a first home defeat of the season on Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
Just like last season’s trip to S6, Town scored two goals early in the first half – this time through Oliver Norwood and Lee Novak – before Wednesday started to fight back.
Reda Johnson netted Wednesday’s goal and when Joel Lynch was shown a red card things didn’t look good for the Terriers, but the referee also dismissed Joe Mattock to make it ten men each before the interval and Town kept it tight in the second half, eventually being rewarded through an Adam Clayton penalty.
Town boss Simon Grayson – a one-time loanee at Wednesday during his playing days – made one enforced change to his starting line-up, with the injured Adam Hammill replaced by Lee Novak.
Ahead of the game a moment of reflection was impeccably respected by both sets of supporters in honour of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster as well as for Town fan Private Thomas Wroe, who was tragically killed on duty in Afghanistan on Saturday.
That served to build the electric atmosphere at Hillsborough as the Terriers kicked off in their red third strip kicking away from the sizeable travelling support.
Wednesday, due in part to previous manager Gary Megson’s legacy, are still a very big, physical side and a series of early corners won by their lively wingers were cause for concern. Everton loanee Ross Barkley was the Owls’ set piece specialist and his driven near post ball found the head of centre back Mark Beevers in the fourth minute – and he crashed a header against the bar.
Along with Beevers and fellow centre half Martin Taylor, the hosts also boasted the tall strike partnership of Jay Bothroyd and Gary Madine as well as left back Reda Johnson and there was no doubt that Town’s backline were in for a tough evening.
Despite this, the frequency that Wednesday’s full-backs got forward gave Town strikers Vaughan and Novak room to operate in the channels - and they took advantage on a slick surface. As early as the 13th minute Novak latched onto a great flicked header from his strike partner before lifting a volley over the bar and that outlet was utilised throughout the half.
The game burst to life on the quarter hour mark when Vaughan swivelled in the penalty area and crashed a left footed snapshot against the bar. The ball fell to the edge of the box and Jack Hunt took up the attack in typical fashion, driving into the area – only to be pulled back by Jose Semedo.
That was the third penalty Jack has won in the embryonic npower Championship season already, but a third different taker stepped up to the mark – Oliver Norwood. ‘Keeper Chris Kirkland saved his initial effort, but the former Manchester United man calmly stroked the rebound past the stricken goalie for his first goal in Town colours.
Wednesday were shell-shocked – and found themselves two goals down just four minutes later. Keith Southern spread the play to the Town left and Danny Ward used the overlapping run of Paul Dixon as a decoy before crossing to the back post – where Novak stooped to head home his first of the new campaign!
The Owls tried to fight back, with set-pieces once again their most likely outlet. Giant left back Johnson headed inches wide from another Barkley corner in the 32nd minute before Smithies pushed wide a rasping Michail Antonio drive soon after.
However, the pressure finally told in the 37th minute when an Antonio long throw was flicked on at the near post, giving Reda Johnson the opportunity to overpower his marker and head home at the back stick.
That heralded one of the craziest ends to a half you are ever likely to see. Town were reduced to ten men in the 39th minute when referee Graham Salisbury gave Joel Lynch his marching orders for a tackle on Antonio on the left touchline; the tackle was late, but a straight red looked very harsh – and Simon Grayson obviously felt so too.
Peter Clarke was booked for his protests and then Anthony Gerrard – who was brought on for the sacrificed Novak – was also shown a yellow for entering the field of play without permission.
Antonio shot wide from range during the five minutes of additional time as Wednesday turned the screw, but their man advantage was soon taken away when right back Joe Mattock was shown a quick-fire second yellow for a foul on the lively Danny Ward.
Dave Jones changed his shape to compensate during the half-time interval, with Slovenian international Nejc Pecnik replacing the quiet Madine – and the new boy shot over the bar just 13 seconds after the restart.
Town were keeping possession nicely in spells, but Wednesday’s power came to prevalence again just before the hour mark when Bothroyd drifted to the flank and floated a cross to the back post for goalscorer Johnson to attack – and he headed just wide once again.
The home fans were urging their team on and they thought they had a route back into the game when Bothroyd knocked the ball over Peter Clarke, allowing sub Pecnik to race clear; he turned inside the recovering Town skipper inside the area, but scuffed his eventual shot wide of the far post.
Town looked fairly comfortable in open play and soon had a golden chance to extend their lead when Jack Hunt advanced down the right and crossed – only for the ball to hit the hand of substitute Rhys McCabe. The referee didn’t spot it, but his assistant did – giving Adam Clayton the chance to step up and send Kirkland the wrong way to make it 3-1!
Town’s fans were in great voice following Clayton’s pen, whilst Wednesday introduced striker Chris O’Grady to the fray – somewhat surprisingly at the expense of their lone striker Bothroyd.
O’Grady was joined by several of his taller colleagues in attack for the final ten minutes and one – that man Reda Johnson again – missed an open goal from barely six yards after some amazing skill and pace down the right from Antonio.
Benin international defender Johnson acrobatically volleyed wide of target with five minutes of normal time remaining as Wednesday peppered the Town penalty area with crosses.
Grayson brought on Alan Lee for his first League appearance of the season to help see out the six minutes of added time and the Terriers successfully navigated a tricky period to record their first win of the season.
Town’s team (4-4-2):
Alex Smithies; Paul Dixon, Joel Lynch, Peter Clarke (c), Jack Hunt; Danny Ward, Oliver Norwood (Calum Woods 83), Keith Southern, Adam Clayton; James Vaughan (Alan Lee 90), Lee Novak (Anthony Gerrard 41)
Ian Bennett, Sean Scannell, Scott Arfield, Jimmy Spencer
Town Bookings: Peter Clarke (40); Anthony Gerrard (41); Danny Ward (82)
Town Red Card: Joel Lynch (39)
Sheff Wed Bookings: Joe Mattock (42); Jay Bothroyd (44); Rhys McCabe (90); Nejc Pecnik (90)
Sheff Wed Red Card: Joe Mattock (45)
Town fans: 2,675