Town’s unbeaten streak came to an end at the iPRO Stadium this evening against hosts Derby County.
Chris Powell’s side battled hard on the evening and showed character once again to equalise after an impressive start from Derby through Harry Bunn, but a goal just seconds before the half-time whistle gave the Rams an advantage they never gave up.
Coming into the game on the back of successive League defeats, the Rams came flying out of the blocks and pinned Town back in their own half for the first 15 minutes, using their typically impressive rotation off the ball to keep Town’s midfield and defence on their toes.
As early as the fifth minute Joel Lynch had to get back on his line to head a shot from Liverpool loanee Jordon Ibe to safety, but Ibe wasn’t to be denied when the next chance fell his way. Midfielder Jeff Hendrick deserved a lot of credit for skipping past Mark Hudson on the right edge of the area before sending a low cross towards the penalty spot for Ibe to stroke into the far corner.
Rather than buckle, the Terriers instead showed all the spirit that has become typical in recent weeks to fight back. Jacob Butterfield created Town’s first proper chance in the 18th minute when his slide-rule pass between the left back and centre half gave Nahki Wells the chance to spin into space, but his low shot on the angle was pushed around the far post by Jack Butland in the Derby goal.
Four minutes later Town did get the breakthrough and it was Harry Bunn, fresh from signing a new contract with the Club, who equalised. When Tommy Smith’s ball forward was cleared to Grant Holt, the striker played a first time pass into space that Wells prodded left into Bunn’s feet. The former Manchester City loanee showed great composure to step inside right back Cyrus Christie before steadying himself and slamming the ball between Butland and the near post for his sixth of an already impressive season.
Town looked bright, but gradually Derby gained control of possession and pinned Town back once again. Powell’s men defended stoutly – Jack Robinson covering brilliantly at one point to clear Ibe’s dangerous cross to safety as it looked like Chris Martin would score.
Sadly for Town, Derby retook the lead in the final seconds of the two minutes of added time. There was a question mark about the goal as Martin looked offside as Johnny Russell prodded a pass into his feet inside the area but as the flag didn’t come, Alex Smithies sprang to action and smothered the initial shot brilliantly. Unfortunately Russell reacted fastest, rolling the rebound into the unguarded net.
When the iPRO Stadium’s Big Screen replayed the goal, the suspicion of offside incensed the travelling fans in the far corner of the goal – but it was to no avail. Other angles showed that Martin was probably just on, with Robinson just in line.
Town started the second-half brightly, with Lynch heading over an early corner from Butterfield. The corner taker stung the palms of the opposition goalkeeper soon after with a left-footed hit from 20 yards.
At the other end, Smithies pulled off a great save to deny Russell a second after ricochet fell his way and he surged into the area before shooting.
Town fought back and created a good chance when Holt’s powerful low cross found Bunn on the edge of the box, but the young attacker leaned back as he took the shot and his effort arrowed over the bar.
Martin planted a firm header from a wide free-kick straight into the hands of Smithies as Derby enjoyed a good spell.
Derby looked to have settled the game with 10 minutes left when substitute Simon Dawkins netted an unstoppable third. His attempted pass into the area was cut out by a stretching Lynch, but he responded by striding onto the ball and hit a first-time shot into the far corner off the post, giving Smithies no chance.
Wells looked to have given his side a lifeline with 10 minutes left, but was denied by a brilliant block from defender Christie; his full-stretch block denied the Bermudian a tenth of the season after substitute Danny Ward’s initial shot was pushed away by Butland.
Sub Radi Majewski poked a late shot wide and Town kept going, eventually getting a second. Sadly Mark Hudson's firm header from a corner - his first goal for the Club - came too late in the 93rd minute, with the referee blowing the full-time whistle just seconds after the restart.
Town’s team (4-4-2):
Alex Smithies; Jack Robinson, Joel Lynch, Mark Hudson (c), Tommy Smith; Harry Bunn, Jacob Butterfield (Radoslaw Majewski, 83), Conor Coady, Sean Scannell (Danny Ward, 66); Grant Holt, Nahki Wells (Martin Paterson, 85)
Lloyd Allinson, Paul Dixon, Murray Wallace, Lee Peltier
Tommy Smith (73); Harry Bunn (75)