Town learned some hard lessons of what it takes to get results against the best teams the Sky Bet Championship has to offer in today’s narrow defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Harry Bunn’s fourth goal of the season on his return from an ankle injury just before half time pulled Town level after Bobby Zamora’s opener, but a second half header from substitute James Wilson gave the home side all three points.
David Wagner’s team played well again for large periods, but spurned some very good opportunities in the attacking areas and didn’t take the simple option of clearing the ball for the eventual winner.
It is a mark of Town’s change in style under David Wagner that the Terriers bossed the ball in the first half, enjoying 65% of possession against a team famed for its retention of the ball. However, the Terriers did have to ride their luck to go in level at the interval.
Brighton had the first chance of the game inside three minutes when an errant pass out of defence from former Seagull Joel Lynch forced Hudson to bring down striker Tomer Hemed just over 20 yards out. In the process the skipper was shown his 10th yellow card of the game, ruling him out of the next two games. Fortunately for Town, midfielder Dale Stephens sent the resulting free kick over the bar.
Town fought back and had the ball cleared off the Brighton line in the seventh minute. A corner on the right, taken by Joe Lolley, found Lynch’s near post run and it took winger Jamie Murphy to clear his header at the back post.
Wagner’s side kept probing away at the Brighton defence, playing a few longer balls into the channels to try and exploit the space the home side’s marauding full backs left behind them.
However, another corner led to Town’s undoing on the half hour mark. Good pressing from Nahki Wells forced centre back Goldson to concede the set piece, but when the ball was cleared Chris Hughton’s side broke at speed and in numbers.
Anthony Knockaert – so often the scourge of Town in his Leicester City days – broke down the Town left and drilled a low ball towards former England international Bobby Zamora inside the area, who expertly guided a low volley past Jed Steer and into the far corner.
That goal almost opened the floodgates for the home side, who dominated the next 10 minutes. Town still had lots of the ball, but every time they lost it the Seagulls looked likely to score on the break. Knockaert was often at the centre of it, but on a few occasions he tried to find Zamora rather than pull the trigger himself and the striker was found offside.
Town recovered tight at the end of the half to have two good chances – and scored the latter to go in level. Before that, a wide free kick found Mark Hudson’s head in the Brighton box and his knock-down fell to Wells, but the Bermudian striker smashed a half volley over the bar when well positioned.
However, the goal – coming in the final seconds of the two minutes of added time – was worth the wait. Jamie Paterson switched a perfect ball onto Tommy Smith’s feet on the far right and the full back found the room to send a great cross into the area, where Harry Bunn raced ahead of his marker before guiding a deft header past goalkeeper David Stockdale and into the far corner.
With Emyr Huws struggling with a knock he received in a heavy challenge with Dale Stephens in the first-half, Wagner handed Karim Matmour his Town debut during the interval. That prompted a reshuffle, with Paterson dropping back to a deeper position alongside Martin Cranie.
Town enjoyed lots of the ball again, but the dangerous Knockaert gave them a reminder of his potency by striking a free-kick against the outside of the post around the hour mark.
One of the big chances fell in the box to top scorer Nahki Wells soon after as Matmour charged down Lewis Dunk’s clearance, but the striker’s focus wasn’t right and his first touch saw the ball go dead.
The eventual winner came two minutes later and was down to a poor error. With the ball sitting up to be put into the stand, a Town player prodded the ball out to the wing and that allowed Knockaert to keep it in play. He returned it into the area with interest and Manchester United loanee Wilson diverted his header into the far corner, in similar fashion to Bunn’s goal.
As the end of the game drew nearer, Wagner sent both centre backs up front to try and go longer – bringing on Dean Whitehead and eventually Philip Billing to send the ball long from deep positions. However, the plan was dealt a big blow when Tommy Smith was shown two yellow cards for fouls on the powerful Kazenga LuaLua and was shown his marching orders with five minutes left.
Hudson was fouled for a late free kick, but Wells – trying to reproduce his superb effort at QPR in December – sent the ball over the bar.
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Jed Steer; Jason Davidson (Dean Whitehead, 83), Joel Lynch, Mark Hudson (c), Tommy Smith; Emyr Huws (Karim Matmour, 46), Martin Cranie; Joe Lolley, Jamie Paterson (Philip Billing, 87), Harry Bunn; Nahki Wells
Joe Murphy, James Husband, Duane Holmes, Flo Bojaj
Mark Hudson; Joel Lynch; Martin Cranie, Tommy Smith
Town red card:
Tommy Smith (84)