Town’s 2016/17 Sky Bet Championship season started with a bang at the John Smith’s Stadium as David Wagner’s Terriers recorded a deserved 2-1 win over Brentford.
In front of a record opening day gate at the new ground of almost 18,500 fans, a goal with his first touch in senior football from England Under-21 international Kasey Palmer was a perfect response after a Brentford equaliser – exorcising the demons from the season-ending 5-1 defeat to the Bees in May.
Earlier Elias Kachunga’s debut goal in English football had given the Terriers an early second half lead in an impressive team performance from a much-changed Terriers line-up, featuring seven summer signings in the starting XI.
Walking out to an electric atmosphere, the Terriers hit the ground running and showcased the ‘full throttle’ football that the Head Coach relishes.
That resulted in three presentable chances inside the first 180 seconds, with Rajiv van La Parra at the heart of the action. He fired a half volley over when well positioned in the area to connect with Tommy Smith’s cross before soon feeding debutant Elias Kachunga into the left side of the area, who fired at the ‘keeper.
From that, Town’s high press won back possession immediately and Kachunga fed Jack Payne, who curled over on his favoured left foot from around 20 yards out.
Brentford striker Scott Hogan netted a brace against Town last term and he showed his talent inside eight minutes, knocking the ball past record signing Christopher Schindler. Thankfully the centre back showed good mobility to recover and block his low cross behind.
Aaron Mooy’s range of passing was on display all afternoon and his 12th minute reverse found van La Parra on the edge of the box, only for the Dutchman to blaze a shot high into the crowd.
Van La Parra sent another curler off target a minute later after a good drive forward from Joe Lolley as Town continued to dominate the early going, but Hogan kept the defenders honest at the other end and another debutant – goalkeeper Danny Ward – soon had to get down smartly to his left to keep out the striker’s shot from a very narrow angle.
Lolley dragged a snapshot well wide of target just after the half hour mark having showed good feet to break clear of a defender before the lively Jack Payne and Mooy combined to set Kachunga away into the right channel. Sadly the Ioanee from Ingolstadt fired well wide of the near post when well positioned.
For all Town’s good play, the forwards had failed to test goalkeeper Darren Bentley – but that changed in the 41st minute when Lolley beat a man in the right edge of the area and forced the custodian to fist clear his quickly-taken volley.
Jack Payne soon joined in, testing his former Southend colleague with a near post drive that the ‘keeper comfortably collected.
The wait for the elusive goal didn’t last long in the second half, with Kache netting his first Town goal inside five minutes. The move started down the right, where more patient passing gave Tommy Smith the chance to send a great, deep cross into the area. With Bentley caught beneath the ball, Kachunga climbed above his man and directed a great downwards header home from close range before celebrating in front of the NSL.
Town kept pressing forwards on the crest of a wave and Payne forced Bentley into a terrific flying save to his right side with a smart drive from almost 25 yards out.
Goalscorer Kachunga had to be withdrawn with 25 minutes left after a knock picked up in the first half started to stiffen. With Nahki Wells recovering from a pre-season knee issue, that meant van La Parra moved into the central striker position – and he would have a big role to play.
Brentford, who employed an unusual set-piece technique of blocking Ward as he tried to line-up his wall all afternoon, tried to threaten through two free kicks, but the goalkeeper saved Macleod’s strike before Sam Saunders fired well over the crossbar.
Town had another big chance to seal the game in the 76th minute after another Lolley drive and impressive play from sub Sean Scannell, who drove a low ball into the danger area. Bentley pushed it straight into the path of van La Parra, but the goalie showed good reactions to spring to his feet and push away the follow-up shot.
Instead, Brentford clinically scored the away side’s only clear-cut chance of the afternoon in impressive style to equalise with 11 minutes left. The ball was fired into Lewis Macleod on the edge of the box and the midfielder’s impressive back-heel set the ball perfectly for sub Nico Yennaris, who strode into the area unopposed before firing between Ward’s legs.
That could have stopped the Town momentum in its tracks – but instead the Terriers responded with an immediate second. Van La Parra turned beautifully to face goal after receiving a pass from the left and drove at the defenders, beating both centre backs to enter the area. He placed his left footed shot too close to Bentley, but Kasey Palmer – who only entered the pitch moments earlier for his senior debut – calmly strode past the stricken ‘keeper and placed the ball into the empty net before celebrating with the Head Coach.
The expected surge for an equaliser from the away side never came as Town, led by the impressive Mooy and Hogg, controlled possession very well. The sole Brentford opportunity came in the 92nd minute when centre back Harlee Dean knocked down a ball into the Town box, only for Yennaris to volley high over the crossbar.
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Danny Ward; Chris Löwe, Christopher Schindler, Mark Hudson (c), Tommy Smith; Aaron Mooy, Jonathan Hogg; Rajiv van La Parra, Jack Payne (Kasey Palmer, 78) Joe Lolley (Ivan Paurević, 85); Elias Kachunga (Sean Scannell, 65)
Joel Coleman, Martin Cranie, Jon Gorenc Stanković, Michael Hefele