Town’s unbeaten start to the season came to an end at Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday night, with an uncharacteristic effort from goalkeeper Danny Ward giving the hosts a late winner.
Anthony Knockaert is a constant threat to any Sky Bet Championship defence, but was kept relatively quiet all game by the Terriers. However, the Frenchman squeezed a shot through Ward in the 80th minute to give his side all three points.
Otherwise Town grew into the game in what was a structured, disciplined performance, and have several promising opportunities that never turned into a serious test of Stockdale in the home goal.
Wagner named an unchanged side from the one that recorded the West Yorkshire derby win at Elland Road three days earlier, but with a slightly different tactical setup.
Town allowed Brighton’s centre halves to have possession in their own half and when the ball was switched to either full back, wingers Bunn and van La Parra forced them down the line.
To Brighton’s credit, they were happy to do that – with workhorse striker Tomer Hemed running the line willingly to keep possession for his side.
Jonathan Hogg and Aaron Mooy dropped a little deeper to restrict the space for danger-man Anthony Knockaert, who was operating centrally behind Hemed. As such, he was a virtual passenger in the opening 45 minutes.
In possession, Town employed a similar strategy to Elland Road; happy to slow play down by keeping the ball in the final third.
However, that plan could have been undone if it were not for Danny Ward seven minutes in. After a van La Parra cross was cleared, Hemed jinked between Smith and Hudson with the ball on halfway before playing a through ball to Jamie Murphy, who kept in line with Chris Löwe. It looked a certain goal as he raced through on goal, but the Liverpool FC loanee stood strong and closed down the space to make an excellent, important save.
Brighton continued to threaten, with Town’s first shot – courtesy of Harry Bunn’s speculative 17th minute effort going well wide from range.
Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal returned the favour with aplomb barely 60 seconds later, side-stepping the tenacious Hogg before hitting a 25 yard piledriver mere inches wide of Ward’s left hand post.
Jack Payne grew into the game, having success when drifting to the right. He did that in the 20th minute to find space after some patient passing and cut inside before testing goalkeeper David Stockdale with a low shot at his near post, which the custodian pushed away.
The Seagulls responded from a left-sided corner, with big Lewis Dunk winning Knockaert’s deep delivery above Schindler before Hemed whipped a smart volley on the turn just over.
Murphy and van La Parra both curled optimistic efforts wide of target as the half hour passed before Town finished strongly, with Payne sending an excellent cross in from the right that somehow just evaded Kachunga’s head in the six yard box.
Tommy Smith then read play excellently to intercept and set Town on the break, with Payne finding Aaron Mooy in space around 25 yards out. The Town fans audibly got excited when they saw the Aussie line a shot up given his Leeds heroics, but on this occasion he hit a side-footed effort straight at Stockdale.
Brighton showed their intent just 14 seconds into the second half when Stephens rifled a pass into Hemed’s feat, who turned neatly past Schindler. From a narrow angle, he drilled a low shot into the outside netting.
Löwe then uncharacteristically allowed a deflected Murphy cross to roll under his boot and attacking right back Bruno ran free to shoot, but his German compatriot Schindler got across brilliantly to block the shot behind. Dunk got on the end of the following corner, but Hudson did just enough to force him to head wide at close range.
Town responded down the right, with a determined Harry Bunn drive. The ball found its way back to Payne, whose low drive from outside the area forced the Brighton ‘keeper into more work.
Smith then got forward to burst into the area courtesy of a great one-two with Kachunga, but the ball unluckily ricocheted off him and the chance passed by.
Town were on top as the hour mark came and passed, with Payne having a penalty claim turned down when he looked to have been floored off the ball, but Brighton still packed a punch; Knockaert curling way over after a speedy break.
Glenn Murray’s introduction for the home side gave Chris Hughton’s men the option of going longer if necessary, but it was a big mistake that allowed the hosts to open the scoring in the 80th minute.
Schindler did well to block an initial shot from Murray in the area, with the ball running to the right to Knockaert. The Frenchman hit a first time shot to the near post that Ward should have dealt with, but somehow the ball escaped his grasp before rolling agonisingly over the line.
Wagner brought on Palmer and Hefele – again as a striker – and decided to go long in an attempt to find an equaliser, but the best Town could do were three Wells crosses that Stockdale claimed.
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Danny Ward; Chris Löwe (Michael Hefele, 83), Christopher Schindler, Mark Hudson (c), Tommy Smith; Aaron Mooy, Jonathan Hogg; Rajiv van La Parra, Jack Payne (Kasey Palmer, 83), Harry Bunn (Nahki Wells, 67); Elias Kachunga
Joel Coleman, Dean Whitehead, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Martin Cranie
Christopher Schindler (55)