Town lost just the second game of the embryonic Sky Bet Championship season at Reading – but you wouldn’t have known it from the reaction of the travelling support at the final whistle!
Backed by 1,349 vociferous fans in Berkshire, the travelling Terriers gave their 10 players a standing ovation at the final whistle after they did everything but score with a men less than Reading in an excellent second half performance.
Town’s chances were dealt a big blow when the in-form Rajiv van La Parra was dismissed for picking up two bookings inside four minutes midway through the first half; the second for refusing to approach the referee when summoned having been fouled.
The game looked an intriguing, even contest against two good sides until Rajiv’s dismissal, at which point the Terriers had to switch to a containment job against Jaap Stam’s possession-based side for the rest of the half.
The sucker-punch came in the 41st minute, when winger Roy Beerens’ deflected effort looped over a helpless Danny Ward - giving the Terriers a mountain to climb.
However, they nearly managed it – and were left to rue a number of missed chances in the final 15 minutes that would have secured a point that no neutral could have argued against.
Van La Parra’s red card, as well as fifth bookings of the season for left back Chris Löwe and skipper Mark Hudson, means the trio will now miss Tuesday night’s Yorkshire derby at home to Rotherham United.
Town had the first shot of the game at the Madejski Stadium, with Tommy Smith cutting inside from the right side to test goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi at his near post; the Reading custodian gathered the ball in at the second attempt.
Reading showcased a good style too, trying to move the Town players across the pitch to open up space. The importance of Nahki Wells and Kasey Palmer’s work off the ball was very important, as the pair was tasked with forcing Reading wide.
Equally, Reading looked to get the full backs high up the pitch, giving Kachunga and van La Parra important jobs off the ball.
Town threatened again in the 12th minute due to a burst forward from Jonathan Hogg. He played a one-two with Wells to advance before squaring to Palmer, who shaped to shoot. Instead, he pushed the ball right to Kachunga and the German’s shot was deflected wide. Although he should be credited for unselfish play, it could be argued that Kasey was in the better position to pull the trigger.
Then came the drama of van La Parra’s dismissal. From the press box, his first yellow in the 22ndd minute looked harsh as he looked to get a foot on the ball when tackling left back Obita, but the second four minutes later will have disappointed David Wagner. The Dutchman was fouled in the corner and reacted angrily; when called towards referee James Linington he refused, so the man in the middle showed him a quick-fire second yellow.
Wagner had to shuffle his pack, sacrificing the unfortunate Palmer to bring on Harry Bunn to operate on the left and keep an eye on Chris Gunter in a new-look 4-4-1 shape. Wells was also instructed to drop off and keep an eye on defensive midfielder Joey van den Berg.
However, Reading leapt into the ascendancy. First attacking midfielder John Swift struck the post from just over 20 yards out after good passing from Obita and Danny Williams and then centre back Paul McShane sliced a shot a couple of feet wide of Ward’s left-hand post.
The sizeable Town support inside the ground grew audibly frustrated as the half progressed, feeling their players weren’t getting the rub of the green on the decisions, but the Terriers battled on. Löwe in particular did excellently to cover his centre back when Harriott looked to burst onto a pass into the area.
Unfortunately, the goal followed a minute later. Former Charlton winger Harriott jinked past Bunn down the dead ball line and crossed, with Schindler managing to flick the ball over everyone with his head. The ball dropped to Beerens and he stepped inside before unleashing a shot that hit Tommy Smith before looping over the diving Ward and into the roof of the bet.
Reading almost netted an immediate second after Kachunga lost the ball in midfield, but Williams’ scuffed left-foot shot rolled away from Harriott in the middle.
Town’s best chance of the half came two minutes before the interval from a corner, won by Smith. Mooy’s deep ball was perfect for Hudson, but on his 400th league start he headed over from an acute angle.
Mooy executed a good block to deny Harriott a clear shot at goal as the second half started in the same fashion as the first ended, with the home side dominating possession.
However, there was a controversial moment in the 56th minute when Gunter – now at left back – scythed down Wells, who would have raced clear. The only thing that could have conceivably saved the defender was the distance to goal – almost the entire Reading half – and he was shown a yellow card, much to the chagrin of the away supporters.
Hudson then picked up his fifth yellow of the season – correctly, for bringing down Danny Williams on a break – before Beerens hit the side-netting from a very narrow angle after being forced wide by Ward.
At the other end, Al-Habsi back-peddled to push away a left-footed cross that Wells put too close to the far post before Kachunga powered a low cross just behind three teammates in the Reading box after good build-up play involving Hogg and Smith.
Kermorgant then powered a left footed volley wide with 20 minutes to go after Hudson intercepted an initial ball over the top intended for Beerens’ forward run.
The Terriers were enjoying a good spell of pressure at that stage, with Stam visibly trying to get his midfield to push forward, but Ward had to stay alert and pushed away a powerful volley from substitute Stephen Quinn after good work again from Harriott.
Buoyed by the support of the 1,349 Town fans in Berkshire, Wagner’s men were in the ascendancy as the final 10 minutes approached. The game plan B, with Hudson pushed up front and the now familiar figure of Michael Hefele brought on as Town went direct.
One Smith cross into the box fell to Wells, a common scorer against the Royals. He took a touch and steadied himself before hitting a half volley goalwards, but from a narrow angle he shot wide with just over five minutes left.
There was a final throw of the dice as Hogg’s exceptional cross-field pass was taken by Smith in his stride, but somehow his low ball across the face of goal ran over Wells’ foot at the far post.
Town still had time to load the box with Mooy in possession wide on the right. His cross went into the crowd and Hef got his head to it, but diverted it well wide of target when at full stretch.
Another chance fell to the Bermudian in added time, who collected a knock down from Hefele 25 yards out. Unfortunately for those of a Town persuasion, his shot arrowed over the crossbar.
The final effort in the last five minutes of added time landed at Kachunga’s head after Smith’s cross was nodded back across goal by Schindler, but the ball hit the German’s shoulder and the diving Al-Habsi claimed it.
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Danny Ward; Chris Löwe (Martin Cranie, 80), Christopher Schindler, Mark Hudson (c), Tommy Smith; Aaron Mooy, Jonathan Hogg; Rajiv van La Parra, Kasey Palmer (Harry Bunn, 28 (Michael Hefele, 80)), Elias Kachunga; Nahki Wells
Joel Coleman, Dean Whitehead, Sean Scannell, Jack Payne