Top scorer Elias Kachunga scored a dramatic late winner to reward a performance full of ‘Terriers Identity’ against Derby County at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Kachunga gave goalkeeper Scott Carson no chance with his added time header for his fifth goal of the campaign to send the Town fans in a gate of nearly 20,000 fans into raptures as three points were secured against the talented Rams.
In the third game inside a week, David Wagner freshened up his side and the incoming players did him proud as they went toe-to-toe with Steve McClaren’s side.
This victory was a first win in eight games against the Rams and a ninth win in 14 matches to start the Sky Championship campaign.
The game kicked off in a good atmosphere, with almost 20,000 fans in the ground once again and the Chadwick Lawrence South Stand full with Derby fans and the NSL contingent.
Town started on the front foot, creating a few presentable opportunities. However, a theme of the first half was the Derby defenders putting in good, brave blocks when needed. The first came inside six minutes when Rajiv van La Parra drifted to the right to collect a pass from Elias Kachunga before shooting from inside the area.
The resulting corner almost found Christopher Schindler unmarked, but a late flick diverted the ball from his path.
The standout player in the half was Town’s Kasey Palmer, restored to the starting line-up as one of four changes made by David Wagner. His ability to carry the ball stood out and although he didn’t always select the right final pass, the Chelsea loanee was a constant threat.
He nutmegged former Town loanee Richard Keogh just outside the box in the eighth minute before shooting wide of the near post, signalling his intent.
Minutes later, Palmer’s outrageous backheel found Nahki Wells unmarked in a great position near the penalty spot, but unfortunately the Bermudian couldn’t get the ball out of his feet to pull the trigger before a defender recovered. The clearance fell to the unlikely figure of Dean Whitehead, but his shot was blocked and the danger cleared.
Van La Parra blasted over again soon after before Derby got a foothold in the game around the 20-minute mark, applying some pressure on the Town back line. Wagner had set up his side to offer the Rams as little space as possible between the defence and midfield, with the central duo of Whitehead and Hogg as combative as you’d expect.
Nevertheless, Derby created a few decent chances. The talented Will Hughes played a one-two on the left edge of Town’s box before clipping a delicate effort just wide of the far post that had Danny Ward scrambling across his goalmouth.
Wells curled over at the other end after more good play from Palmer in the build-up, but Derby was in the ascendancy at this point. Hughes played another great clip over the top to find striker Matej Vydra’s run off the back of Schindler, but only succeeded in volleying a difficult chance into the back row of the Fantastic Media Stand Lower Tier.
Former Town Player of the Year Jacob Butterfield dragged an uncharacteristically poor shot wide of target on his left foot in the 37th minute
Town fought back to finish the half strongly, with Chris Löwe whipping a superb free kick into the box that centre back Alex Pearce only just managed to head behind. Schindler got on the end of Palmer’s resulting corner, but could only steer a tame header at goalkeeper Scott Carson under pressure.
The final action of the half came from Tommy Smith, who was found in decent space outside the area by van La Parra. Unfortunately, his search for a first league goal went on as he fired over the bar.
The game continued to to-and-fro as it entered the second half, with both sides having spells of possession and pressure.
Derby had the next chance of note, with Keogh getting a header wrong from Tom Ince’s in-swinging free kick; spearing the ball way over the bar when he should have done better.
Palmer responded again, side-stepping Hughes with apparent ease before sending a tame roller into the waiting hands of Carson.
The only low point of the game came a minute later when Jonathan Hogg earned a deserved yellow for a strong, poor challenge on Ince. That rules him out of next weekend’s game at Craven Cottage being his fifth of the season.
Derby’s attacking right back Cyrus Christie got more and more into the game as the second 45 minutes progressed and he setup Derby’s best chance in the 64th minute. His powerful run and pass inside Löwe set Ince into the area and Ward did very well to save his close-range toe-poke with his legs.
Keogh headed the resulting corner into the floor and Ward was in action again, tipping the ball over as bounced up.
As the game progressed, Town’s fitness came to the fore and Wagner’s side created the better chances.
Kachunga, now on the left, drew two defenders towards him before slipping an inside pass to Löwe and his low pull-back found Wells. The Bermudian’s first-time shot was good, but Carson did very well to stop his momentum and save low with his right hand.
Löwe kept the ball alive, but drove it wide of target from the edge of the box.
Wells curled an effort over soon after before speedy Derby substitute Ikechi Anya had a run at Hefele on the break, but the big German did excellently to force him wide before blocking his shot at source.
Town continued to press, with Tommy Smith inadvertently taking a header away from Hefele from an attacking corner before impressive substitute Harry Bunn forced Carson to claw his curling effort away from above his head.
Another sub, Jack Payne fired wide from the right corner of the penalty area after receiving Palmer’s pass to feet.
Kachunga had a headed effort before his late goal, forcing Carson into action with a header that lacked power from Payne’s lofty cross from the left.
Smith then looked to have blown Town’s big chance for a winner in the final minute of normal time, with the Rams visibly timewasting more and more. Payne reversed a pass to find Tommy’s overlap and he checked inside the area onto his left foot, only to blast the ball high over the crossbar.
However, the goal was worth the wait when it came. Löwe played the ball down the line for Bunn and he took on Keogh out wide, getting to the dead ball line before whipping in a superb left-footed cross. That was perfect for Kachunga to stride on to and he placed his header perfectly, nodding the ball back where it came from to give Carson absolutely no chance.
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Danny Ward; Chris Löwe, Christopher Schindler, Michael Hefele, Tommy Smith; Jonathan Hogg, Dean Whitehead (c) (Aaron Mooy, 61’); Rajiv van La Parra (Harry Bunn, 61’), Kasey Palmer, Elias Kachunga; Nahki Wells (Jack Payne, 74’)
Joe Murphy, Mark Hudson, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Martin Cranie