Town’s failure to cope with opposition set pieces led to another defeat on the road in Wales, with the Terriers leaving themselves too much to do against host Cardiff City.
The Terriers performed well in possession and scored two of the best goals of the season against Neil Warnock’s side, but by the time Tommy Smith’s first ever Championship goal came they were two goals down – and Philip Billing’s stunning strike could only make it 3-2.
Town switched to a 3-5-2 for the game, with 20 year-old Slovenian Jon Gorenc Stanković slotting between Michael Hefele and Christopher Schindler as Town looked to combat the height and playing style of Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City.
Unfortunately, the Bluebirds still looked very dangerous at set pieces. With Hefele marking Rickie Lambert and Stanković on Sol Bamba, Schindler was left marking Sean Morrison and the German had a difficult time against the former Town loanee.
The home side signalled its intention just five minutes in, with Aron Gunnarsson trotting over to the Town left to launch an early long throw into the box. Nahki Wells didn’t effectively clear the second ball, with another of Cardiff’s former Town continent, Anthony Pilkington, driving a shot over from the edge of the box.
In possession, Town looked good. Cardiff’s defenders followed the Town attackers when they dropped deep and that left plenty of room for attacking midfielders to operate in.
Kasey Palmer was the stand-out in the first half and he setup the first chance for Wells, playing a one-two with Jonathan Hogg before releasing the Bermudian into the edge of the area. Goalkeeper Ben Amos comfortably dealt with his low shot.
Morrison headed another long throw wide at the near post before winning another free kick into the area, drawing a great low save from Danny Ward. However, he wouldn’t have long to wait long for the opener.
Schindler thought a goal kick should have been awarded when he blocked Joe Ralls’ cross on the dead ball line, but the corner was awarded and Peter Whittingham went across to deliver. His deep cross was perfect for Morrison to run onto and head home unmarked, although Ward felt he had been fouled in the build-up.
That was in the 15th minute – and the second Cardiff goal followed two minutes later. Striker Junior Hoilett picked up the ball on the Town left and pushed it infield to Pilkington. Mooy wasn’t tight enough and the winger rolled onto his left before shooting towards the near post. Ward saved one-handed, but Hoilett was the most alert and followed up to squeeze the ball between the goalkeeper and the near post.
Gunnarsson headed another chance over at the back post 25 minutes in after Ward misjudged Whittingham’s deep cross into the area.
Town’s goal was fantastically crafted when it came in the 28th minute; a substantial difference to the manner of the goals conceded. Some excellent movement and passing between Kachunga, Hogg and Palmer pulled the Cardiff midfield and defence totally out of shape before the Chelsea loanee slid a superb pass through the heart of Cardiff to pick out Tommy Smith’s run in behind.
Smith hadn’t previously scored in 117 Sky Bet Championship appearances, so it was testament to him that he calmly controlled inside the area before beating Amos at his near post on his weaker left foot.
Palmer was a constant danger to Cardiff and he easily beat Rolls soon after the goal, only to shoot wildly wide from 30 yards.
With Town buoyed, the third Cardiff goal was a real sucker-punch in the 33rd minute. It stemmed from a free-kick that was awarded on halfway for a Wells push, with Lee Peltier belting the ball into the box resultantly. Morrison easily won the ball again and knocked down into the path of former England international Lambert, who swept it home expertly first time off the inside of the far post.
The Town fans in the corner of the ground became increasingly frustrated as the second half rolled into its first 15 minutes, with the referee giving a series of free-kicks against the Terriers.
Town switched shape just after the hour mark, with Philip Billing on for his first appearance of the season in central midfield and Sean Scannell on for Schindler.
Wells soon stung Amos’ palms with a shot from range on the turn, but it was a stunning goal from Billing that gave Town hope with 20 minutes to go. Nahki got the ball on the right side and rolled past left back Bennett before shooting from a narrow angle; the ball was headed out to the edge of the box, where Billing volleyed an unstoppable volley on the run before Amos had even thought about moving. Arguably it was a better goal than his first at Nottingham Forest last season!
Billing then released Wells into space down the left channel with a superb drilled pass and the striker turned Morrison back and forth before crossing, but the ball was agonisingly inches away from Palmer and Scannell in the middle.
Town played well in possession as the game came to a close, but the clear chance and equalising goal would not come.
Hefele went forward late on as the Town bombardment continued, but Cardiff did just enough to hold on for the points.
Town’s team (3-4-2-1):
Danny Ward; Christopher Schindler (Sean Scannell, 61’), Jon Gorenc Stanković, Michael Hefele; Chris Löwe, Aaron Mooy, Jonathan Hogg (Philip Billing, 62’), Tommy Smith (c); Elias Kachunga, Kasey Palmer; Nahki Wells
Joel Coleman, Dean Whitehead, Mark Hudson, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Rajiv van La Parra
Aaron Mooy (49’); Michael Hefele (72’); Jon Gorenc Stanković (81’)