Boxing Day football didn’t disappoint as both Town and Stoke City played their part in a thoroughly enjoyable 1-1 draw.
Tom Ince’s first top-flight goal in HD1 sent David Wagner’s men in at half-time with a goal advantage, but a second-half strike from substitute Ramadan Sobhi earned both Clubs a point.
The Head Coach made four changes from Saturday’s excellent showing at Southampton, as Chris Löwe, Club Captain Tommy Smith and Steve Mounié all got the nod ahead of Scott Malone, Florent Hadergjonaj and Laurent Depoitre. The final change of the afternoon saw Jonathan Hogg return from suspension to anchor the midfield, with Danny Williams named as one of the substitutes.
Interestingly, The Potters’ last fixture in Huddersfield took place around the festive period of 2001, when both Clubs plied their trades in the old second division- a fixture which ended goalless.
It would take at least 5 minutes for the opening half-chance. Tom Ince rolled off the shoulder of opposing skipper Ryan Shawcross, and after a neat touch to set, fired across the face of goal.
Mark Hughes’ Stoke responded with pace. A mistake allowed pacey Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri to sprint clear, and was denied by suitably placed recovery positioning by Tommy Smith. The red and whites kept the pressure on, with Shaqiri turning provider by slipping Joe Allen in behind. Re-instated Jonathan Hogg scrambled back to put Allen off, as Jonas Lössl sprang off his line to smother the Welshman’s advances.
Nonetheless, as the visitors were denied at one end, Tom Ince would eventually set the ball rolling with that elusive first Town Premier League goal. Persistence down the right by the ever-dangerous Collin Quaner resulted in the right-winger squaring for Ince after collecting Tommy Smith’s return in a one-two, and after a slight deflection, Ince was on hand to slot home- to his evidently unrivalled relief in the celebrations.
Although it has taken up to the turn of the year for Ince to reward his tremendously spirited performances with a goal, his last goal in this division occurred on his Crystal Palace debut on 8 February 2014. Despite there being a chilly feel in the atmosphere, Tom’s opener had raised the roof. City displayed a threat immediately in response, as Eric Choupo-Moting failed to bring down a bouncing ball having sought by Allen’s aerial pass.
Peter Crouch is renowned for posing huge danger in the heading department. To a large extent, Town did well to ensure the tall striker couldn’t adequately connect with an attempt, which sailed over the bar, from Darren Fletcher’s flighted corner. The linesman’s flag would come to Town’s rescue, as livewire Choupo-Moting, who was creatively looking to work his way in between the lines, found a rigid Terriers defensive-line enforced to minimise the potential of a breakaway.
Staying firm brought its chances. Quaner centrally drove at the Stoke spine before cushioning a pass towards Steve Mounié, but the Benin striker seemed to have been put off by marker Shawcross which therefore resulted in no vital connection which may have threatened Jack Butland.
Quaner would continue to be involved in the thick of the action. Aaron Mooy’s effortless through ball released him in the channel, and after excelling into a promising crossing position, the eventual pass across the face was missed agonisingly by the arriving Steve Mounié.
An incredible passage of play was to follow, as the visitors would be left pondering just as to how they weren’t level; the answer, remarkable Huddersfield Town defending. A passage that included two stupendous Jonas Lössl saves, firstly from Ryan Shawcross powerful header from Fletcher’s corner, before somehow clawing away Choupo-Moting’s bicycle kick which was confirmed not to have crossed the line by referee Anthony Taylor’s goal-line technology device.
In the midst of Jonas’ duo of stops, Chris Löwe cleared off the line with maximum effect after Joe Allen prodded towards the corner. If the incredibly vocal Town supporters weren’t on the edge of their seats, a crazy couple of minutes was sure to change that. Nonetheless, David Wagner would have been pleased that an equaliser was averted, with the defensive effort being of a superb standard.
Proceedings settled down, and the ‘Terrier identity’ was on view further and further, as blue and white shirts hounded the away side out of possession with urgency. That man Quaner was buoyed, and tried a sublime piece of skill by flicking the ball past Zouma into space in an attempt to out-run the on-loan Chelsea central defender. On this occasion, Zouma was too strong for Collin, but the offensive intent was positive and magnificent for all to see.
Rajiv van La Parra had been relatively quiet down his favoured left flank, and the Dutchman caused problems for the visitors by cutting inside a curling a shot towards the far corner which Butland had to get down low and palm away.
Rajiv followed up by producing a similar play as a result of Jonathan Hogg’s centralised surge, but this time didn’t force a save out of Butland but instead fired into the side-netting. A minor scare would arise on the stroke of the interval. Choupo-Moting had the ball in the net after escaping his markers, but crucially strayed offside- equaliser wiped out, with Town’s slender advantage remaining in-tact.
The second period started as the first ended, with Town coming forward. Tom Ince couldn’t bring down a loose clearance to shoot, before Steve Mounié’s spectacular over-head kick landed inches over the bar which could have been a fantastic way to double the lead whilst the faithful were returning to their seats after the break.
A good move rounded off with Ince shooting tamely at Butland after Aaron Mooy’s curved pass, stemmed from Collin Quaner winning the physical battle to dispossess Choupo-Moting.
Collin’s confidence was well and truly flowing, this time driving with purpose into the area but would only find Geoff Cameron in the way to shield the possible route to the by-line for a cut-back.
Town pressed, and two quick chances would come and go. Yet another drive from Quaner witnessed a looping rebound which Rajiv van La Parra looked destined to hit. Butland was quick to dart off his line and thwart any goal-bound effort- all this proceeding a patient move where Tom Ince fired over from close range after Tommy Smith had crossed first-time from Jonathan Hogg’s pinpoint switch from left to right.
A failure to take them chances was punished.
Joe Allen’s run down the left ended with a cross which evaded everyone bar replacement Ramadan Sobhi at the far post who finished on the slide into an empty net. In truth, that was Stoke’s best opportunity of the half, and it was taken.
After the double introduction of Depoitre and Lolley, the offensive intensity was still there to cause the Staffordshire side headaches. Jonas Lössl did his best to dive sharply to his right in order to keep out Choupo-Moting’s long-range strike. That intensity reared its head as lively Quaner advanced past Cameron on the left and squeezed a drilled attempt wide of the far-post.
In the aftermath, a challenge on Aaron Mooy inside the penalty area was deemed to have been a fair one; referee Taylor waving away any claims of a Terriers spot-kick. The Christmas contest in HD1 was moulding into a thrilling one; Tom Ince was hauled down by Cameron as he made a break through a defensive gap, and saw his accurate free-kick comfortably saved by Butland.
Stoke would themselves have a penalty claim declined, as Sobhi’s replacement companion Mame Diouf thought he’d been fouled by Schindler in the box having latched onto Peter Crouch’s flick-on.
As Town pushed numbers forward, Diouf used his speed to try and advance past the figure of Mathias Zanka. Zanka displayed superb strength to block Diouf, who in turn handballed; a block which, if it hadn’t have been made, may well have seen the Senegalese striker have an unaccompanied run to goal.
Jonas Lössl’s reflexes were thoroughly put to the test as a deep, deep cross was headed goal-wards by Crouch, and the Dane managed to get the strong right hand up to thrust away the danger and set up a counter-attack. Nerves really were jangling as both sides looked like they could win the game; Laurent Depoitre’s hold up play and runs into the channel drawing a man towards him were duly opening up space for his team-mates to work in, but both defences were going to great lengths to keep the door bolted.
As Town pushed for a late winner, Joe Lolley’s quick touch and shot made Butland work to preserve the levelled scores by once more diving down to his right. As four minutes of added time ticked towards the duration, eventual man-of-the-match Quaner would slip at the crucially wrong time to send the ball flying high and wide into the Fantastic Media stand, before Joe Lolley’s direct run concluded with Butland easily controlling the midfielder’s low-key attempt.
TOWN’S STARTING LINE-UP (4-2-3-1):
Jonas Lössl; Chris Löwe (Scott Malone, 83’), Christopher Schindler, Mathias Zanka, Tommy Smith (c); Jonathan Hogg, Aaron Mooy; Rajiv van La Parra (Joe Lolley, 62’), Tom Ince, Collin Quaner; Steve Mounié (Laurent Depoitre, 62’)
Joel Coleman, Martin Cranie, Florent Hadergjonaj, Danny Williams
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor
ATTENDANCE: 24, 047