Opening day Premier League action ended in defeat for the Terriers against Chelsea despite a hard-working effort all round.
N'Golo Kante and Jorginho (pen) ensured that the score-line had a cruel look to it come the half-time interval, with Pedro adding a third late on.
Town adopted a usual set-up against one of the division's elite, reverting to a 5-3-2. Ben Hamer made a competitive debut having performed well throughout pre-season, and there was a starting appearance for Terence Kongolo, a first following a permanent summer move from AS Monaco. Terence lined-up alongside Christopher Schindler, who signed a new deal with the Club in the week, and Mathias Zanka, fresh from a run to the knockout stages of the World Cup. Another man to represent the Terriers in Russia, Aaron Mooy, was also handed a start in the midfield with Skipper Jonathan Hogg and Philip Billing. Steve Mounié led the line ahead of the hero of May's survival clinching draw at Stamford Bridge, Laurent Depoitre- but the Belgian did join the action as a half-time replacement, aiming to make it three straight fixtures with a goal against today's opponents.
Further summer additions Ramadan Sobhi and Adama Diakhaby were named amongst the substitutes, but Montpellier loanee Isaac Mbenza, FC Groningen recruit Juninho Bacuna and Borussia Dortmund full-back Erik Durm all missed out on the afternoon's curtain-raiser.
New Blues boss Maurizio Sarri would've felt right at home with the Italian-esque conditions on a pleasant day in HD1, and the visitors from the Capital had a different look about the style of play, using a 4-3-3 over the previous 3-5-2 in place under Antonio Conte.
Both sides looked to attack with a high intensity as proceedings began to unfold. The linesman's flag came to an early rescue for Town, as Alvaro Morata strayed offside having been played in from Pedro, who had latched onto to a loose pass from Ben Hamer destined for Terence Kongolo.
The first period saw Town unfamiliarly play towards the cowshed; what wasn't unfamiliar was the tremendous atmosphere being generated, as all four sides of the John Smith's Stadium roared on the boys as the high press forced the West Londoners deep into their own territory- which put extra pressure on the World's most expensive goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, a summer acquisition from Athletic Bilbao.
Known for an intense offensive style during his reign at Napoli, Sarri's men dominated possession in the opening exchanges. That being said, that possession did little in the way of budging a supremely organised and resilient Town unit.
It was the men sporting Blue and White who looked the likelier to really threaten the opposition's goal. Following a timely Zanka intervention to halt Morata, Florent Hadergjonaj's searching ball into the right channel saw Steve Mounié gallop forward in a bid to round Kepa and slot home. The Chelsea stopper had positioned himself well, however, and diverted away from danger as Steve's run came up just short.
Chances were few and far between. Town were breaking with purpose as Chelsea had the lion share of possession. Kepa was called into action as Alex Pritchard fired from the edge of the area, who had been superbly found by Chris Löwe's accurate central cross from the left.
A cagey opening half hour which most Town fans would definitely have taken ahead of kick-off. All the jobs that the Terriers had to undertake to stifle a potentially lethal Chelsea threat were completed with an impressive efficiency and composure to say the least.
The more the encounter went on, the more it was David Wagner's side who grew in confidence. As Alex Pritchard's shouts for a penalty were waved away, Steve Mounié's speculative volley whistled inches over the bar of Kepa.
At the other end, an early contender for tackle of the season was brought to the fore by Terence Kongolo. The Dutchman recovered brilliantly to execute a last-ditch sliding tackle on Willian, who would have undoubtedly been through on goal. Terence's defensive work a notion of the terrific attitude and spirit of the squad in the opening 45 of the campaign .
All of the tight defensive tasks built a foundation for a smattering of half-chances. Philip Billing's press high up the field opened up space for Alex Pritchard to cross for the figure of Steve Mounié at the far post, and the Benin striker had the ball taken off his head only by a crucial flick off David Luiz, which also ultimately bounced the wrong side of the waiting Christopher Schindler.
As Town looked to nab the opener, it was Chelsea who went ahead courtesy of N'Golo Kante. A swift break from Willian resulted in the Brazilian picking out the French World Cup winning midfielder deep inside the box, and an effort hit into the ground took a minor deflection off the unfortunate Philip Billing to nestle in the corner.
Still, Town showed no signs of being deterred. In fact the terraces were almost on their feet in jubilation as Steve Mounié rose highest to meet Zanka's flick from an Aaron Mooy corner. Bewilderingly the ball somehow managed to stay out of the back of the net after striking the post and rolling along the line; the rub of the green just really wasn't going in the Terriers' favour.
And it got worse before the break. Christopher Schindler was adjudged to have unfairly brought down Marcos Alonso inside the area, and the lead was doubled as Jorginho coolly converted the penalty to hand the Londoners a generous two-goal cushion.
The pace somewhat slowed as the latter period eased in. Ben Hamer had to be alert to produce a good sprawling save to keep out Antonio Rüdiger's powerful header, and the following corner's move concluded with Marcos Alonso rattling the bar.
Town still refused to roll over and let Chelsea completely dominate, but it was indeed the visitors who had a firm grip on the contest- Marcos Alonso watched a left-footed free-kick skim the bar from distance.
70 minutes in and the boss turned to the electric Adama Diakhaby for the necessary injection of energy required to mount a late comeback.
That comeback was very nearly given a credible start, as Philip Billing's header was palmed over by Kepa from a deep Aaron Mooy set-piece.
The pressure was building and Chelsea dropped deeper and deeper. A flurry of balls into the box narrowly fell short of the intended targets, and when one did eventually squirm the correct way, Laurent Depoitre couldn't keep the shot down to trouble the visiting 'keeper.
The aerial threat was causing Chelsea headaches at the back. Depoitre headed tamely at Kepa shortly before the points were confirmed to be heading back down south.
Eden Hazard's quick feet on a mazy run through the heart of Town's midfield enabled Pedro to be left unmarked on the right wing. Hazard picked out the Spaniard's run, and a cheeky chipped finish over Hamer virtually wrapped up the victory on Sarri's first competitive game at the helm.
Town's focus now switches to next Sunday's visit to the Premier League champions, Manchester City (Sunday August 19th, 1:30pm).
TOWN (5-3-2): Ben Hamer; Chris Löwe (Adama Diakhaby, 71'), Terence Kongolo, Christopher Schindler, Mathias Zanka, Florent Hadergjonaj; Philip Billing, Jonathan Hogg (c), Aaron Mooy; Alex Pritchard (Laurent Depoitre, 46'), Steve Mounié
UNUSED SUBS: Jonas Lössl, Tommy Smith, Ramadan Sobhi, Rajiv van La Parra, Jon Gorenc Stanković
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Marcos Alonso, David Luiz, Antonio Rüdiger, César Azpilicueta (c); Jorginho, Ross Barkley (Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 68'), N'Golo Kante; Pedro (Victor Moses, 81'), Alvaro Morata, Willian (Eden Hazard, 74')
UNUSED SUBS: Willy Caballero, Olivier Giroud, Davide Zappacosta, Andreas Christensen
REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh
ATTENDANCE: 24,121 (2090 Chelsea)
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