Town impressive on the West Coast
The Terriers moved to second in the early npower Championship table courtesy of a fantastic victory at promotion favourites Blackpool in a televised encounter.
Simon Grayson will have thoroughly enjoyed his return to the Club that he played over 150 games for and managed to this division, with his new-look Town side deserving their victory claimed thanks to goals from Lee Novak, James Vaughan and Oliver Norwood.
Town played good, effective football against the much-fancied hosts and extended their unbeaten run to six games in the process – with three straight wins.
Town, in their change strip of all navy, started the game like a house on fire – soon realising that the hosts looked susceptible to the ball over the top of centre halves Ian Evatt and Alex Baptiste. Backed by a vociferous away following, the signs were there when Lee Novak was inches away from latching onto a flick-on from strike partner James Vaughan – only for goalkeeper Matt Gilks to spring from his line and clear to safety.
Adam Clayton fired wide barely a minute later after more good work from Vaughan before Novak wasted two good crossing opportunities from the right, floating his deliveries over the crossbar after producing space through his own hard work and endeavour.
Danny Ward was in great form coming into the Bloomfield Road clash and the left winger was lively again. He forced the first meaningful save from either goalie in the 11th minute after forcing a corner with a determined dribble; Gilks punched Norwood’s delivery into his path on the edge of the area and had to show smart reactions to push his effort away from target.
Town’s pressure paid two minutes later, with Novak netting his second goal in as many games. A long clearance from former Blackpool Player of the Year Peter Clarke was expertly flicked on by Vaughan’s head over centre back Baptiste and into Novak’s path, who entered the area before steadying himself and placing the ball past Gilks with his left foot.
The highly rated Tom Ince spurned his first chance of the game after Norwood was penalised for a foul on the edge of Town’s box, firing over with the resulting set piece, but the Terriers were soon back on the attack – with former Manchester United midfielder Norwood firing his own free kick into the ‘keeper’s hands via a deflection.
The hosts finally found a foothold in the game as the 20th minute approached and it was easy to see why they were so prolific in front of goal. Playing three in attack, Ian Holloway’s men threw bodies forward – often leaving the defenders one on one with Vaughan at the back. To counter this, Simon Grayson had clearly instructed wingers Ward and Clayton to tuck in next to their midfield colleagues when out of possession.
Ince headed Tiago Gomes’ left wing cross straight at Smithies before Town enjoyed another break on 24 minutes, with determined play from Vaughan leading to a shooting chance for Ward – who blasted just wide from the edge of the box.
However, Blackpool’s improvement paid dividends with an equaliser in the 27th minute – and that man Ince was the orchestrator. The forward picked up the ball on the edge of the area and expertly twisted and turned past Anthony Gerrard before sliding the ball across the face of goal for ex-Town man Gary Taylor-Fletcher to place past the helpless Smithies from close range.
The Tangerines enjoyed a decent spell after their goal, but Portuguese midfielder Gomes totally wasted a decent opening with 10 minutes of the half remaining after collecting a good pass from striker Nathan Delfouneso - firing wildly wide from a very acute angle.
Adam Clayton was similarly wasteful on a subsequent Town break, opting not to play Novak in on goal and instead dribbling infield into traffic.
The Terriers continued to press as the half came to a close and were rewarded with a last minute goal to restore the lead. Jack Hunt did brilliantly to win a free-kick from left back Stephen Crainey with absolutely nothing on down the right touchline and when Ollie Norwood curled an excellent ball into the danger zone, Vaughan got the goal his first half performance deserved – thundering an unstoppable header past the stationary Gilks’ left side.
Town came out of the tunnel in impressive fashion following the interval – and soon extended their lead. Left back Paul Dixon hadn’t had the chance to break forward often in the first half – but his first foray forward drew a free-kick from right back Neal Eardley, who blatantly blocked the Town man. Up stepped Norwood, fresh from his first Town goal at Sheffield Wednesday, curled the ball powerfully towards the back post - and the ball didn’t get a touch on its way through the crowded penalty box before it nestled in the corner!
James Vaughan soon had the ball in the net again only for the goal to be ruled out for offside and literally seconds later Dixon pulled off a superb sliding challenge to deny Ince a clear route at Smithies goal as the game opened up.
Paul Dixon was booked just before the hour mark, but on first viewing the decision looked a little harsh after the Scotland international appeared to win the ball cleanly off Tom Ince. Tiago Gomes stepped up and curled a teasing ball to the back post, but defender Baptiste headed over.
Town looked lethal at set-pieces, with Norwood’s ever reliable delivery causing havoc for Blackpool. He had the chance at another free kick just after the hour mark when Clayton was bundled over by Crainey. Norwood’s deep delivery was headed back across goal by Peter Clarke and the lively Vaughan flicked a close range header just wide of the post.
Holloway showed his intention moments later, bringing on attackers Matt and Kevin Phillips at the expense of two central midfielders – Gomes and Barry Ferguson. As a result, Blackpool had four strikers on the pitch.
Former Wycombe winger Phillips was immediately into the action in the 67th minute. The England youth international is a stocky figure for a wide man and knocked Jack Hunt to the floor before driving infield from the Town right and firing a low drive inches wide of Smithies’ right hand post.
Vaughan had a second goal of the game disallowed for offside with around 20 minutes after receiving a defence-splitting pass from the creative Clayton.
The Town fans were praising Vaughan again within four minutes after he volleyed powerfully over from range with quarter of an hour remaining. Although the effort was very ambitious, his technique and will to score had to be admired.
With 12 minutes to go Holloway brought on another striker – Nouha Dicko – this time at the expense of right back Eardley.
The exceptional Vaughan was replaced two minutes later, receiving a standing ovation from the Town faithful; the pacey Sean Scannell replaced him in attack.
Substitute Dicko then sent a speculative cross into the area from the right as Blackpool searched for a way back into the game, but Delfouneso hit his instinctive first-time snapshot a couple of yards wide of Smithies’ left hand post.
The unlikely source of Sean Scannell got his head to a right wing cross from Clayton moments later as Town took the ball towards the corner, but he headed high and wide. Nevertheless, Town saw the game out in expert fashion.
Town’s team (4-4-2):
Alex Smithies; Paul Dixon, Anthony Gerrard, Peter Clarke (c), Jack Hunt; Danny Ward, Oliver Norwood (Calum Woods 85), Keith Southern (Scott Arfield 90), Adam Clayton; Lee Novak, James Vaughan (Sean Scannell 80)
Ian Bennett, Murray Wallace, Alan Lee, Anton Robinson
Town Bookings: James Vaughan (45); Paul Dixon (59); Oliver Norwood (80)
Blackpool Booking: Stephen Crainey (69)