REPORT: TOWN 3-2 PNEA dramatic late winner – a first in Sky Bet Championship football for Collin Quaner – sealed a well-deserved win for the Terriers against Preston North End, albeit in unusual circumstances.
Town dominated the game in terms of possession and chances, but found themselves pegged back to 2-2 by the visitors before a late penalty award by referee Lee Probert for an off-the-ball incident.
The penalty was saved, but the big German striker followed up to calmly stroke the rebound home and send a packed John Smith’s Stadium into raptures.
Town played pretty well throughout the opening 45 minutes, but still had to come from behind to sit level at the interval.
Preston played 4-4-2 but still sat quite deep at the John Smith’s Stadium to restrict Town’s space, with every player behind the ball at regular intervals. Despite this, Town’s patient passing game – and good use of the width – led to several chances in the opening 20 minutes.
The first came inside the first three minutes as Chris Löwe, restored to the side after missing the previous weekend’s defeat at Nottingham Forest through muscle fatigue, got forward and cross towards Nahki Wells. The Bermudian’s flicked header fell to Kachunga at the back post, whose first-time volley was going wide before it hit a defender. Unfortunately for those of a Town persuasion, goalkeeper Chris Maxwell got across brilliantly to push the ball wide.
Wagner was clapping his side’s intent 60 seconds later as Mooy won the ball back off Ben Pearson with good reactive pressure. In the end the Australian half-volleyed a difficult chance high and wide from range, but the crowd still appreciated his efforts.
Tommy Smith’s overlapping runs weren’t being properly tracked by left winger Daniel Johnson and he was often found by Hogg and Mooy’s raking cross-field passes. One in the 10th minute found Smith high up the pitch and he pulled the ball back to Rajiv van La Parra at the second attempt, whose placed shot from 20 yards out kept Maxwell honest.
A well-organised North End side kept the Terriers honest and only Löwe’s excellent recovery tackle prevented Aiden McGeady from running clear in the 12th minute after a smart one-two.
There were a couple of injuries in the first-half; one per team. Sadly, former Town Academy man and PNE captain Tom Clarke was withdrawn in the 16th minute after a tackle with Philip Billing that appeared to hurt his right leg; he got a good reception from all sides of the ground.
Town was back on the attack soon after, with Hefele’s header from a Löwe free-kick being blocked by a defender.
However, it was the visiting side that took the lead in the 23rd minute through an excellent McGeady strike. Löwe’s defensive header was hit to McGeady by Gallagher and the attacker used right back Vermijl’s run as a decoy before skipping past Hogg’s challenge and firing a vicious 25-yard effort past Ward’s left side in impressive style.
Despite the setback, Town’s players kept their composure and maintained their patient style. Philip Billing soon made way after tweaking his groin in a sliding challenge with Pearson, with Jack Payne coming on and Aaron Mooy dropping back alongside Hogg.
Thankfully, a set piece allowed Town to draw level two minutes before half-time. Löwe’s cross was blocked behind and Mooy’s delivery was wicked, with the pace deceiving Maxwell. With the ‘keeper underneath the ball, Elias Kachunga was left with the simple task of nodding into the unguarded net for his 13th of a productive season.
Town continued to boss the game in the second 45 minutes, but it took 10 to create the first shooting chance; Kachunga spinning and firing into the outside of the net from an acute angle after receiving a lovely disguised pass from Mooy.
North End players were conceding a high number of fouls at this point, with battling midfielder Pearson a common culprit. He clashed with Löwe just after the hour mark and both players were booked, with Preston right back Marnick Vermijl and centre back Paul Huntington also seeing yellow soon after following a pull-back on a flying van La Parra.
Town’s second goal was a real beauty, with a long, patient passing move leading to a 70th minute goal to put Town ahead. The ball went from left to right as the Terriers probed for an opening, with a burst of acceleration from Nahki Wells eventually setting up the chance.
Having received a pass with his back to goal, the Bermudian turned infield and sent a long cross-field pass right into the path of the onrushing Smith. The right back did excellently, hitting a powerful first-time volley across the face of goal that took the goalkeeper out of the equation and left Jack Payne with the task of heading the ball into the vacant net at full stretch.
That was Payne’s fourth of the season and his first at home in the league, with his only other Championship strike coming back in August to win the game at Newcastle.
Preston didn’t take that lying down and equalised inside nine minutes. McGeady was at the centre of things again, showing excellent feet to burst clear of the Town midfield before nudging a pass into the box. Daniel Johnson collected the ball on the dead-ball line and pushed it back to Barkhuizen, whose cross from the Town left was perfect for striker Jordan Hugill to power past Ward from close range.
Hugill headed over from close range at full stretch moments later after Preston kept Tommy Spurr’s long throw alive and as Town pressed for the winner, Ward showed good concentration to fist away another dangerous McGeady delivery.
Then came the winner. Town earned a free-kick as Hugill dragged down Payne needlessly wide on the right and when North End cleared the ball, play was halted as Kachunga went down inside the penalty area. It transpired that Hugill had stamped on the German’s foot as he ran out of the area, with referee Probert taking his time and speaking to his assistant before eventually pointing to the spot.
The drama wasn’t done. After a long delay, Mooy stepped up and saw Maxwell save his effort; the ‘keeper flying to his left to push the ball away. However, Quaner was the calmest man in the JSS as he hit the follow up back across goal and into the corner under pressure to seal the win.
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Danny Ward; Chris Löwe, Christopher Schindler, Michael Hefele, Tommy Smith (c); Philip Billing (Jack Payne, 36’ (Mark Hudson, 90’)), Jonathan Hogg; Rajiv van La Parra, Aaron Mooy, Elias Kachunga; Nahki Wells (Collin Quaner, 86’)
Joel Coleman, Dean Whitehead, Sean Scannell, Martin Cranie