REPORT: TOWN 1-0 READINGHuddersfield Town’s winning run was extended to six league games in a row as Philip Billing’s superbly controlled strike within the final 10 minutes was enough to hand his side a vital 1-0 victory over Sky Bet Championship Play-Off rivals Reading.
The crucial Tuesday evening encounter would see Rajiv van La Parra make his 100th appearance in English football amongst nine changes made by the Head Coach, which also included a return to the starting squad for Chris Loewe and a place on the bench for Luke Coddington.
The conditions in which the teams would commence in battle were deteriorating by the second, with swirling winds and showers hurtling down on the 19, 894 crowd.
The first twenty minutes of the clash were cagey to say the least; Rajiv van La Parra and Elias Kachunga both showed early glimpses of determination to breach the Reading backline. Van La Parra had his tame effort comfortably saved after a surging run at the heart of the visiting defence, before Kachunga himself blasted wide following Tommy Smith’s inside set-back.
The Royals’ Jordan Obita was himself determined to keep his side in the contest from the off; after a clever reversed pass from Wells following a pinpoint Kachunga through ball, the left-back did well to track an advancing Tommy Smith dash into the box and clear any danger with an impressive covering slide tackle before any attempt at Al-Habsi’s goal could be mustered.
Bermudian Wells very nearly nodded Town ahead shortly after; Mooy’s flighted corner missed the striker’s head by inches at the front post to keep the scores level.
Up to the 30 minute mark, Jaap Stam’s black and green Reading side had scarcely ventured in to Huddersfield Town defensive territory, largely down to the excellent marshalling and control of the restored cult-hero Michael Hefele and the consistently impressive Christopher Schindler.
However, the alarm bells would soon start ringing for the Terriers when Dutch winger Roy Beerens cut inside from the left and unleashed a dipping curling effort towards the far corner, with which Danny Ward could only fingertip onto the cross-bar.
Ex-Leicester City central defender Liam Moore could only guide his header straight into the arms of the Liverpool loanee from the resulting corner after finding himself free within the six-yard box; a sign that Town had to tighten-up at the back to ensure that it stayed in the hunt to extend its unbeaten league run.
The golden chance to edge ahead in the affair had eluded Town within the first 38 minutes; Izzy Brown would go a long-way to end that wait after he was brought to the ground in the area following a trip by Moore.
Town’s first penalty in a league match since March 2016 away at Leeds United was met with some confusion surrounding who would step up and take the spot-kick itself. In the end, Rajiv van La Parra was the man on duty. The Dutch winger saw his attempt saved down low to his right, and Reading ‘keeper Ali Al Habsi’s left.
The atmosphere certainly wasn’t being deterred by the cold and gusty conditions, with both the terraces behind the goal and the action on the field going somewhat effortless lengths to ensure the entertainment value of the game was held firm.
The end to end nature of the clash came into force once again after the blow of the penalty miss earlier in the half. Danny Ward had to be sharp and alert to firstly keep out Jordon Mutch’s down-ward goal-bound header on the line, before Lewis Grabban’s acrobatic rebound was again clawed away by Town’s Welshman. The impressive Jordan Obita then fired over from range, as well as crossing for Grabban who could guide his effort millimetres wide of Ward’s left hand upright.
The flurry of Reading chances sparked the Terriers into action; Tommy Smith’s creative line pass for Kachunga allowed the German to work some room on the right-hand side before crossing for Wells. Nahki somehow managed to fluff his lines from six-yards out allowing the Royals off the hook on another occasion.
The same player couldn’t send Town in ahead after seeing his effort blocked from a sharp turn and snap-shot, before Chris Loewe bombed forward on his desired left flank, only to find the side-netting with his powerful effort.
The second period would see both sides not only battle against themselves, but with the ever-worsening West Yorkshire conditions; however, Stam’s outfit flew out of the traps, with Christopher Schindler having to react quickly to block American Danny Williams from shooting after Liam Kelly’s inventive lob over the top.
Yet again, the pendulum of momentum and the best chances would swing in Town’s favour; Australian Aaron Mooy, who to no surprise had commanded the midfield area with a great deal of composure and calmness to his play, played a delightfully threaded ball for Wells who agonisingly watched his attempt roll past the far post.
The game had sprung to life with chances at both ends now coming thick and fast; the next one ensuring Town nails were anxiously bitten as Danny Ward met an on-rushing Lewis Grabban; the on-loan Bournemouth man went down under the challenge of the Town shot stopper, the referee waving away any protests for a penalty however.
Elias Kachunga may well have had Town’s best chance following the penalty situation. Tyler Blackett’s misjudged defensive clearing header fell straight to the German who effortlessly volleyed a rocket inches wide of Oman ‘keeper Ali Al-Habsi’s post.
The defining moment was one to cherish for young Philip Billing. The Danish midfielder capitalised on Tommy Smith’s miscued effort to slam home for his first goal at the John Smith’s Stadium sending the Town terraces into Rotherham-esque uncontrollable bedlam from a week previous.
The erupting crowd would see its team grind out a priceless three points with Town thwarting late chances from substitute Yann Kermorgant and Liam Moore once again to ensure they remained third in the table before the Yorkshire derby at Barnsley on Saturday.
Town’s team: (4-2-3-1):
Danny Ward; Chris Loewe, Christopher Schindler, Michael Hefele, Tommy Smith (c); Aaron Mooy, Philip Billing; Rajiv Van La Parra (Joe Lolley, 66’), Isaiah Brown (Jack Payne, 37’); Elias Kachunga; Nahki Wells (Collin Quaner, 86’)
Luke Coddington, Dean Whitehead, Mark Hudson, Martin Cranie
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