REPORT: TOWN 1-0 ASTON VILLATommy Smith turned out to be the hero as Huddersfield Town came out on the right side of a close and cagey affair, defeating Aston Villa by a single goal at the John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Huddersfield Town’s victory saw the Club keep hold of third spot in the Sky Bet Championship; albeit after a dogged Villans outfit made the home side work exceptionally hard to ensure that maximum points would stay in West Yorkshire. Chances were at a premium in a match where defence solidarity would prove to be key at both ends.
Town’s Head Coach made three changes to the side that lost out against league leader Newcastle United last time around; an injury to Danny Ward paved the way for a rare Joel Coleman league start in Town’s only enforced change, with tactical switches being made in the shape of Jonathan Hogg and Collin Quaner coming in to replace Philip Billing and Nahki Wells respectively. Tommy Smith continued to lead the side; which maintained its usual 4-2-3-1 set-up.
The opening passages of the encounter provided some exciting moments for the majority of the 20,000+ lining the terraces; eventual goal-scorer Tommy Smith outlined his attacking intentions from the off by curling a pinpoint cross for Elias Kachunga. The German would find his effort thwarted from three-yards out, but to his relief saw the linesman’s flag raised on the near side.
The central areas of the pitch were fiercely contested; Aaron Mooy continuously worked tirelessly to compete with Australian international counterpart Mile Jedinak, as well Jonathan Hogg again proving how both the physicality and tactical aspects of his game never fail to provide a healthy foundation for which Town can produce the expansive football that the stands have come to expect as a norm.
The Terriers had to be clever to break down a well-drilled Villa team, who themselves packed a punch in front of goal with the likes of big-money signing Jonathan Kodjia leading the line.
However, the visitors’ first real chance came from an unlikely source; James Bree, a recent right full-back acquisition from Barnsley, forced a great save from Joel Coleman to the Town ‘keeper’s left. Bree’s defensive colleague Nathan Baker then fired wide following a set piece.
Instead of Town finding an offensive rhythm to push on and make the most of the opportunities on offer, it was Steve Bruce’s men who would have the best chance to open the scoring.
Neat interplay between Henri Lansbury and Jonathan Kodjia saw the latter use his forward intentions to lay a clever reverse pass to an on-rushing Conor Hourihane, only for the Irishman to provide Town with a major let-off and fire wildly into the Fantastic Media Stand.
The Hourihane chance would somewhat spark a mini Huddersfield revival; Rajiv van La Parra saw a tame effort kept out by a relatively quiet Johnstone, before Tommy Smith’s advancements down the wing came to the attention of the impressive Michael Hefele. The cult-hero, who, along with compatriot Christopher Schindler, kept the Villa front-line at bay for the majority of the 90 minutes, produced an exceptionally weighted lofted pass to the Skipper; unfortunately having to see the ball run out for a dead ball after struggling to sort his feet out for the attempted cross into the danger zone.
Although not a thoroughly heart-racing end-to-end battle, chances were starting to vaguely creep in to the proceedings; the next one falling for Henri Lansbury on the edge of the area.
The ex-Forest player, who saw the ball land at his feet despite a superb covering tackle from Chris Loewe to halt Kodjia’s progress, rattled the cross-bar with a remarkable amount of power; another aspect of the match which saw the Terriers breath a huge sigh of relief.
Joel Coleman would have himself been extremely relieved having dropped the ball inches from the line following a Villa corner; referee Darren Bond’s whistle coming as heavenly music to the stand-in goalkeeper’s ears.
A pattern of cautiousness mixed in with a desire to remain rigid and organised continued to implement itself on proceedings as the second period began; Jonathan Kodjia claiming the half’s first real opportunity. The front-man managed to writhe away from a pursuing Schindler before blazing a shot wide; Town’s man doing just enough to deter the usually prolific striker from producing a moment of glory for the away side.
Instead, on the back of a superb defensive performance up to this point, skipper Tommy Smith drilled a thumping effort across Sam Johnstone’s goal to make it advantage Town in the almighty tussle that the game was embroiling itself into.
A cleverly worked corner from the industrious Aaron Mooy worked its way to a lurking Smith on the edge of the area; the right-back’s moment of quality began with sharp agility to jink past the on-coming Villa markers and fire a crucial effort into the far corner; cue an almighty roar from the Terriers faithful, as once again they were witnessing their side grinding out a result with a performance full of energy, desire and passion.
The one moment of quality which Town had been missing came through one of its most unlikely sources; Villa themselves could’ve levelled the scores if Wales international James Chester hadn’t watched his headed attempt sail into the Chadwick Lawrence Cowshed.
Substitute Martin Cranie had been introduced to the action in a bid to shore up at the back; a move which ultimately paid off for the Head Coach, but it did however bring along with it one scary moment in particular.
Cranie’s first real involvement saw the lively Kodjia go down under a soft challenge, with the referee adjudging that the replacement had rightly and subsequently played the ball, earning one of Villa’s expensive signings a yellow card for simulation.
Fellow substitute Nahki Wells rounded off Town’s offensive adventures for the evening by producing an audacious lob to try and catch Johnstone off his line; the ‘keeper recovering well to claim the 35-yard effort with relative comfort.
Five added minutes at the end of regulation had many of the home supporters with no fingernails left come the final whistle, but any doubts of a concession by Town to deny them all three points were thoroughly quashed as the solid Michael Hefele and company saw the game out with professional and quality application to ensure that the Terriers head to Brentford on Saturday on the back of a well-deserved maximum point haul.
TOWN’S TEAM (4-2-3-1)
Joel Coleman; Chris Loewe, Christopher Schindler, Michael Hefele, Tommy Smith (c); Jonathan Hogg, Aaron Mooy; Rajiv van La Parra (Martin Cranie, 84’), Isaiah Brown (Nahki Wells, 68’), Elias Kachunga; Collin Quaner (Philip Billing, 88’)
Luke Coddington, Jon Gorenc Stankovic, Joe Lolley, Jack Payne
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