REPORT: TOWN 0-0 SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAYPlay-off fever had well and truly reached the terraces of the John Smith’s Stadium, but Sunday lunchtime’s first leg against Sheffield Wednesday ended in a goalless stalemate to leave the tie firmly in the balance ahead of the mid-week return fixture.
David Wagner made three changes to the side that ended the regular season against Cardiff City; Collin Quaner and Sean Scannell made way for Nahki Wells and Elias Kachunga respectively, whilst Town’s enforced change came between the sticks, as Joel Coleman took the place of the suspended Danny Ward.
Carlos Carvalhal’s Owls reverted to a similar style of play that it adapted on a visit to West Yorkshire back in October; a defensive out-look, allowing the match-up of Hefele and Schindler v Fletcher and Forestieri in the Town defensive third. Evidently from the start, Town was allowed a relative degree of comfort in possession until the half-way stages were entered, with the contest becoming a key battle of the strong midfield duos which have assisted their respective sides so influentially throughout the grueling league campaign.
With visiting Skipper Glen Loovens electing to switch the Terriers around in the first half to unusually play towards the Fantastic Media Stand, it was indeed the Terriers to have any real venture forward into an offensive position. Chris Loewe served up an inviting cross for Rajiv van La Parra who was narrowly beaten in the air by a recovering Daniel Pudil, before Elias Kachunga’s tenacity to win back possession high up the field resulted in Aaron Mooy dragging an effort wide of the mark.
Similar tenacious defensive work high up the pitch led to Nahki Wells turning provider for Izzy Brown in a decent amount of space, but unfortunately the same result occurred from the Chelsea loanee, who failed to muster any sort of trouble-making attempt for Keiren Westwood to deal with in the Wednesday goal.
Bermudian Wells, along with the entire squad nonetheless, looked in a defiant mood to ensure they headed to Hillsborough on Wednesday with a positive advantage; Nahki’s surge into the box, after breezing past his marker following a sharp turn of pace, ended in heartache once more as Elias Kachunga couldn’t seem to grasp any sort of control on the ball which would’ve enabled the DR Congo international a clear attempt at the target.
Skipper Tommy Smith was marginally adjudged to have been offside, crucially ruling out Nahki Wells’ tidy finish to keep the scores level, before superbly experienced defensive positioning by Loovens vitally denied Izzy Brown’s route to goal in a menacing attacking position.
In truth, Wednesday’s best chance fell only a few seconds before the interval. Scotland international Barry Bannan, who had been marshalled well by Jonathan Hogg in the opening passages, showed the prowess that his left-foot possessed by delivering an incisive curling ball for ex-Terrier Jack Hunt at the far post, but the man who experienced the last Play-Off campaign involving Huddersfield Town was let down by a loose touch; a chance that the away side had desired after finding opportunities at a premium, mainly due to a usual resistance from the impressively solid Hefele and Schindler.
Town would maintain the pressure throughout the second period; however, van La Parra’s blocked attempted centre from Aaron Mooy’s silky touch-line pass, Elias Kachunga displayed his tenacious defensive characteristics this time at the other end to ensure he nodded away Ross Wallace’s deep far-post cross before an advancing Adam Reach could head home.
As always with Play-Off encounters, the sense of anxiousness was always going to be a factor as to who, if anyone, grabbed that elusive opener; Town fans would only grow in confidence as a result of a delightfully flowing move just before the hour mark.
Trademark composure in possession from Aaron Mooy resulted in Tommy Smith receiving a pass on the right-flank; the Skipper continued to fizz an accurate pass into Elias Kachunga who in turn produced a cultured flick back to Smith on the inside, who’s cross yet again was blocked by experienced positioning from Dutch defender Loovens. Van La Parra’s rebounded centre reached by a stretching Izzy Brown in the box, but the chance evaded Town as referee Paul Tierney blew for a correctly given impediment.
A moment of supreme ingenuity from Nahki Wells very nearly had the masses of Huddersfield Town supporters in the stands on their feet minutes after the incisive move down the right. With his back to goal, the Bermudian swiveled calmly before producing a delightful lob attempting to catch out Westwood off his line; the Irish international just about recovered to tip the ball agonisingly over the cross-bar.
Wednesday winger Adam Reach followed Nahki’s moment of intelligence by narrowly firing wide of the target with a 30-yard spectacular effort of his own; Joel Coleman seeing the ball comfortably wide on this occasion, however.
Town pressure continued to build upon the stubborn resilience of Carvalhal’s men; firstly Tommy Smith could only blast over into the Cowshed after Pudil recovered well, before a rare defensive mix-up from the Owls allowed Nahki Wells to wriggle free in the area and unleash an effort which was blocked well by the reputably strong palms of Keiren Westwood.
Fernando Forestieri had so far failed to add to his tally of goals at this Stadium already throughout this campaign and the Italian would have a relatively quiet day leading the line for the Owls; Michael Hefele thwarting the striker’s best chance of doing so, by blocking off any route to goal following Westwood’s long clearance.
Having restricted Wednesday to very rare attempts, mostly long range, non-threatening distances nonetheless, Barry Bannan wasted yet another effort by blasting way over into the packed Fantastic Media lower tier.
The tie looked to be petering out into a tense final few minutes, with Wednesday content to sit back and not give anything away before the crucial second-leg; Collin Quaner’s staggering leap into the air to knock-back Aaron Mooy’s corner into a waiting Michael Hefele’s path resulted in the cult-hero having the ball narrowly nabbed away before possibly unleashing a ruthless volley from close range, rounding off a positively upbeat performance which Town can hopefully build upon at Hillsborough on Wednesday evening.
Town line-up (4-2-3-1):
Joel Coleman; Chris Loewe (Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, 90’), Christopher Schindler, Michael Hefele, Tommy Smith (c); Jonathan Hogg, Aaron Mooy; Rajiv van La Parra, Isaiah Brown, Elias Kachunga (Collin Quaner, 78’); Nahki Wells (Martin Cranie, 90’)
Luke Coddington, Dean Whitehead, Mark Hudson, Jack Payne
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