Huddersfield Town 1 Stoke 1 - ten-man Potters frustrate Terriers
STOKE CITY were the opponents when Huddersfield Town secured a milestone win back in the autumn of 2019 - when they triumphed for the first time in twenty matches.
Here, the opportunity was there for another relieving victory, but Town could not grasp it as their underwhelming start to 2021 continued.
Yes, a draw ended an alarming run of defeats. But this was an afternoon where the cards were firmly in Huddersfield’s favour to claim their first win of the New Year.
The hosts played the entire second half with an extra man after Stoke defender Rhys Norrington-Davies - on loan from Sheffield United - received his marching orders for a reckless challenge on Juninho Bacuna.
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Stoke retreated in the second half, but try as they might, Huddersfield could not find a way through, despite gorging on possession.
They ultimately lacked the wit and gumption to get past the visiting backline, who were strong and resolute in the second half.
Early on, they were less convincing as a deflected five-minute strike from Pipa put Town in front, only for Steven Fletcher to level from the spot on 24 minutes after Naby Sarr brought down ex-Leeds United winger Jack Clarke.
For a side who came into the game on such a worrying losing sequence, Town’s intent and energy was striking from the off and they did not resemble a side who had lost their previous five matches in all competitions.
Their opener might have owed plenty to a deflection off Potters captain John-Obi Mikel which diverted Pipa’s drive past Angus Gunn, but there was nothing undeserved about the merit of Town’s advantage after an assertive opening spell.
Unfortunately, the good work was undone following a poor concession which gifted Stoke an equaliser from the spot.
Sarr was penalised after a lunging challenge to catch Clarke - with Stoke having profited from an initial mistake from Richard Keogh.
The recent arrival needlessly gave away possession on three separate occasions and prior to the penalty, only a key challenge from Alex Vallejo - impressive in the first half - thwarted Joe Allen after the Potters capitalised on loose play by Keogh.
Keogh’s errant tendencies seemed to spook Huddersfield’s backline, only for a potential game-changer moments before the interval to swing the game firmly back in their favour after Norrington-Davies saw red after cleaning out Bacuna.
The onus was on Town, who went close prior to Stoke’s leveller with a downward header from Fraizer Campbell, on the resumption as the visitors sought to dig in, with Fletcher playing up front on his own in a 4-4-1 formation with James McClean switching to left back.
Stoke dropped deep with Town assigned with being patient to find the gaps and wear down the visitors and pull them out of shape.
Town’s first chance came at the feet of Vallejo, who showed a lack of composure not in keeping with his assured performance when he fired over the top, with his displeasure clear to see.
Bacuna soon shot tamely at Gunn as Stoke prepared to batten down the hatches.
Referee Gavin Ward was unmoved when Pipa went down after Jack Clarke stuck out a leg in the box before Town went desperately close when Lewis O’Brien’s first-time effort shuddered the woodwork following Toffolo’s driven low centre from the left - with Gunn getting a faint but important touch.
Duane Holmes was soon thrown on for his second debut and given licence in a number ten role with Bacuna soon denied by a fine clearance close to the goalline from McClean, with the strike otherwise destined for the net.
The clock was starting to tick for Town as Stoke got numbers back in their quest to frustrate the hosts, who pushed Mbenza into a central role, with width provided by Pipa and Toffolo, who shot over after a patient passing move.
Young striker Kieran Phillips was soon thrown onto to add another attacking option for the Terriers, who continued to monopolise possession.
Stoke, with James Chester holding their backline together, remained obstinate with a goalbound shot from Pipa diverted off target as the frustration mounted for Town.
It was compounded when referee Ward again rebuffed a call for a late penalty when Campbell went down under pressure from Gunn before Pipa was a whisker away from a low drive.
Huddersfield Town: Schofield, Pipa, Keogh (Phillips 77), Sarr, Toffolo, Bacuna, Vallejo, O’Brien; Mbenza (Pritchard 85), Campbell, Aarons (Holmes 59). Substitutes unused: Pereira, Duhaney, Crichlow, Jaden Brown, Jones, High.
Stoke City: Gunn, Collins, Souttar, Chester, Norrington-Davies; Thompson, Mikel, Allen; Clarke (Cousins 71), Fletcher (Jacob Brown 58), McClean. Substitutes unused: Bursik, Batth, Vokes, Smith, Oakley-Boothe, Clucas, Matondo.
Referee: G Ward (Surrey).