It took 120 minutes, but Town eventually secured an Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round berth against Manchester United after coming from behind to defeat Birmingham City 4-1 at St Andrew’s.
Che Adams gave the home side the lead, only to be hit a with a superb Terriers comeback which saw Tom Ince force Marc Roberts into scoring an own-goal to draw the Club level, before Steve Mounié, Rajiv van La Parra and Ince himself wrapped up the victory on a bitterly cold and wintery night in the West Midlands.
Five changes were made to the side that battled with tremendous spirit at Old Trafford on Saturday. Steve Mounié, Tom Ince, Scott Malone and Aaron Mooy were recalled, with Abdelhamid Sabiri starting at the ‘10’. Rajiv van La Parra and Florent Hadergjonaj dropped to the bench, whereas Christopher Schindler and Laurent Depoitre missed the game in the second city with respective ankle injuries. Jonathan Hogg didn’t play any part in the fixture, alongside Alex Pritchard, who was cup-tied having previously appeared in the competition with former Club, Norwich City.
Although last season’s Sky Bet Championship visit to this ground ended in defeat, the Blue half of Birmingham is a reminiscent sight for the Head Coach; the venue of his first victory in charge of Huddersfield Town in December of 2015.
The light snow had gradually eased as Mounié set the ball rolling, and just 47 seconds in, Scott Malone fired a rocket along the ground, with Blues ‘keeper David Stockdale having to be alert early on to make sure he made an adequate save.
It was the ‘Flash’ kit wearing visitors who made the initial tracks. Knocking the ball around with purpose, Abdelhamid Sabiri had two chances to put Town ahead on the night.
The Moroccan firstly saw an effort blocked inside the area having turned neatly to strike Collin Quaner’s cut-back and followed up by placing wide of the target from distance after home ‘keeper Stockdale miscued an attempted clearance.
At the other end, Birmingham’s opening chance was nodded wide from defender Michael Morrison, who had leapt highest to meet Gary Gardner’s accurate corner.
Town was controlling the lion share of possession, but still had to be clever with their approach play. Sabiri did his best to set-up Tom Ince, and despite a skilful turn in a bid to beat his marker, the ball agonisingly rolled away before a potential threat could materialise towards Stockdale.
Steve Cotterill’s hosts were restricted to scarce sightings on goal. Lukas Jutkiewicz had been marshalled well so far by the pairing of Zanka and Kongolo, resulting in the physical striker hooking his initial effort of the encounter way over the cross bar. Minutes later, Jutkiewicz would beat Terence Kongolo in the air from strike counterpart Che Adams’ cross, but once more the header was comfortably received by the orange-clad Jonas Lössl.
Pressure in the opposition area concluded with neither of the combination of Abdelhamid Sabiri or Steve Mounié able to bundle home following the latter’s knock-down from a deep Aaron Mooy centre.
Mounié was proving to be a thorn in the Blues’ side with his movement and continued to cause problems at the far post by winning an aerial duel with Morrison, forcing Stockdale to be sharp off his line to collect.
The Benin front-man was in a defiant mood and drove with intent at Birmingham’s central back three. His shot was blocked, but the ricochet landed at the feet of Scott Malone down the left, who had galloped forwards un-marked.
Options arrived in numbers in the box for the Terriers, but Scott took on a shot to catch Stockdale out at the near post, ultimately flashing into the side netting which saw a decent crossing opportunity come up short.
An inventive Terriers corner routine welcomed in the second period. Half-time replacement Florent Hadergjonaj softly rolled in Aaron Mooy, but the Australian’s resulting cross along the ground was swiftly met by a non-hesitant Marc Roberts.
But as Roberts was quick to deny Town an opener, the Sky Bbet Championship outfit would be the ones to go ahead courtesy of Che Adams.
Adams, a graduate of the non-league system, produced an accurate shot into the far corner beyond Jonas Lössl out-stretched glove on the swivel from the edge of the area.
The goal arrived largely against the run of play over the course of the match, and it could be said that an inability to take chances had contributed to the increasingly difficult task that Town was now facing for a spot in the next round.
Philip Billing immediately began the hunt to level the scores. The Danish Under-21 International curled inches wide of Stockdale’s far upright; an effort which seemed to perk the Black and Reds up.
Rajiv van La Parra’s introduction brought with it an energetic burst, with the Dutchman using his pace to find space down the left before seeing his delivery bound for Steve Mounié vitally diverted away for a corner, out of which nothing would come to fruition.
Birmingham had dropped men behind the ball looking to nullify Town’s offensive potency; but it wouldn’t last long, as Tom Ince powerfully equalised.
Tom unleashed a rasping left-footed shot from the edge of the 18-yard box having taken another of Collin Quaner’s pull-backs, and the ball would eventually settle in the back of the net after David Stockdale failed to handle the ferocity, causing it to loop invitingly in the air and over the line despite Marc Roberts’ best efforts to clear away on the slide.
The Terriers now had a taste for goals; Florent Hadergjonaj the next man to force goalwards, with a shape inside off the right-flank drawing away Blue shirts to therefore create an opening which duly saw Stockdale tested down low.
The lead may well have been stretched had Ince and Quaner’s communication not broken down. Philip Billing stepping in to deny Jota from turning deep inside Town territory initiated a quick breakaway. Quaner had sprinted clear with no Blue shirts ahead, but the move came to a halt as goal-scorer Ince’s prod forward wasn’t taken in the German’s stride as he may have expected the pass to have been played further into the gap.
Arguably the best chance to complete the comeback went begging with 15 minutes of normal time to go. The lively Collin Quaner played a perfectly weighted pass, successfully on this occasion, into the path of Tom Ince.
Tom had the goal at his mercy with just Stockdale to beat it seemed, but the winger displayed unselfish characteristics and squared for Steve Mounié; a move that came unstuck, as Town’s number 24 was outmuscled by Morrison, keeping Blues in the tie.
Chances were now beginning to arrive thick and fast.
Ince with the first, as another typically powerful left-footer was smartly kept out by Stockdale’s dive, but as the home ‘keeper only parried into the path of Scott Malone, the left-back’s follow up effort was somehow stopped from going over the line by the former Brighton & HA man.
Stockdale’s resilience soldiered on, this time by rushing out to smother Ince on the penalty spot from a lightning break-away built around Hadergjonaj’s excellent pass down the line to seek out the run of Steve Mounié in the channel.
Extra time loomed, and Birmingham looked to nab win after soaking up endless second-half pressure with two key chances of their own.
Jota’s direct run to the by-line was vitally cleared away before substitute Jerémié Boga could tap home into an empty net, ahead of Craig Gardner curling wide from range.
It really was a cup match now, end to end stuff. Rajiv van La Parra went down under the challenge of Morrison in the area having advanced with good acceleration, but referee Paul Tierney waved away late claims for a spot-kick.
Just as three injury-time minutes came to an exciting end, Rajiv van La Parra and the hardy band of travelling Town supporters thought the game had been won when the Dutchman curled beautifully for the top-corner.
To large amounts of anguish, it sailed just millimetres the wrong side of the post, meaning a period of extra-time for two sides who had both played their parts in the latter period of regulation to ensure this tie was thoroughly enjoyable to say the least; but Town will have been in doubt just as to how they didn’t manage to bag a second.
And as extra-time began to unfold, Steve Mounié leapt superbly at the far-post to meet Scott Malone’s deep cross, giving Town a thoroughly deserved 2-1 lead – a second goal in as many FA Cup appearances for the striker, who had worked tirelessly all evening.
Rajiv van La Parra quickly followed suit to add a clinching third. The second-half sub coolly slotted home after Tom Ince witnessed his effort, whilst on the ground, parried away by Stockdale – albeit occurring from Aaron Mooy’s excellent ingenuity to find his run beyond Roberts.
Other than the superb attitude to kill off Birmingham’s spirited challenge, another positive was the introduction of Sean Scannell – a first appearance of the season for the Irishman, fresh after an injury picked up on loan at Burton Albion within the early part of the campaign.
Scannell settled in down his native right, but it was Town’s other winger who dazzled the home defence to extend the dominant lead.
Just 27 seconds after Paul Tierney blew for the start of second-half extra-time, Tom Ince waltzed inside with a sense of urgency before firing expertly across Stockdale to all but secure the Terriers’ place in the Fifth Round of the Emirates FA Cup; a home tie with Manchester United (February 17, 5:30pm).
Jonas Lössl; Scott Malone (Chris Löwe, 95’), Terence Kongolo, Mathias Zanka, Tommy Smith (c)(Florent Hadergjonaj, 46’); Philip Billing, Aaron Mooy; Tom Ince, Abdelhamid Sabiri (Rajiv van La Parra, 56’), Collin Quaner (Sean Scannell, 99’); Steve Mounié
Joel Coleman, Dean Whitehead, Michael Hefele
David Stockdale; Cohen Bramall, Harlee Dean, Marc Roberts, Michael Morrison, Carl Jenkinson (Josh Dacres-Cogley, 71’); Cheikh N’Doye (Jota, 46’), Craig Gardner, Jason Lowe (Charlie Lakin, 102’); Che Adams, Lukas Jutkiewicz (Jerémié Boga, 86’)
Connal Trueman, Maxime Colin, Steve Seddon
13, 175 (558 Town)
|February 6, 2018||8:45 pm||FA Cup||2017|
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