ONCE again, Huddersfield Town did it by the slimmest of margins.
A 22nd victory of the season by a solitary goal represents a new Football League record, but all that mattered for the Terriers last night was the securing of a play-off place.
After the double fault that had been Saturday’s bruising defeat to Fulham – a clash David Wagner had labelled a “match-point game” – the Yorkshire club delivered an ace in the form of Isaiah Brown’s first-half strike.
It was enough to power Town back up to third in the table and end any hopes seventh-placed Leeds United still harboured of catching their neighbours from down the A62.
With a trip to Birmingham City on Saturday being followed by a reunion with Neil Warnock and his Cardiff City side on the final day, Huddersfield are well placed to book a second-leg tie at home.
Whether this will be an advantage or not is a moot point, Town having failed to win any of their previous eight play-off ties on home soil.
Wagner’s men, however, do now have a chance of emulating their predecessors of 1994, 2004 and 2012 by going on to clinch promotion via the footballing equivalent of Russian roulette.
If that dream of a top flight return after 45 years away is to be realised, Brown is likely to be a big factor.
A little under four years on from becoming the second youngest player in Premier League history when making his debut a few miles away at West Bromwich Albion, the 20-year-old was the difference in a hard-fought contest.
Town had undoubtedly missed the Chelsea loanee during his absence through a knee injury. Without him or fellow Blues team-mate Kasey Palmer, whose season is over due to a hamstring problem, to fill the ‘No 10’ role, Huddersfield looked half the side that had so upset the odds in the opening seven months of the season.
Last night, Brown brought creativity and, crucially, that bit of magic required to settle big games at this stage of the season.
He was, though, far from the only hero last night for Wagner’s men with Rajiv van La Parra enjoying a fine return to his old club.
Wolves fans were glad to see the back of van La Parra when he moved north to Huddersfield. A post on social media – “One week they love you. Next week they hate you. But both weeks I get paid,” he wrote 14 months ago before quickly deleting – was behind much of the ill-feeling in the Black Country, but the winger has certainly proved his worth since joining Huddersfield.
Back in August, van La Parra scored the only goal of the game as Town beat Wanderers at the John Smith’s Stadium.
With a trip to Birmingham City on Saturday being followed by a reunion with Neil Warnock and his Cardiff City side on the final day, Huddersfield are well placed to book a second-leg tie at homeRichard Sutcliffe, YP chief football writer
He followed that in the return with a hugely impressive display down the left flank. Booed at every turn by the locals, van la Parra rose above his tormentors to play a leading part in Town’s winner.
Collecting the ball in space on the left flank, he was immediately alive to the possibilities. A fine ball to Aaron Mooy allowed the Australian to find Brown, who thundered in a shot from 20 yards.
Wolves had been warned earlier about the threat posed by their former player, van La Parra having created an excellent chance for Nahki Wells that the Bermuda international had been unable to take.
Wells had also wasted another excellent opportunity in the tenth minute when played through by Brown, the striker scooping his shot over the crossbar from 15 yards despite having just Harry Burgoyne to beat.
Wolves’ efforts in those opening 45 minutes could be best summed up by the sarcastic shouts of ‘ole’ that greeted the home side stringing a few passes together in stoppage-time.
Paul Lambert, like Wagner a former employee of Borussia Dortmund, clearly had a few choice words to say during the interval and the pep talk did the trick.
Dave Edwards fired the rebound against a post after Danny Ward had got down low to parry Andi Weimann’s shot.
Substitute Jordan Graham also had a big shout for handball against Jonathan Hogg turned down by referee Tim Robinson after Weimann had earlier been unable to capitalise on excellent work from Morgan Gibbs-White.
Collin Quaner then had three chances to make the game safe ,but fluffed his lines each time to ensure Town won by that familiar one-goal margin for the 22nd time.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Burgoyne; Iorfa, Batth, Stearman, Silvio (Dicko 84); Edwards, Price; Weimann, Gibbs-White (Graham 62), Marshall; Bodvarsson (Mason 46). Unused substitutes: Brown, Saville, Coady, Hause.
Huddersfield Town: Ward; Cranie, Hefele, Schindler, Lowe; Mooy, Hogg; Scannell (Quaner 58), Brown (Bunn 71), van La Parra; Wells (Billing 90). Unused substitutes: Coleman, Whitehead, Hudson, Holmes-Dennis.
Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).