Huddersfield 2 Blackburn 2: Novak upstages old Town hero with late leveller

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AMID all the pre-match talk of Jordan Rhodes’ first return to the club where the Scotland international had made his name as a goalscorer of some repute, Lee Novak hardly warranted a mention.

By the end of last night, however, the former Gateshead striker was the toast of Huddersfield after his two-goal salvo rescued a dramatic point against promotion rivals Blackburn Rovers.

After putting the Terriers ahead on 15 minutes, Novak had only been able to watch in horror as, first, his one-time striker partner Rhodes equalised and then a generously awarded penalty was converted by Danny Murphy.

But then, right at the death and with almost the last kick of an entertaining War of the Roses clash, the Town striker again finished from close range to ensure it was honours even.

It was by no means a classic finish with Novak’s persistence ensuring the ball was bundled over the line after Rovers had failed to deal with Adam Clayton’s chipped pass.

But considering the hugely contentious penalty award by referee Roger East that had seemed set to hand the points to the Lancashire club, Novak’s fourth goal of the season ensured justice was done to send the majority of the 14,597 crowd home happy.

Novak had given Town the dream start on 15 minutes with another close-range finish after the visitors had spurned two opportunities to clear an Oliver Norwood free-kick.

That the opener had come against the run of play was not in doubt with Blackburn having started firmly in the ascendancy.

Ruben Rochina, who spent much of the first half peppering the Town goal with long-range efforts, had taken less than 30 seconds to bring the first save of the game from Alex Smithies.

The Spaniard then picked out Grant Hanley with a sublime delivery from a corner only for the defender to head over before Mauro Formica hit a rasping drive that was deflected behind.

Novak’s goal against the run of play then rocked Blackburn but they responded in impressive fashion as, first, Rochina again tested Smithies.

Then, just two minutes before the break, Rhodes’ intelligent arced run sprang the Town offside trap to allow the Scottish international to race on to a chipped pass from Rochina.

The rest was, from a Huddersfield perspective, hugely predictable as their one-time striker controlled the ball before drilling an unstoppable shot under Smithies to restore parity.

It was a finish of the highest order and one that Rhodes marked with a simple raised finger, the striker having pledged beforehand not to celebrate too manically so as not to insult all those at the Yorkshire club who had helped his career during the last three years.

The Town fans appreciated the gesture.

What they didn’t appreciate, however, was the truly awful decision that allowed Rovers to take the lead 10 minutes into the second half.

A perfectly-timed tackle by Joel Lynch on Markus Olsson should have seen the visitors awarded a corner but, instead, referee Roger East inexplicably pointed to the spot.

Huddersfield were incensed and Danny Murphy’s successful conversion of the penalty merely heightened their sense of injustice.

For the rest of the game, Town harnessed that rage in a positive manner as the Blackburn goal came under heavy pressure as Grayson abandoned the 4-5-1 formation that his side had again employed after its success in last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Bristol City.

The introduction of Alan Lee and Danny Ward did the trick as Huddersfield rediscovered sufficient attacking vim and vigour to worry the visitors.

Lee was the first to threaten with a flying header than cleared the crossbar before Ward was played through by a sublime pass.

Just as the former Leeds junior prepared to shoot, however, a last-gasp challenge by Grant Henley saw the ball knocked behind for a corner.

Lesser sides may have taken this as a sign that it just wasn’t destined to be their night but Town refused to bow down as Clayton had a couple of long-range efforts that were charged down.

Ward then skipped past a couple of challenges before drilling a shot into the side-netting before Lee again went close with a header that Paul Robinson did well to keep out.

For all Huddersfield’s endeavour, however, the goal just wouldn’t come and when the fourth official held up the board to indicate four minutes of stoppage time would be played there seemed a palpable sense of resignation in the air.

That, though, turned to joy in the fourth of those minutes as Clayton sent one last pass into the area.

Novak was the quickest to react and after seeing his first effort blocked, the Town striker dived at the ball to force it over the line and ensure it was his name on everyone’s lips at the final whistle and not his former team-mate Rhodes.

Huddersfield Town: Smithies; Woods, Clarke, Lynch, Dixon; Hammill (Ward 60), Clayton, Norwood (Lee 60), Southern, Scannell; Novak. Unused substitutes: Bennett, Gerrard, Wallace, Arfield, Robinson.

Blackburn Rovers: Robinson; Henley, Dann, G Hanley, Martin Olsson; Formica (Rosado 82), Murphy, Etuhu, Markus Olsson, Rochina (Vukcevic 78), Rhodes. Unused substitutes: Kean, Orr, Pedersen, R Hanley, Ribiero.

Referee: R East (Wiltshire).