A BOTTLE of bubbly proved an ideal belated 22nd birthday present for Jack Hunt, but it did not compare to his satisfaction at Huddersfield Town regaining the vim and vigour which had put them in the top six in the early stages of the season.
Town emerged from the shadows of their poor second-half display in the home derby defeat to Leeds United with a performance which matched that of a Bolton side which retains plenty of Premier League quality despite their lowly position in the Championship following relegation.
It could also have been a first win in five games had not Hungarian goalkeeper Adam Bogdan flown high to his left to divert a shot from James Vaughan which was arrowing its way into the top corner in the sixth minute of stoppage time.
That would have been rough justice on Bolton, who had shaded the second half of this exciting topsy-turvy encounter after the hosts had edged most of the opening 45 minutes.
Hunt’s attacking forays down the right as Town battled back from 2-1 down earned him the sponsors’ man-of-the-match award but his Champagne moment came in the 53rd minute when Kevin Davies sent the game’s outstanding player, Chris Eagles, through into the area. An equaliser looked a certainty but right-back Hunt sped across and slid in to divert the danger.
Hunt is determined to be noted for his defensive duties as much as his attacking threat and was delighted to hear former Bolton chief Phil Brown describe him as one of the best young full-backs he has seen for a long time.
Two days after his 22nd birthday, Hunt said: “I’ve had a lot of criticism about my defending but, this season, that has been the strongest part of my game.
“It’s had to be because I’m playing against better players and I know that the higher I want to go then that’s the side of the game I need to improve on.
“It’s great to hear something like that from such a good manager as Phil Brown and I’ll take a lot of confidence from that.”
After slipping into mid-table following three defeats and a draw, Hunt added: “It was important to get at least a point. We are still in touching distance of the play-offs which is obviously higher than we imagined, but it was the way we dug in and played which was the most encouraging.
“We showed more of a fighting spirit than we did in the Leeds game and it was pleasing to get that back in the team.
“We never showed any fight in the second half against Leeds and if you can’t get up for games like that as a team...
“When we conceded (against Bolton), though, instead of letting our heads go down we knew we needed they had to go back up and we showed the character we have got in the changing room.
“To be four points off the play-offs is a massive achievement for this club to say we have only just gone up.”
Hunt was delighted that goalkeeper Alex Smithies, who was at fault for Leeds’s opener the previous week, produced a great save from Eagles’s 75th-minute penalty after Mark Davies had curled the ball beyond him for a 70th-minute equaliser.
“That is Alex Smithies’s forte, he is an amazing goalkeeper. He may have been at fault last week but that’s just one fault out of 21 games. Alex has won us more points this season than anyone else so we will not hold a grudge against him for that one mistake.”
Manager Simon Grayson agreed, stating: “It was a fantastic penalty save by Alex and, coming after what happened to him with that goal against Leeds, it will do him the world of good.
“To be fair to the lad, that mistake didn’t affect him, and we knew it wouldn’t because he is such a mentally strong character.
“We have a lot of faith in Alex, and it is clear that with his talent he has a bright future in the game.”
Eagles did get the better of Smithies soon after the spot-kick, Kevin Davies winning an aerial challenge with both centre-backs, allowing Mark Davies to produce a back-heeled pass for his partner to make it 2-1 in the 80th minute.
Town had gone ahead in the ninth minute when Zat Knight, under pressure from Anthony Gerrard, headed into his own net from a corner. They almost made it 2-0 but Lee Novak’s shot rebounded clear off the underside of the bar after Bogdan had palmed away a shot from Town’s chief prompter Adam Clayton, and Simon Church had drilled the ball back across the area.
Going behind only galvanised rather than deflated Town – manager Grayson employing all three substitutes – and it was Hunt who set up the 87th-minute equaliser.
Instead of going down the right, Hunt knocked the ball inside and Alan Lee’s immediate lay-off gave Vaughan the space to drill the ball inside Bogdan’s right-hand post.
In the final minute of stoppage time, Vaughan almost capitalised on a slip by hamstring victim Matt Mills’s replacement Tim Ream, but was denied by Bogdan.
However, the striker’s quality performance showed how badly he had been missed through injury over the previous eight games.
Hunt is delighted to have the former England Under-21 striker, signed on a season-long loan from Norwich, back, adding: “When he has played we have won more often than not and he is a massive threat up front.
“He always puts himself on the line, giving 110 per cent. He is a top-class player and that is why he is at a Premiership club.”
Grayson, still without hamstring victim Jermaine Beckford, added: “James Vaughan’s finish for his goal was terrific. He showed great technique and you saw out there that he is a player who brings a lot to the team. We are delighted to have him back.”