HAVING scored against Huddersfield Town for two different clubs last season, Billy Sharp was unsurprisingly itching to get off the bench and on to the pitch as Leeds United went toe-to-toe with their neighbours.
So much so, in fact, that he spent much of Saturday afternoon whispering in the ear of head coach Neil Redfearn about his happy knack of finding the net against the Terriers.
Seven previous appearances against Huddersfield spread over the best part of a decade had yielded five goals and just as many victories to leave Sharp fancying his chances of making an impact.
He did just that, the 28-year-old striker netting a dramatic winner in the final minute to seal a first league double for Leeds over Town in 76 years.
“That goal was for the fans,” said Sharp, who recently rejected a loan move to Ipswich Town despite the Elland Road hierarchy being willing to sanction the striker’s departure.
“They sing my name week in and week out, even though I don’t get on the pitch sometimes. It was great to see their faces when the ball went in.
“I was just happy to get on the pitch because I didn’t think I was going to manage it once Mirco (Antenucci) had been sent on. Once Mirco had been chosen, I thought that was it and we would just see the draw out to take a point.
“But then Lewis Cook went down, I got stripped and on I went.
“I knew I had scored on my last visit to Huddersfield, it was for Reading. I had mentioned it beforehand. If I am on the bench, I always give Redders a sly dig whenever we are playing a team I have scored against. I like to say things like, ‘I have scored here’.”
Sharp’s big moment – and only his third goal in a Leeds shirt – came 40 or so seconds from time.
Antenucci was the creator with an inviting right wing cross that flew just the right distance between goalkeeper Joe Murphy and last defender Tommy Smith to create uncertainty between the pair.
But it still needed a striker’s know-how to capitalise. “As the ball came in,” explained Sharp, “the defender looked to his left, meaning I knew he was going to hesitate and wait for the ’keeper to come and get it.
“I knew I just had try and make some contact and I was lucky enough to get my head on it.”
Sharp’s goal celebrations were as raucous as those behind the goal among the 3,972 strong travelling army of fans, almost as if clinching three precious derby points in such a dramatic fashion had been enough to banish the memory of what has been a frustrating season for all at Elland Road.
For the former Doncaster Rovers and Sheffield United striker, there was also the feeling of vindication over his decision in mid-January to turn down Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy.
“Leeds said I could have gone,” said Sharp when asked about the chance to move on loan to Portman Road. “But I didn’t want to leave. I am settled here. I would like to play more football but this is a great club . And I want to score goals here.
“I would have gone if I had played there. But Ipswich have two good strikers so I wouldn’t have played much. And I just want to play football.”
Sharp’s winner was harsh on Huddersfield, who after falling behind during a difficult opening 15 minutes had more than matched the visitors for the rest of the contest.
United took the lead when Luke Murphy dispossessed James Vaughan in midfield and looked up before clipping the ball into the penalty area. Sam Byram and Jack Robinson arrived at the same timeand it was the United youngster who got the all-important touch to lift the ball over a stranded Joe Murphy and give the visitors the lead their early play deserved.
Murphy, a £1m signing from Crewe Alexandra 18 months ago, had brought a flying save from his namesake in the home goal, and Rodolph Austin had seen a clear route to goal blocked by a timely tackle from Joel Lynch.
Huddersfield restored parity on 26 minutes courtesy of a poor mistake by Marco Silvestri that allowed Harry Bunn, one of the smaller players on the field and on for injured Nahki Wells, to head in unmarked at the far post from a Jacob Butterfield corner.
After that, Huddersfield visibly grew in confidence to ensure it was Powell’s men who finished the first half closing stages on top.
It was a similar tale after the break, captain Liam Cooper having to lead by example at the heart of the Leeds defence alongside impressive debutant Sol Bamba to repel whatever the Terriers could throw at the visitors.
Bunn did have a header cleared off the line, and Sean Scannell was within a whisker of applying the final touch to a cross from Jacob Butterfield.
At the other end, United struggled to rediscover the rhythm of those opening stages but still carried a threat as, first, Alex Mowatt fired narrowly over the crossbar before Byram and Antenucci had penalty appeals turned down in quick succession.
Bunn’s header being kept out on the line was then followed by Byram and Morison combining to create an opening that deserved a lot better than Antenucci blazing high and wide from eight yards out.
That 87th-minute miss would have been that but for Antenucci immediately making amends with a lovely cross that Sharp gratefully converted to follow his goals against Town for Doncaster and Reading last season.
“I have played against Billy,” said new team-mate Bamba, a recent arrival from Palermo. “He is difficult to play against. His movement is excellent, he runs off the ball. Personally, I don’t like to play against strikers like that.
“I prefer big, strong strikers so I can fight them. We saw with the winning goal what Billy is all about.”