The Terriers went into their second-round tie at home to Everton on the back of consecutive wins that owed as much to their grit as their football and whilst they could not make it a hat-trick of victories, the spirit was still very much in evidence.
There was no shame in losing to Everton, even a much-changed Everton who had Moises Kean sent off when the scores were level at 1-1. Without sounding defeatist, if Huddersfield were to be defeated by their Premier League guests, it was about how. They leave this season’s competition with their heads held high.
Between the Toffees’ goals, after 27 and 80 minutes, the hosts were comfortably the better team. Danel Sinani ought to have marked his full debut with a goal, Matty Pearson had a header ruled out for Fraizer Campbell making a nuisance of himself in an offside position after Tom Lees had scored a similar one himself.
It took a couple of flickers of Premier League quality from a side who also had a goal chalked off by linesman Akil Howson but it was still a night Carlos Corberan’s side could build on when they return to Championship football at home to Reading on Saturday.
There were times in the first half when you feared they might go under but this season’s team is steelier than last.
Everton looked sharper at the start, a poor Sorba Thomas backpass met with groans playing Kean in, only for the striker to miss the target. He was the beneficiary of another poor one from Scott High but Andros Townsend’s shot was weak. Seconds later Pearson needed to produce a good tackle as the Italian tried to weave his way into penalty-area space. Niels Nkounkou spooned a far-post volley from a Tom Davies cross and when the midfielder slipped Alex Iwobi in after 27 minutes, he finished well.
Within a minute the ball was in the net again but Kean was flagged narrowly offside by Howson, incorrectly the replays suggested.
At that point, you worried if the Terriers might go under.
Playing a 3-4-2-1 as Everton were, the men behind Campbell, Duane Holmes and Sinani had shown some good touches and having switched from emergency left wing-back to emergency right-back, Thomas continued to look the part.
A good Sinani touch played Holmes in after 12 moinutes but his cross was too close to Asmir Begovic. Nkounkou needed to slide in when a nice pass from Alex Vallejo was followed by one from High which but for the left wing-back’s intervention would have been as good.
That gave the hosts the confidence to keep plugging well and they ended the opening period much the stronger side.
High played a lovely pass through the channel for Thomas and when Begovic made a good save from Sinani, the forward ought to have buried the rebound, but ballooned it.
Some great footwork from Campbell sprang another attack but the ball hammered back in from Holmes bounced off him. Sinani’s shot seconds later lacked the power to trouble Begovic.
But the Terriers were undeterred and Campbell shot wide after robbing Everton’s captain for the night, Doncaster-born Mason Holgate. When Sinani tried to pick his spot, the ball went for a corner and Lees thumped home Thomas’s delivery after winning his header.
The break did nothing to stop Huddersfield’s momentum, Sinani dragging a Holmes pass wide.
If only Campbell had a Sorba Thomas haircut, he could have put the Luxembourger’s 52nd-minute cross away. Begovic had to tip over a Holmes shot and when the Terriers players ran over to the side of the pitch to celebrate Pearson beating him from the subsequent corner they ran into Howson and his party-pooping flag.
The Everton frustration showed after 59 minutes when Kean, angry at Thomas snapping at his heels, pushed and shoved the wing-back three times in front of referee Matthew Donohue, who was only ever going to react one way. Off the erratic striker went, with Thomas booked.
A slightly awry High pass stopped Town pouncing on Jean-Philippe Gbamin’s counter-attack-springing miscontrol and instead it was they who took the lead, Andre Gomes drilling the ball in for a good Townsend finish.
It was not to be for Huddersfield. There is no such thing as a good defeat, but this was probably as close as you will get.
Huddersfield Town: Nicholls; Pearson, Lees (Turton 69), Sarr; Thomas, Vallejo, High, Toffolo; Holmes, Sinani (O’Brien 69); Campbell. Unused substitutes: Koroma, Aarons, Colwill, Schofield, Russell.
Everton: Begovic; Holgate, Keane, Branthwaite (Andre Gomes 59); Kenny, Gbamin, Davies (Digne 64), Nkounkou (Gray 75); Townsend, Iwobi; Kean. Unused substitutes: Mina, Doucoure, Coleman, Lonergan.
Referee: M Donohue (Greater Manchester).