Huddersfield Town 1 MK Dons 1: Town look in danger of getting caught in the play-off loop again

HOLLYWOOD comedy actor Bill Murray would probably be the ideal next Huddersfield manager should Lee Clark leave before the end of the season.

For there is a distinct ‘Groundhog Day’ feel at the Galpharm Stadium this season.

In Murray’s film, his character, TV meteorologist Phil Connors, covers the annual Groundhog Day festivities, has to stay overnight due to a February blizzard and then wakes up to find that he is reliving the previous day and is caught in a time loop.

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Huddersfield are rightly proud of establishing a Football League unbeaten record but still find themselves back where they started, in League One, and with the increasing prospect of another tilt at the end-of-season lottery which is the play-offs.

Clark has said that he expected to be linked with the vacancy at Leeds United, due to the job he is doing at Town but a promotion on his CV would make his credentials more impressive.

His side failed to retain the second automatic promotion place on Saturday when they were held to a draw by fellow challengers Milton Keynes Dons, whose manager, Karl Robinson, was rather more flattered than his counterpart to be linked to the Elland Road job, though he stressed his loyalty to the Dons.

This was Town’s 13th draw of the season and in the majority of those games it has been a case of two points dropped rather than one won.

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Just like the forecasted snow, Town threatened an early avalanche but it never materialised and fans were left wondering why the attacking verve shown in the 90th minute and four minutes of stoppage time had been absent for so much of this encounter.

It was a surprising low-key contest and there may have been a case of the sides showing too much respect following their 1-1 draw earlier in the season.

Only the presence of Alan Smith on his full debut in the visiting ranks got the home supporters in full voice.

Smith, on loan from Newcastle but reviled by Town fans for his Leeds links, was booed at his every touch – and there were some good touches from him – but especially after his lunge on Jamie McCombe which brought a booking shortly before his substitution.

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McCombe was outstanding for Town, not just in central defence where he formed one of two big planks with home loan debutant Sean Morrison, from Reading.

For McCombe was Town’s most potent attacking force, too, venturing forward at every opportunity for set pieces and scoring their goal in first-half stoppage time.

The Dons complained they should have had a free-kick further up the field when Town got one in the centre circle, captain Gary Naysmith playing it out for Kallum Higginbotham to cross deep for McCombe to head back across the goalkeeper and into the roof of the net.

It was a deserved lead for Town for the visitors had been content to sit back – former Owl Darren Potter shielding the back four – and play on the counter, a dangerous policy as their defence had looked far from stable.

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Danny Cadamarteri had given another Newcastle loan debutant, James Tavernier, a torrid time in the opening half-hour though the right-back, who played for the Owls in the 4-4 draw against Town at Hillsborough, had the better of their second-half tussle.

There was no end product to Cadamarteri’s supply, though, Jordan Rhodes becoming increasingly isolated as the game wore on, his new strike partner from Falkirk, Higginbotham, saving his best work for his link-up play with the midfield in a useful debut.

Town’s goal machine Rhodes had flashed an early header wide and might have won it in the 90th minute as he went to convert Cadamarteri’s cross only to get a shove in the back which was not spotted.

It probably evened things up as a flying ‘save’ by Morrison had diverted a goalbound drive by Charlie MacDonald in the 69th minute.

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The Dons had drawn level with a fluke goal in the 62nd minute, having finally got their passing game together. Town disputed the free-kick award out on the left flank but Stephen Gleeson swung it in over the head of goalkeeper Ian Bennett, who pawed thin air as it flew into the net.

It was tough on Town’s back four, who had rarely looked like conceding despite little protection from a midfield which only functioned in fits and starts, Scott Arfield wasting several good attacking opportunities on his return from ankle trouble.

That late blitz almost brought a winner, however, as right-back Jack Hunt blasted a cross-shot which cannoned down off the bar but not over the line and Cadamarteri had the follow-up blocked for a corner.

“It’s frustrating but they are no mugs and are going to be up there in the shake-up at the end of the season so you have to look at it positively as another game unbeaten and another point on the board,” said McCombe.

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“We wanted three points but we have gone 54 games in the league and only lost two so I think people would take that, even though this may seem like a loss.”

Huddersfield Town: Bennett, Hunt, McCombe, Morrison, Naysmith; Arfield, Gobern, Miller (Robinson 77), Cadamarteri; Rhodes, Higginbotham. Unused substitutes: Smithies, Woods, Novak, Lee.

Milton Keynes Dons: Martin, Tavernier, MacKenzie, Williams, Lewington; Potter; Chadwick (Powell 86), Gleeson, Smith (Ibehere 66), Bowditch (O’Shea 77); MacDonald. Unused substitutes: Flanagan, McLoughlin.

Referee: G Salisbury (Lancs).