AS THE clock on the two giant screens that stare at each other from behind either goal at Wembley counted down towards the end of extra-time in last May’s Championship play-off final, the tension in the stands was palpable.
Regardless of whether those clad in blue and white were cheering for Huddersfield Town or Reading, all around the national stadium nails were being bitten to the quick as the world’s richest football fixture became increasingly attritional and chances dried up.
Just one piece of magic – or, even worse, a mistake – was, it had become increasingly clear to the 76,682 crowd, likely to decide who clinched promotion to the Premier League, meaning all eyes were glued to the pitch as the high-stakes drama unfolded.
Well, not quite all eyes as Kasey Palmer’s baby son Leo spent most of the afternoon asleep in mother Shannon’s arms.
Palmer had been a surprise inclusion on the Terriers’ bench ahead of kick-off after three months out injured, but even his father’s introduction in the second half of extra-time could not rouse Leo from his slumber.
Not that the Chelsea loanee minded a jot as Town went on to clinch promotion via a penalty shoot-out.
“Being a dad is tiring, but great,” said the 20-year-old, whose new arrival came just after his season appeared to have ended courtesy of a hamstring tear last February.
“I come home from training or a match and my son is there waiting to play with me. For me, that is so special. Shannon and Lee are here with me at Huddersfield, we don’t live too far away.
“It really does put a perspective on life when you go home after losing and you have a little one right in front of you. That changes your outlook on life.
“Leo went to Wembley, though he was asleep through most of it. I am not sure he remembers so, as he grows up, I may have to remind him what his first game was.”
The arrival of his first child has meant a few sleepless nights for Palmer. Judging by his performance on Huddersfield’s Premier League bow, however, he will not be the only one laying awake at night this season.
Palmer, in common with all those clad in the club’s rather fetching new away kit of navy and pink, took to the top level in seamless fashion and no one will be taking Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative lightly.
The Londoner constantly hassled and harried the Palace players into mistake after mistake deep in their own territory, but the pick of his afternoon work came with the first-time pass that allowed Steve Mounie to scamper clear only for Timothy Fosu-Mensah to pull off a last-ditch tackle.
Eventually, Palmer’s delayed return to pre-season through injury caught up with him and head coach David Wagner moved quickly to substitute the loanee 20 minutes from time. But, there was no doubt that Palmer had announced himself on the Premier League stage in style.
“Coming to Huddersfield has been great,” added the midfielder who made 26 appearances on loan at the John Smith’s last season. “For me, it was quite a change to move four hours away from home.
“It was a big difference to being in London, with my family, and Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in the world. But this club is really connected to the community so it wasn’t as much of a change as I had been expecting.
“At the end of the day, there is grass and there are players and it is the same as playing with my friends in the park or training with Eden Hazard.”
Palmer returned to Chelsea last February, his season seemingly over after suffering that hamstring injury. But in an example of how Wagner has managed to foster a strong bond among his squad, the Terriers’ head coach was regularly in touch with the loanee.
It meant, when the chance came to return north this summer in the wake of signing a new four-year deal at Stamford Bridge, Palmer had no hesitation.
His immediate focus is helping Huddersfield establish themselves at the top level, but, long term, the plan is to make the breakthrough at Chelsea.
“I see myself playing for Chelsea in the future,” he added. “If I didn’t, I would have been silly to sign a new contract in the summer.
“Everyone is quick to say that no one breaks into the first team, but the development you get training with the best players in the world is great.
“You develop so much as a player that the public don’t see. Of course, more people would like to see more of us play in the first team week-in, week-out, but it is hard for the manager.
“As for myself, I can’t put a timescale on it, I don’t think you can at such a big club. Just look at Victor Moses. He went on however many loans (from Chelsea), but then surprised everyone by breaking in to the first team and now they say he is one of the best wing-backs in the world.
“So I have to focus on myself and if that means waiting three or four years before playing for Chelsea then so be it.”
For now, then, that means maintaining the Terriers’ upwards trajectory.
“Playing here is great,” said Palmer. “It is a dream to play in the Premier League with any club and this is a chance I am really happy to take. When you play well in the best league in the world against the best players in the world, it is another level and you get looked on differently.”