WITH snow swirling across swathes of empty seats and the arctic weather chilling the bones as last night’s replay approached the hour mark, the portents for Huddersfield Town’s season seemed as grim as the weather.
Trailing to Che Adams’s opener for Birmingham City, the Terriers’ hopes of hosting Manchester United on Saturday week were slipping away.
Worse still, David Wagner’s men had looked as bereft of confidence and belief against the Championship strugglers as had been the case when slipping down the Premier League in recent weeks.
Five straight league defeats had clearly taken their toll and defeat to the relegation-threatened Blues would surely only make matters worse ahead of Sunday’s crucial home clash with Bournemouth.
Then, though, Huddersfield produced the type of response that may yet prove a turning point in their quest to avoid the drop.
Marc Roberts putting through his own goal in the 61st minute was the catalyst for a quite remarkable fightback that, by the end of extra-time, had turned a likely fourth-round exit into a comfortable victory thanks to goals from Steve Mounie, Tom Ince and Rajiv van la Parra.
But for the agility of David Stockdale in the home goal, the Terriers would not have required the additional half-hour and there was no mistaking the sense of satisfaction felt by head coach David Wagner and his men when saluting the 558 travelling fans at the final whistle.
Victory and a place in the fifth round came via a welcome return of the attacking swagger that has been so palpably absent during Town’s recent struggles in the league.
Tom Ince’s switch into the ‘No 10’ role after Abdelhamid Sabiri’s substitution shortly before the equaliser was a big factor.
So, too, was van la Parra’s impressive impact from the bench as the Dutchman’s trickery simply proved too much for the Blues.
Huddersfield produced the type of response that may yet prove a turning point in their quest to avoid the drop.Richard Sutcliffe
Collin Quaner, who may not look the prettiest of footballers at times, was another who tore the hosts apart on a night when perhaps the biggest boost for Huddersfield came via their talisman Aaron Mooy’s return to form.
All in all, therefore, a heartening night for Wagner’s men, who avoided the fate of the last Huddersfield side to go into an FA Cup replay with the prize at stake being a crack at one of the big clubs.
That came in February, 1999, when hopes of a trip to Arsenal in the quarter-finals were dashed by a 3-1 replay defeat at Derby County.
For an hour last night a repeat seemed a distinct possibility and especially after Adams had put the hosts ahead seven minutes into the second half.
Birmingham’s breakthrough was a simple affair. A hooked ball forward initially seemed to offer little threat, but Lukas Jutkiewicz, rising high above Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen, changed all that.
His knockdown found Adams, who turned so sharply that Terence Kongolo was sufficiently wrong-footed for the former Sheffield United forward to drill a low shot beyond Jonas Lossl.
Up to that point, Town’s neat and tidy passing game had been pleasing on the eye, but rarely looking like going anywhere.
Sabiri did shoot wide in a tepid first half, but that chance owed everything to a dreadful attempted pass by Stockdale that was intended for Craig Gardner, but instead found Town’s Moroccan.
Adams putting the Blues ahead belatedly brought the Yorkshire side to life and then, just after the hour, level.
Ince’s ferocious shot packed such power that Stockdale getting a hand to it could not prevent the ball spinning over the Blues goalkeeper’s shoulder and towards the line.
A melee of players then tried to get a vital touch before Marc Roberts unwittingly put through his own goal.
The next half hour was basically Huddersfield against Stockdale, who produced a string of stunning saves to keep the visitors at bay.
A fantastic double save that denied, first, Ince and then Scott Malone was the clear highlight.
But the Leeds-born goalkeeper also displayed wonderful reflexes to leave Philip Billing and Ince frustrated, and ensure the tie went into extra-time.
Stockdale’s one-man resistance, however, could not last and Huddersfield went ahead for the first time on the night four minutes after the restart via a back post header from Mounie.
Three minutes later another sweeping move ended with Stockdale saving from Ince only for van la Parra to fire in the rebound.
Huddersfield’s desire for more goals continued, Ince adding a fourth with a fine shot early in the second period of extra-time.
Birmingham City: Stockdale; Jenkinson (Dacres-Cogley 73), Roberts, Morrison, Dean; Bramall, Lowe (Lakin 101), N’Doye (Jota 46), Gardner; Adams, Jutkiewicz (Boga 87). Unused substitutes: Trueman, Colin, Seddon.
Huddersfield Town: Lossl; Smith (Hadergjonaj 46), Jorgensen, Kongolo, Malone (Lowe 94); Mooy, Billing; Quaner (Scannell 99), Sabiri (Van la Parra 56), Ince; Mounie. Unused substitutes: Coleman, Whitehead, Hefele.
Referee: P Tierney (Lancashire).