Huddersfield Town 3 Leeds United 2: Great to be back home, beams Stead as Town brush off bust-up
IT IS a toss-up who wore the broadest smile in Huddersfield on Saturday afternoon – Jon Stead or Mark Robins.
For a boyhood Town fan in Honley lad Stead, days like Saturday when he fired the winner against the ‘old enemy’ to fully announce his second coming at his home-town club simply do not get any better.
Stead, fresh from his first goal in Town colours since netting at Cambridge United on January 10, 2004 – when Town were in the Football League’s basement – was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat after the game. Justifiably so.
His manager, usually a pretty restrained figure, also wore a noticeably satisfied expression on his face which spoke volumes following a terrific performance so rich in heart from his side.
It all followed a derby build-up which was far from ideal for Robins.
Ahead of the game, a training ground bust-up on Friday reportedly took place involving former Leeds midfielder Adam Clayton and striker Martin Paterson.
Robins elected not to include the pair in his match-day squad and he also left out central defender Anthony Gerrard, playing Paul Dixon in a three-man defence and giving Keith Southern a first start of the season in midfield.
Those he did select dusted themselves down from the concession of a goal in the first 70 seconds to rally impressively and silence alarm bells that had been starting to ring following a run of six matches without a win.
All this came without suspended top scorer James Vaughan, who had been sent off in his previous outing at Leicester.
Stead, 30, stepped out of the shadows, providing the game-breaking contribution after earlier missing a golden chance to make it 3-1 when he hit a post.
On his choice 77th-minute winner, when he spun adroitly following fine work from substitute Sean Scannell to fire home a clinical low shot, a beaming Stead said: “I’ve never played in a Huddersfield versus Leeds derby and in this part of your career, you think that maybe your big days are behind you.
“Then something like (Saturday) happens and it just goes straight to the top. It meant a hell of a lot to me.
“It does not get any better. It’s bragging rights for everyone, including myself and my family.
“On the back of two defeats, it was huge to get three points. And obviously for me personally, I’m delighted to get my first goal back at the club. It couldn’t have come at a better time really.
“I was disappointed with the one-on-one as I should have done better. As a striker, you rue missed chances and just pray for another one to fall your way.”
The 30-year-old striker, who moved to Blackburn for £1m in 2004 and whose goals played a significant part in keeping them in the Premier League, continued: “When the ball came into me, my touch was good and it was a Jon Stead of old spin and finish.”
Given the absence of 11-goal Vaughan, the training ground rumpus and the status of a game on which bragging rights as well as points were riding, the value of victory was inestimable for Robins, who supported lone striker Stead with Duane Holmes and Danny Ward.
While the incident involving Clayton and Paterson took a fair bit of post-match attention, Robins played down the incident and was understandly keen to focus on what happened on the pitch, which was plenty. He added: “There’s bits and pieces happening in training up and down the country every day.
“There’s nothing to report, nothing sinister, nothing serious. Their omission was nothing to do with what may or may not have happened on the training ground.
“My decisions are based purely on the good of the team and football club. Every decision I make, I try to do that.
“It’s great to be sat here winning the game because those decisions are fully vindicated, so I’ll continue in the same vein.
“I’ll pick the team that I feel is capable of winning the game for us, but also a togetherness, team spirit and bond between the players – that’s massively important.”
It looked like being the longest of afternoons for Town after Matt Smith nodded Leeds into the lead in the second minute following Alex Mowatt’s corner, with the tall striker having incredibly gone close to an opener prior to that.
But to their immense credit, Town rallied with a rasping strike from Ward drawing them level on nine minutes.
An own goal from Tom Lees, who diverted a cross from the impressive right wing-back Adam Hammill to put them into the lead on 63 minutes may have been slightly fortuitous, but Town’s lead was deserved.
But quite how Luke Murphy had failed to fire United into the lead a few minutes earlier from point-blank range following fine work from Sam Byram and Rodolph Austin is anyone’s guess.
Loan striker Dexter Blackstock bailed out Murphy somewhat by scoring with his first touch in a United shirt 60 seconds after entering the fray, but the day belonged to Town and Stead, although he did survive a late penalty appeal after tangling with Blackstock in the area.
Blackstock, whose previous goal was against Leeds for parent club Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day, said: “Losing is a bitter pill to swallow, especially after coming back into it and looking fairly comfortable.
“The goal was instinct; I’ve only trained a few days and it was only light training. When the free-kick was awarded, I knew the gaffer (Brian McDermott) was planning to put me on. He rushed me on and, thankfully, I was in the right place to get a goal – one of the quickest goals you can score on a debut. You can’t physically score quicker than that.
“The goal was massive; when you go to a new club, you want to get off the mark. More importantly it got us back into the game but unfortunately, it counted for nothing.”