MK Dons 0 Huddersfield Town 2: Grayson’s transformation almost complete as Town take control

TWELVE months ago, Simon Grayson was subjected to the dog’s abuse from the locals when watching Huddersfield Town book their place in the League One play-off final.

The 42-year-old was manager of Leeds United at the time, the reason why, as he watched the second leg penalty shoot-out triumph over Bournemouth from the Sky Sports studio in his capacity as an expert summariser, he became a predictable target for the more vociferous element who sit on the Kilner Bank.

A year on, however, and the contrast could not be more stark after Grayson’s Huddersfield remained on course for promotion thanks to a truly masterful display.

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Clearly sent out to press Milton Keynes Dons deep in their own territory, the Terriers put in such an impressive shift that one of the division’s more pleasing-on-the-eye passing teams never got out of first gear.

With Damien Johnson setting the tone in the centre of midfield with a dominant display, Huddersfield tore into the Dons in such a manner that goals either side of half-time by Jordan Rhodes and Jack Hunt were scant reward for their efforts.

In fact, had Lee Novak taken an excellent opportunity just a few minutes before Hunt made it 2-0 then Huddersfield would surely be all but through to the May 26 final.

As it is, the Terriers have effectively one foot at Wembley – which is why at the final whistle the 3,481 fans who had travelled down the M1 rightly lauded not only the Town players but also Grayson, who returned the applause after shaking hands with every single member of his side as they left the field.

He said: “The fans were brilliant. They made noise from the first minute to the last. It is a two-way thing in that we want the supporters to back us but we also have to give them something to cheer about.

“But those fans showed what sort of potential this club has and, hopefully, Tuesday will be the same and we can finish the job off.”

On the team display that brought such an enthusiastic response from the away seats, Grayson added: “We worked extremely hard on our game plan over the 10 days leading up to the match and the players stuck to it.

“We were solid as a team and broke quickly by passing the ball very well. Given the circumstances and the importance of the game, that was the best performance since I came to the club.

“I said to the players beforehand, ‘Individuals might win us games but it will be what we do collectively as a team that will, hopefully, get us promoted’.

“They stuck together as a team and did the job as a team. Now, though, we have to finish the job on Tuesday night and take another step towards where we want to be.”

Preparation and hard work on the part of the players was key to this victory as Karl Robinson’s Dons were never allowed to settle on their own patch.

Apart from an early chance spurned by Alan Smith and a 15-minute spell of pressure at the start of the second half, the hosts were simply not in the game.

Much of the credit for that has to go to the Town midfield, especially Johnson and Tommy Miller, who have only recently been put together as a unit by Grayson and who both put in the type of endeavour that is needed to prevail amid the nerves and tension of the play-offs.

With the tone set by the experienced pair in the middle of the field, Huddersfield were able to express themselves elsewhere with Hunt and, before his enforced departure with a toe injury, Callum Woods getting forward impressively from their full-back positions.

Kallum Higginbotham also deserves huge credit for the attacking threat he brought after coming off the bench just before the half-hour mark in place of the injured Scott Arfield.

Not only was the January signing from Falkirk a constant threat but he also played an important role in both goals.

First, it was Higginbotham’s shot on 32 minutes that was saved by Dons goalkeeper David Martin during a goalmouth melee that was followed a couple of seconds later by Novak returning the ball into the danger area with a delightful cross that Rhodes nodded deftly into the net.

Then, after Novak had wasted his big chance to score by firing wide when through on goal, a delightful move 18 minutes from time that involved Higginbotham and Hunt exchanging passes twice ended with the right-back firing past Martin with a rasping left-foot shot.

Town did have one late scare deep into stoppage time when Ian Bennett clawed Jabo Ibehre’s header to safety to ensure there was to be no lifeline for the Dons, who now seem destined to suffer play-off heartache at the semi-final stage for the fourth time in their eight years as a club.

As for the Terriers, well providing they do – as their manager was demanding within minutes of the final whistle blowing at stadium:mk – finish the job not only tomorrow night but also at Wembley on May 26 then Grayson’s transformation from pantomime villain of a year ago to genuine Town hero will surely be complete.

Milton Keynes Dons: Martin; Chicksen, MacKenzie, Williams, Lewington; Potter, Gleeson, Powell, Bowditch; Smith (O’Shea 60), MacDonald (Flanagan 76). Unused substitutes: McLoughlin, Kouo-Doumbe, Ibehre.

Huddersfield Town: Bennett; Hunt, P Clarke, Morrison, Woods (T Clarke 51); Arfield (Higginbotham 27), Miller, Johnson, Ward; Rhodes (Lee 84), Novak. Unused substitutes: Smithies, Robinson.

Referee: D Deadman (Cambs).

Rhodes all set to make it a family double

AFTER 39 goals in Huddersfield Town colours and another six for Scotland, Jordan Rhodes is enjoying the season of his life, writes Richard Sutcliffe.

His latest strike could be the most valuable of the lot after a deft header from the striker set Town on their way to a victory over MK Dons that may well prove to be enough to secure a first trip to the rebuilt Wembley for the club.

Rhodes, in common with the vast majority of his team-mates, has never played at the £757m home of English football.

Typically, however, perhaps the most grounded striker in the Football League is refusing to look any further than tomorrow night’s second leg at home.

He said: “The atmosphere in the dressing room was terrific after the game but, having said that, we know it is only half done.

“It is up to us to do the right things. We have to eat the right things, drink the right things and get plenty of rest.

“We have to prepare well and, hopefully, it will be a packed crowd at the Galpharm. We want to win and book a trip to Wembley.

“I have never played at Wembley, it would be special to play there. It would be nice to score there and even nicer to score at Hampden Park.

“But we are not at Wembley yet. Our focus is not on that but the Galpharm on Tuesday, when we will be up against a very tough MK Dons side. They passed the ball well so we will have to be disciplined to try and nullify that.”

Rhodes’s 45th goal of the season together with a clinical strike by Jack Hunt 17 minutes from time means, of course, that the initiative is with Huddersfield going into tomorrow’s return leg.

League One’s top scorer remains on course for a notable family double after father Andy, Sheffield Wednesday’s goalkeeping coach, tasted the joy of promotion at Hillsborough.

Rhodes junior said: “My mum and dad were here, as were my grandparents. They were all in the Town seats.

“Dad wants us to go up after they got theirs last week. Congratulations to Sheffield Wednesday, they did terrifically well. Hopefully, we can do the same.”

“It wouldn’t have been great for the family, me or my dad, if we had had to face Sheffield Wednesday in the play-offs. It would have put my dad in a particularly difficult position so, in the context of that, I am delighted Sheffield Wednesday have gone up.”