Richard Sutcliffe column: Town plan gloss finish to daunting ‘car crash’ repair job

Driving away from Brunton Park three weeks ago, the chances of Huddersfield Town reaching Wembley this season were neatly summed up by a text that arrived 10 or so miles into the journey south down the M6.

‘What a pile of ****, more chance of you winning the Pulitzer Prize this year than Town coming back from that embarrassment,’ read the words of a clearly irate Terriers fan in the wake of his side’s 4-0 drubbing by Carlisle United in the first leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Area final.

Having left my mobile in the boot of the car, I didn’t receive the message until arriving back home in Keighley soon after midnight – just in case you are wondering, officer.

But, on reading the words, I could not have agreed more with the sentiment. Even after having had the best part of three hours to try and digest what I had just witnessed, it was difficult to know where to start in trying to explain just how bad the night had been for Town. So, I just replied: “True, even though the Yorkshire Post doesn’t have an American edition!”

Lee Clark’s take on the defeat when speaking to the three members of the visiting Yorkshire press at the back of the main stand had been to liken the game to a “car crash incident”. It seemed as fitting a way as any of summing up a night so sorry that the big worry on the drive home from Cumbria was just what impact the result would have on Huddersfield’s season.

Thankfully, such fears have since been eased by Town having claimed seven points from a possible nine in the league and come very close to pulling off the upset of the season in the FA Cup at Arsenal after taking the game to the Premier League giants in admirable fashion.

It means Clark’s men, who beat Carlisle 2-0 at the Galpharm in League One a week ago, can at least approach tonight’s second leg confident of winning the game, if not the tie – something that anyone unfortunate to have been at Brunton Park on January 18 would have gladly accepted.

I will not embarrass the Huddersfield Town-supporting acquaintance who sent the text an hour or so after the final whistle had blown by naming him. But I am certain he was not alone in having given up on the Terriers’ chances of reaching Wembley on April 3.

Now, however, with the second leg almost upon us, the first shoots of hope that maybe the tie is not over after all have started to emerge.

What, the eternal optimists have been asking, will happen if Huddersfield can score an early goal? It could create a sense of unease in the minds of the Carlisle players, who, regardless of what they are saying publicly, must still regards tonight’s tie as more or less academic.

Adding further fuel to the belief that there is a way back for Clark’s men is just how uneasy the Cumbrians’ defence looked when Town finally started to apply some pressure in the closing stages at Brunton Park. With only a semblance of composure, the visitors could have had certainly one goal and maybe even a second before referee Eddie Ilderton brought the game to a halt. At the time, it was merely a small crumb of comfort to the 400 or so Town fans at Brunton Park but now the ease with which the chances were created could be viewed as grounds for optimism.

The same can be said about last Tuesday’s meeting at the Galpharm when two goals by Gary Roberts put Huddersfield 2-0 up at the break. If the same happens tonight, Town can really go for it in the second half against a team beaten 3-1 at home by League One’s bottom club Walsall in their last outing.

History also suggests all is not quite yet lost with there being countless instances of teams performing Lazarus-style comebacks, as Arsenal can confirm following Saturday’s trip to the North East.

In the Champions League, Liverpool’s stunning triumph in the 2005 final showed what can be achieved through sheer will and spirit when the odds are stacked against a team. Ditto, the night in 2001 when Manchester City came from 3-0 down at Tottenham Hotspur to win 4-3 in an FA Cup fourth round replay – a feat Tranmere Rovers also managed at home to Southampton three years earlier.

All these were comebacks where the deficit stood at less than the four goals Town must overcome but, again, a look back offers hope with Bayern Munich once winning a Bundersliga game 6-5 from 4-0 down after 53 minutes.

Likewise, the European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final between Dynamo Dresden and Bayer Uerdigen in 1986 saw the West German side come from 5-1 down on aggregate to go through with a 7-5 aggregate victory.

Perhaps the real clincher for Town fans desperate for some hope to cling to comes in the form of a game involving their own team almost 20 years ago.

Bury’s Gigg Lane was the venue for a quite amazing contest that saw the home side race into a 4-0 lead inside the opening 31 minutes to leave the travelling fans behind one goal stunned.

An hour or so later, however, it was the home fans who were rubbing their eyes in disbelief after a stoppage time goal from Iwan Roberts, his second of the game, and two strikes by Phil Starbuck had rescued the unlikeliest of points for Town.

A repeat tonight would, of course, be asking a lot – as proved by SkyBet offering a price of 28-1 on a 4-0 home win, a result that would send the tie straight to penalties due to no extra-time being played in the Trophy. Town just can not do it, can they?