Smith’s pitch attack sours night as Terriers secure Wembley trip

IN a week where the oft-repeated boast from Manchester City fans about how ‘the Blue Moon is rising’ came true in the most spectacular of fashions, claiming something similar about the flowering of the White Rose may be pushing it a tad.

For one, next season’s Premier League will be the third in a row without any representative from within the Broad Acres taking part – hardly a state of affairs that suggests the county’s football scene is thriving.

But, after Huddersfield Town last night joined Sheffield United in what will only be the second all-Yorkshire play-off final, there can be little doubt that something positive is stirring.

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Regardless of who prevails a week on Saturday in front of what will no doubt be a bumper attendance as tens of thousands pour down the M1 to Wembley, Sheffield Wednesday will be joined in winning promotion from League One by one of their White Rose brethren.

The Terriers had gone into their League One semi-final second leg with a two-goal advantage.

It should, therefore, have been a comfortable night for Town but instead it was anything of the sort with a lacklustre display from Simon Grayson’s men meaning there were more than a few nerves evident in the crowd of 15,085 before the final whistle blew to signal a mass pitch invasion.

Despite that, it was still a proud night for Town who can look forward to their first visit to Wembley since 1995.

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Passage to the final did, though, come at a price for Town, who lost Ian Bennett in the first half after a collision with captain Peter Clarke that led to Alex Smithies having to be brought off the bench.

Sadly, that wasn’t the only sour aspect, either, with Alan Smith being disgracefully attacked during what should have been a joyous pitch invasion after the final whistle. It was a sour end to an otherwise happy night that had begun with Grayson calling for a strong start from his side and, if possible, an early goal.

He got the latter, courtesy of another predatory finish from Jordan Rhodes. But, performance-wise, Town were a pale shadow of the side that had performed so admirably in Saturday’s first leg.

Lacking the tempo that had knocked the Dons out of their stride in such impressive fashion three days earlier, Huddersfield handed the initiative to the visitors via a series of misplaced passes and poor decision making.

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A misunderstanding between Bennett and Peter Clarke inside two minutes set the tone for much of what followed in the opening hour, the Town pair left relieved by Charlie MacDonald being unable to capitalise. Bennett then had to be alert to race from his line to deny MacDonald after Tommy Miller had squandered possession, while Dean Bowditch was unfortunate to see his shot deflected over by Peter Clarke. The consolation for Town as Milton Keynes continued to press was that they were already ahead.

After collecting a flick-on from Danny Ward, Rhodes – League One’s deadliest marksman – turned smartly before drilling a low shot past David Martin.

Rhodes taking his season’s tally for club and country to a staggering 46 served to settle nerves, though only until the Dons drew level on the night six minutes before the break via a superb turn and shot from Daniel Powell.

Huddersfield’s night almost became even more fraught on the stroke of half-time when MacDonald was pushed by Sean Morrison as he seemed certain to touch in Powell’s inviting cross.

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As the home fans held their breath, however, referee Scott Mathieson waved play on.

The Dons continued to press as another wayward pass by Miller presented MacDonald with a chance he couldn’t take.

Gradually, though, Town started to regain a foothold in the game and Jack Hunt was unfortunate to be denied by David Martin’s reflex save on the hour. Danny Ward then volleyed wide after being picked out by Kallum Higginbotham before Rhodes shot narrowly over.

Smith did have the last word with a diving header in stoppage time that ensured Huddersfield’s wretched record on home soil in the play-offs continued, the Yorkshire club having now failed to win in eight games.

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Not, however, that anyone cared at the final whistle as the locals celebrated a second play-off final appearance in as many seasons and a showdown with the Blades.

The White Rose may not be in full bloom just yet but there is surely enough signs of life to suggest that a return to sunnier times – and some long overdue representation in the top-flight – is not too far away.

Huddersfield Town: Bennett (Smithies 33); Hunt, P Clarke, Morrison, Woods; Higginbotham (T Clarke 88), Johnson, Miller (Robinson 78), Ward; Novak, Rhodes. Unused substitutes: Lee, Roberts.

Milton Keynes Dons: Martin; Chicksen (Ibehre 72), MacKenzie, Williams, Lewington; Potter, Gleeson, Powell, O’Shea, Bowditch (Chadwick 72); MacDonald (Smith 81). Unused substitutes: McLoughlin, Doumbe.

Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).