Huddersfield 2 - 2 Cardiff City

Last updated : 22 May 2002 By NigelBlues

Until then, City were in cruise control, the fans celebratory, Huddersfield players had apparently accepted their fate, their fans silent and starting to drift home early. They knew that they were being well beaten by a better team on the night, and by the look of things, most other nights too.

Win and the play-off place was sealed, an automatic promotion spot possible. Then, thanks to a referee making a terrible penalty decision award and our defence falling back into old ways to gift the equaliser, City were devastated. Even so, only freak will now make City miss those play-offs, something more freakish is necessary for automatic promotion.

Another 450 mile round trip meant a large section of the Bluebird hordes had travelled 900 miles in just over 72 hours to follow the lads at Colchester then Huddersfield, that is magnificent support. Estimates vary between 1,600 and 2,000 - it was hard to tell in the away end - many of whom seemed to have taken the day off as cars were on the road early, many were in the town early. And I'm sure most took a huge supply of cd's or cassettes to avoid the terminal radio coverage of The Queen Mum's funeral and the dumbing down of music on non-chat stations.

Contrary to subsequent reports of arrests, there was a passionate atmosphere and a good buzz, football is all about games and atmospheres like this. Cardiff fans were drinking freely in pubs near the ground and there was an exciting buzz as you would expect for this huge clash. There was however a huge police presence and they were heavy handed. It's sad but shouldn't really have surprised anybody.

The McAlpine stadium is close to the town centre and impressive but, for my 1st visit, I found it a little disappointing. Don't get me wrong, it's Millennium Stadium compared to Ninian Park and a fantastic venue. It had good views, a bookie, bar etc in the away end, everything you'd expect in a modern stadia.

I'm no architect but I just didn't like the design. It is, in basic terms, 4 high curved stands shaped like letter D's lying on their sides. Those views were either too high or too far away and with open space at each corner of the ground, some of the atmosphere is lost. Give me enclosed new grounds like Bolton's or Reading's anyday, I hope that's the model City adopt.

For such a huge ground, a huge match and a huge midweek away following, it was stupidity and negligent to find only 2 away end turnstiles open. The police thought so too as they threatened to arrest Huddersfield officials unless they opened more with a few hundred City fans still outside as kick-off approached. Abracadabra, 3 extra turnstiles quickly opened.

City fans were behind one goal, Huddersfield had the rest of the ground with the usual suspects positioned as close as they could to the away fans on the left and right to try and intimidate, as if they could.

On the field, City made 2 changes from the team that won at Colchester last weekend. Scott Young returned after resting his groin strain whilst Earnie made his first full start in attack, exactly 2 months on from pulling his hamstring pull in the Swindon home game. They replaced Gary Croft, who was on the bench, and the injured Andy Campbell respectively.

It was probably to the relief of many that there wasn't yet another 1 minute silence for The Queen Mum, enough is enough. City players wore black armbands although someone suggested it was because Brian Flynn turned down the Jacks!

The noise was immense at kick-off, both set of fans contributing, City particularly loud but it was Huddersfield who had most to sing about early on as Cardiff almost committed defensive suicide with a very uncomfortable start. Huddersfield attacked wide with pace which worried City, mistakes followed.

Prior and Gabbidon got caught in a mix up which resulted in Knight finding Hay whose effort just deflected wide. Gabbidon uncharacteristically made another error being too casual in his own penalty area, Knight dispossessed him and found Facey whose edge of area angled shot across goal missed the far post by a whisker with Alexander helpless. Rhys Weston then gave the ball away twice, the second time having to bring down Facey and earning himself a yellow card. All this in the opening 10 minutes.

Once they settled and sorted themselves out, City slowly but surely got into the game, eventually completely bossing their opponents. The key was that City were winning the critical midfield battle, an immense tribute to the players involved when we only have 3 midfielders with one of them, Kav, still not going 100% to avoid yellow cards and miss the play offs.

The pick, City's best player for me, was Mark Bonner who was prominent from early on and seemed to get better and better. He was winning tackles, he was first to loose balls (when he wasn't, Willie Boland was!) and he was playing balls over the top of, or behind, Huddersfield's defence. He stood out as much as his fiancee did sitting quite close to us in the City end!

When City attacked, they worried Huddersfield's defence which looked creaky and vulnerable. The combination of Peter Thorne running into space, the revelation that is The New Leo and little Earnie running at players will hurt any side. It's a delicate balance, the players and formation leaves City short on width but can make us overwhelm teams through the middle of the park.

Good play started to earn good chances. Kav, who had previously never gone more than 4 league games without scoring, hit 2 tame edge of area free-kicks, one into the wall, the other giving Margetson a routine save. He has now failed to score in the 7 games since he returned from his last suspension, trying to avoid his next one.

The game had an edge amongst players and fans that only comes at this time of the season. Every tackle cheered wildly, every good pass clapped, every foul and you wanted the opposition player sent off, his house repossessed and a violent illness too. It was riveting because of the occasion.

City came closest 10 minutes before half-time when Scott Young met a Kav corner but his downward header bounced off the ground and over the bar, on target it would have counted.

However 5 minutes later, City fans who had been partying and comprehensively outsinging the home support, went into Party Hard Overdrive Maximus Celebration Orgy as we took the lead.

Gabbi took a throw, Scott Young helped it on then, with his back to goal, LEO FORTUNE-WEST hooked the ball over his shoulder. There rest looked surreal as the ball travelled high into the air and across goal. Was it me or did everyone seem to stop and watch it? The Huddersfield defence and keeper looked motionless as the ball came down, Peter Thorne ran in, chested the ball and it was only when City players turning away in celebration that we knew we had scored. The noise was incredible, Thorne was credited the goal at the time but tv proved the ball had dropped over the line before Thorne helped it on to make sure.

The rest of the half was more noticeable for a small section of Huddersfield nutters to our left who seemed to be fighting amongst themselves, fighting with police and generally looking stupid. All it did was humour the City support more.

Half-time for the pie and pint £3.50 combo: Hudds 0 CITY 1

Huddersfield were rocked, City took over and went for the jugular. The Terriers had no bite, they were made to look pretty ordinary. Things have moved on considerably since they came to Ninian last September and deservedly beat us. It was frenetic stuff but it was City who stood out as the superior footballing team.

As befits two top teams playing each other, chances were very much at a premium but City were very much in the ascendancy. They were passing and spraying the ball around, winning all the loose balls and looking the part.

Ten minutes into the second period, Huddersfield made a change as Andy Booth replaced the normally dangerous Thorrington who was comprehensively shut of the game by Gabbi. Leon Knight was pushed wide but Gabbi had him in his pocket too for skill and pace, few players could do that.

It took an hour for Alexander to have to make his first save of the night, even then it was one that looks great for photographers as he dived spectacularly across goal to meet a Facey header, it was very simple really.

The loudest cheers tended to be Leo winning tackles, chasing and closing down players. It's hard to remember that he used to be a player who rarely chased the ball, barely had a first touch and players used to make runs predicting where he would misdirect his flick ons but that was then, this is now.

If ever a moment emphasised Leo's new game, it was City's second goal just a minute after that Alexander save. Weston, Bonner and then Kavanagh linked, Kav clipped the ball ahead, Leo flicked the perfect header on for PETER THORNE whose finish was immaculate as he powered ahead of a trailing defender entering the area, his left foot shot brilliantly going across Margetson and in off his far post.

Players and fans went berserk. Leo and Thorne jumped over hoardings to celebrate in front of us and there was plenty of free love in the City end as everyone hugged everyone in sheer ecstasy.

Give credit to Leo but you must give credit to Peter Thorne too. His finish showed why you pay that sort of money. He is playing out of position, still coming back to full form and fitness but that was his 4th goal in 6 games, he has had at least 3 other "assists" too.

Everything was going well, City were doing everything in style and with a performance and passing game that Huddersfield were unable to match. It was going too well as it turned out.

City fans were singing every song in the Bluebird Hymn Book, Sam and Lennie were ayatollahing, it was just the best feeling in the world. I just can't imagine what it will be like if City take the lead at Millennium Stadium.

There was no way back for Huddersfield and when early season Bluebird target, Andy Booth, put a chance on the break narrowly over the bar, it somehow added to the feeling of supremacy.

The game however took a major twist on 70 minutes as Huddersfield put another effort wide. Fans following the move failed to notice that Danny Gabbidon had turned his ankle chasing back, he had to depart for Gary Croft.

On 79 minutes, there was another change as Earnie limped off ayatollahing all the way to be replaced by A Bleach Boy. Layton Maxwell, the balding ginger, is now a balding blonde.

There was no hint or any danger ahead but nobody was to know how ref Graham Laws were have a huge bearing on things. A ball was hoisted towards City's goal, it bounced off Scott Young towards Alexander who took it. As he did, Spencer Prior held off Andy Booth who went to the ground, apparently as much through over-stretching to get past Prior rather than the challenge itself.

I swear there was not a single appeal from a Huddersfield player or fan at that end of the ground but Mr (no understanding of the) Laws incredibly pointed to the penalty spot.

The decision looked crass, I've still not seen the incident on tv but understand they compound a poor decision. Prior was yellow carded for his understandable protests.

Neil Alexander looked like he was "doing the Leo" as he bounced up and down, flapping his arms, moving back and fore and doing as much as possible to make the goal look small but it was well taken by IRONS who despatched the ball in the opposite direction to Alexander's dive.

The first goal City conceded in almost 6 hours.

All of a sudden, the mood changed. Huddersfield knew there was a chance where previously there was none. Just as crucially, Knight had the beating of Croft and they went for City via this route and player.

City were ruffled by the Huddersfield goal, they lost some of their previous intense focus and concentration. It cost them dearly as 3 minutes later, it was 2-2 with a gift of a goal. Knight ran at City and won a corner. The rest was sham defending as City completely failed to defend it. One Huddersfield player nodded it on unmarked then Hay steered the ball home on his head from 5 yards with nobody near him.

Now, it was bedlam from Huddersfield. Some of their fans invaded the pitch, one ran right the way across it. Apparently it's not arrestable in Huddersfield if you're a home fan and far less a crime than having a drink if you're an away fan!

Huddersfield woke up and chanted "shall we sing a song for you?" to us, reciprocating a chant we justifiably pout to them for much of the game. This was the first time they outsung us in the game, the first time we stopped, that's why.

Incredibly, Cardiff were hanging on at the end for their point. It was hairy a couple of times, particularly when Knight went on another 60 yard charge, it took 3 to stop him. His switch wide and Gabbidon's loss were crucial. City still pressed for the win themselves realising any realistic hope of auto-promotion depended on 3 points but moves broke down.

Alexander had one more save to make but City held out. Huddersfield were relieved and happy with their point too. Nice touch by their Welsh keeper, Margetson, to turn and applaud the whole City end.

I think we all felt gutted by the outcome and cheated by the last few minutes of mayhem but there was a lot to be proud too. The players had a major standing ovation from every fan, it was thoroughly deserved.

Don't know about you but I was felt partly relieved to see City blow a comfortable away win. I'd been getting seriously worried that we were highly professional and competent, that's not the Cardiff City I'm used to, this is!!

It's time to put it into perspective. When Alan Cork departed, City were stranded in 11th place and virtual mid-table obscurity, 5 points behind the playoffs, 5 wins behind the promotion spots, teams above us had games in hand.

The fact a play-off place is a near certainty and we can still talk about a chance of automatic promotion shows an incredible transformation in just 7 weeks.

The job's not done yet but let's salute Lennie for his management and stunning turnaround, the players for 11 unbeaten matches and 27 points out of 33 and, just as importantly, us - the fans - for the best support. I'd given the season up after we were stuffed at Wigan.

And let's be honest, if we get Huddersfield in the play-offs, who's going to be bothered about them? They'll already be praying they avoid us ... as will Stoke, Brentford or whoever.

It's not league football anymore, every fixture is a cup match from now on. Hopefully the play-off place will be confirmed by this Saturday so the final league game at Tranmere is irrelevant and just a good day out.

We're 5 games from the Millennium Stadium, 6 games from Division One. If you felt tense at Huddersfield, and it was, it was nothing. The next month could be far more agonising and stomach churning, whatever happens. Get used to it!