Huddersfield Town confirmed their place in the play-off final with a tense penalty shootout win over Sheffield Wednesday. The Terriers came into the tie as outsiders, due to their poor record against their Yorkshire rivals. However, they fought hard and managed to recover from a goal down to take the tie all the way to penalties. Danny Ward produced a save from Fernando Forestieri’s penalty to win the tie for his side and finally end their awful recent record against Wednesday. Here are three things that we learnt…
The play-offs remain unpredictable
The majority of pundits were expecting a Fulham versus Sheffield Wednesday play-off final when the semi-finals were decided. However, it will be Reading and Huddersfield Town that will be competing at Wembley. This shows how unpredictable the play-offs are and both teams will go into the match at the end of the month with a great chance of reaching the Premier League. Although Reading have recent top flight experience, the Terriers have provided the feel-good story of the Championship season under David Wagner. It is all to play for in the final.
After their end to the season, Huddersfield were written off as potential winners of the play-offs, as they three of their last four matches of the campaign. Wagner chose to rest key players to keep them fresh for the play-offs and it is a decision that has been vindicated now. Their fitness was pushed to the limit as they had to play at a high intensity for 120 minutes and they passed that test. It wasn’t pretty on Wednesday, but they got the job done and are now only one match away from reaching the Premier League for the first time in their history.
Wednesday are always the bridesmaid and never the bride
Sheffield Wednesday managed to bounce back from their play-off final defeat last season and finish in the top six for the second successive season. They would have hoped that their experience would have been an advantage in this tie, but they came up short once again. The play-offs are cruel and there is no margin for error. The Owls know that better than any other side as they have now failed to win them in two consecutive campaigns.
Before the second-leg, there were rumours about the future of Carlos Carvalhal and they came at the worst possible time for the club. Concentration levels have to be at an all-time high during the play-offs and Wednesday weren’t completely at it against Huddersfield. They were poor in the build-up to the Huddersfield goal and were lucky not to concede a penalty during extra-time. It will go down as a disappointment for the club as they have been one of the best sides in the Championship across the last two seasons, but they haven’t won promotion in either. That said, they have a good squad and have the finances to push on to challenge for automatic promotion next season.
Michael Hefele showed why he is a terrace favourite
The centre-back was excellent throughout the 120 minutes and played a huge role as Huddersfield reached the play-off final. He was dominant in the air as he usually is, with seven successful aerial duels. In addition to that, he completed five ball recoveries and five clearances to help Huddersfield restrict Wednesday to only one goal. Towards the end of the season, the Terriers were shaky at the back and finished the campaign with a negative goal difference. They were back to their defensive best at Hillsborough and Hefele had a huge part to play in that.
There was a great game-saving block in extra time to prevent Fernando Forestieri and it proved to be a turning point in the tie. After that point, it was Huddersfield that were the more threatening and they finished the 120 minutes with the upper hand. Hefele was one of the star men during the match, but his contribution didn’t stop there. He stepped up during the penalty shoot-out and scored to put his side into a two-goal lead. It was a great performance and he will be equally as important in the final.
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Huddersfield Town: Three talking points from Wembley
Son Heung-min was the star of the show as Tottenham Hotspur overcame Huddersfield Town.
A double from Son Heung-min extended Tottenham Hotspur’s unbeaten run to 11 Premier League games and consolidated their position in the top four.
The South Korean international took his tally to 10 for the season with a goal in each half, as Spurs swept past Huddersfield Town at Wembley Stadium.
It was the ideal way for Mauricio Pochettino’s men to warm up for their crunch Champions League last 16 second-leg tie at home to Juventus on Wednesday night.
The Terriers had come into this fixture following timely back-to-back victories that had invigorated their survival bid, but they were completely outplayed and succumbed to a 2-0 defeat.
Here are three talking points…
Son underlines his growing importance to Spurs
It’s no secret that Tottenham rely heavily on Harry Kane to provide the goalscoring threat.
The England international has spearheaded the attack with distinction in the past few years, but on the rare occasions he doesn’t find the net it’s important that another Spurs player stands up.
This season, that man has invariably been Son.
Despite not being deployed as an out-and-out-striker, the former Bayer Leverkusen star, who signed for just £22 million, has chipped in with important goals that have sustained Tottenham’s charge.
After a blistering start to the campaign, Son found himself out of the side for a period. However, he has fought his way back in, contributing with goals and assists.
In all competitions he now has 15 goals this season – that’s six more than Dele Alli – at a strike rate of better than one every two games.
Son’s reliability is one of his strengths and a reason why he is becoming a vital component of the squad under Pochettino.
Bigger battles ahead for below-par Huddersfield
After their recent upturn in form, Huddersfield supporters would have travelled to the national stadium with hope that their side could spring a surprise.
Victories over Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion had helped the Terriers escape from the drop-zone, in what is a fascinating battle for Premier League survival.
But it was not to be at Wembley, as Spurs flexed their muscles and carried on from where they left off in the second half against Rochdale in midweek.
It sounds obvious, but Huddersfield’s hopes do not rest on results against the likes of Tottenham – it’s the games against their rivals in the lower half of the table that matter.
With that in mind, the next four fixtures could be key to determining the fate of David Wagner’s side.
Next up is a home clash with Swansea City, swiftly followed by matches against Crystal Palace, Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion.
Make or break? It very much could be for Huddersfield.
Spurs’ attentions turn to the Champions League
Professional footballers though they may be, it would have been understandable if Spurs already had one eye on their mouth-watering Champions League encounter with Italian giants Juventus on Wednesday.
At 2-2 the tie is evenly poised, but with home advantage and two away goals in the bank, Tottenham have a realistic opportunity to progress to the last eight of the competition, knocking out last year’s runners-up in the progress.
Spurs are more than capable of reaching the quarter-finals and Pochettino, who celebrated his 46th birthday on Friday, will be buoyed by their recent endeavours.
Their unbeaten sequence, which stretches back to December, is the longest of any top-flight club.
Kane and Son are in prolific form in front of goal, while at the back, only two sides have better defensive records in the Premier League.
Juventus will put up stern resistance, but Tottenham are equipped to overcome the challenge.
Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium
Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.
A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.
Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.
Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.
There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.
Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.
Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…
Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho
The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.
While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.
That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.
Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.
The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.
Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.
VAR under the microscope yet again
The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.
It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.
Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.
Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.
After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.
Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.
In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.
Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.
These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.
Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit
With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.
But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.
The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.
Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.
Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.
Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.
Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.
Huddersfield Town 4-1 Bournemouth: Alex Pritchard steals plaudits after running the show
Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Huddersfield Town took a huge leap in the race for survival with a 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.
Huddersfield Town produced a four-star performance to brush aside Bournemouth and move out of the Premier League relegation zone.
Junior Stanislas quickly cancelled out Alex Pritchard’s seventh-minute opener, but from that moment it was one-way traffic as the Terriers showed their bite on a freezing afternoon in Yorkshire.
A Steve Cook own goal made it 2-1 at half-time before Steve Mounie and a stoppage-time penalty from Rajiv van la Parra completed the drubbing.
Huddersfield climbed to 17th as a result of this much-needed victory, while Bournemouth’s excellent recent form came to an abrupt halt with their first defeat of 2018.
Here are three talking points…
Huddersfield breathe new life into survival bid
Boss David Wagner had highlighted his side’s upcoming run of fixtures as crucial to their ambitions of avoiding relegation back to the Championship.
On the back of five consecutive defeats, Huddersfield had free-fallen into the drop-zone.
Although the win over Manchester United will take some beating in the eyes of the fans, given their predicament this was arguably their most important three points of the campaign.
It was a crushing triumph and one that the Terriers fully deserved.
Yes, they caught the visitors on a bad day, but much of that was due to the nature of Huddersfield’s display.
They gave Bournemouth no time on the ball to play their natural passing game and took their chances when they came along.
Especially from set-pieces, Wagner’s men looked dangerous and exploited the Cherries’ weakness in the air.
The bottom half of the table remains incredibly congested, but this result gives Huddersfield genuine hope that survival is possible.
Bournemouth’s unbeaten run comes to a crashing end
Entering this match at the top of the form table, this was Bournemouth’s worst result of the season.
From the first whistle they were out-battled by a Huddersfield side that were fighting for their lives.
Perhaps an air of complacency had surfaced following the Cherries’ unbeaten sequence, which had stood at seven games and included victories over Chelsea and Arsenal.
Talk of qualifying for the Europa League can now be parked to one side.
Despite being in 10th position, Bournemouth are not assured of survival just yet.
Boss Eddie Howe will back his troops to get the three wins they need to reach the 40-point mark, but this was a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in the Premier League.
He will be thoroughly bemused by this showing.
It was a day to forget for the Cherries and their dedicated supporters, who had left in the very early hours to embark on the long journey north for this lunch-time kick-off.
Pritchard brings ingenuity to the Terriers’ ranks
Although Huddersfield’s win was a by-product of a real team effort, one player that deserves special praise is new recruit Pritchard.
Signed from Norwich City in the January window, he ran the show in midfield, making the Terriers tick with crisp passing.
Pritchard opened the scoring in the early exchanges with a well-taken finish for his first ever Premier League goal, at the seventh attempt.
He had previously played in the top-flight with Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.
There is always a risk attached to any new signing from a lower division, but Pritchard had demonstrated enough class for Norwich to indicate he would be able to make the step-up.
The 24-year-old will face tougher challenges in his midfield role, but he has brought a touch of guile and class to Huddersfield.
Pritchard’s teasing run that induced the foul for a penalty in added-time underlined his capability to make things happen.
Wagner will hope it is a positive sign for the run-in.
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