Npower League One Play-Off Final 2012
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Sheffield United (AET)
(Huddersfield win 8-7 on penalties)

 

 




Sheffield United's Matthew Lowton battles for the ball with Huddersfield's Kallum Higginbotham in a tactical encounter (above top); while Huddersfield celebrate their promotion to the Championship in style as boss Simon Grayson lifts the trophy high in the air (above below)

 

 

By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor from Wembley Stadium

 

Huddersfield are promoted to the Championship at the expense of Sheffield United after a dramatic penalty shoot-out decided a remarkably tight and tense affair in the League One play-off final.

Goalkeeper Steve Simonsen missed the decisive spotkick following fellow shotstopper Alex Smithies' conversion which came after a goalless draw and a physical battle producing limited scoring chances after two hours of football at Wembley.

Huddersfield stepped up a gear in the second half after a dull opening period with Danny Ward hitting the woodwork while seeing two efforts cleared off the line.

Nobody could find a breakthrough in extra-time meaning a penalty shoot-out where Simonsen was the villain, meaning United remain in League One next season while Huddersfield end an eight-year stay in the third tier and put recent play-off misery behind them.

Boss Simon Grayson - who also experienced promotion from the third tier with Leeds United and Blackpool in recent years - made one change to the Terriers side which were beaten by MK Dons in the second leg of the play-off semi-final but still progressed on aggregate with Alex Smithies replacing the veteran and former Blades goalkeeper Ian Bennett between the sticks after the 40-year old injured his hand against the Dons.

Huddersfield kept faith with the same outfield ten with Scott Arfield recovering from a calf problem to take his place on the bench with young Kallum Higginbotham preferred.

Sheffield United made two alterations from the side which narrowly overcame Stevenage in their play-off semi-final second leg two weeks ago at Bramall Lane with influential midfielder Kevin McDonald ruled out meaning a recall for long-serving Nick Montgomery while Richard Cresswell recovered from a blow to his eye to return to the line-up ahead of the semi-final matchwinner Chris Porter who was on the bench. James Beattie remained suspended through the red card received on the final day of the regular league season.

A serious accident on the M1 threatened to delay the arrival of some fans at Wembley but it did little to affect the loud and proud atmosphere around the ground before kick-off.

It was third against fourth in the final League One standings separated by a massive nine points infront of a raucous crowd at the national stadium competing for the right to join Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and the other big-hitters in the Championship next season.

The sweltering sun shone brightly throughout on the hottest weekend of the year as nine months worth of work was put on the line and boiled down to ninety minutes of football. Two evenly matched teams on paper produced an even contest with the game tooing and froing nicely in the opening minutes with Sheffield United the more purposeful in the final third with Cresswell lively while Jack Hunt looked particularly menacing down the right flank for Huddersfield from full-back.


? DID YOU KNOW ?

Only Manchester City scored more than Sheffield United's 92 in the regular season across all four divisions in football while it is only the second time in Football League history that a team has not been promoted when collecting 90 points.

 

It was fiercely competitive from the first minute with tackles galore flying in with one particulary strong challenge from Tommy Miller on United captain Michael Doyle who was caught by the follow-through but it was deemed fair by referee Roger East.

The game was slow with the ball spending more time in the air than on the ground while both sides were tentative in possession losing the ball cheaply in key areas. The referee sensibly allowed a short intermission for the twenty-two players to rehydrate midway through the half in the stifling conditions.

The game was artritional with Sheffield United having a slight advantage in possession while doing more pressing with England U21 international Alex Smithies, who regained his place in the team for the first time in three months, showing signs of rustiness and unsurity when attempting to claim a couple of crosses delivered into the penalty area.

The lack of goalmouth action in the first half was the result of two defences on top form while the lack of creativity and risktaking from both teams playing an integral part in the shortage of scoring opportunities throughout with Harry Maguire, one of five representatives on the field who were named in the League One team of the year, patrolling defensive duties and getting the better of Terriers' 40-goal forward Jordan Rhodes.

Huddersfield improved after the break stepping up a gear immediately from the restart and within the first minute of the second half came the closest so far to finding the first goal with Danny Ward cracking a superb right-footed effort from the edge of the penalty arc against the Sheffield United crossbar with Simonsen left stranded and praying as the former Bolton man cursed his bad luck.

Both were mindful of losing and therefore didn't gamble to commit men forward or go for broke although both sets of fans remained optimistic of winning and positively encouraged the players through their vocal support.

Set-pieces were always going to be important and a useful method of scoring for Huddersfield with Scottish international Rhodes the likely aim of corners and free-kicks however the threat of Peter Clarke from defence appeared to be underestimated as he provided a dangerous target and came close with a header despite being closely marked.

The game became more stretched without extracting goalmouth action with Quinn firing a low effort well wide after good build-up play starting from a quick throw-in.

 

? DID YOU KNOW ?

This was the first time ever that Huddersfield and Sheffield United had met in the play-offs in any division.

 

There was a flurry of activity towards the Sheffield United goal in the space of three minutes as Huddersfield posed more of a threat and looked the more likely to grab a winner with Tommy Miller's effort forcing Steve Simonsen down to make a smart low save while captain Doyle made a goalline clearance to keep out substitute Gary Roberts' follow-up.

Meanwhile from the resulting corner, Peter Clarke's firm header was palmed away by the Blades goalkeeper and 22-year old Rhodes an inch away from connecting with a fizzed cross by Callum Woods as extra-time approached.

The Terriers, beaten comfortably by Peterborough in last year's final, asked more questions but former Derby forward Chris Porter on from the bench wasted a decent heading chance at the back post with five minutes left to go as finally an element of urgency looked to have been instilled late on as an energy sapping afternoon was extended for another half an hour as the players' fitness levels were intensely tested to the maximum.

Half chances went begging as extra-time finally looked to bring the game alive somewhat with Sheffield United missing the goals of their topscorer Ched Evans who was jailed last month after being convicted of allegedly raping a 19-year old woman as his replacement Porter couldn't make clean contact with a deep Ryan Flynn cross as his weak effort brushed Woods and deflected behind.

A tight and tense affair was expected and the game panned out as anticipated with very little to choose between the Yorkshire rivals.

United, who narrowly missed out on automatic promotion to bitter Steel City rivals Wednesday, at long last managed to conjure an effort on target with the hard-working Stephen Quinn weaving his way in and out of three Huddersfield players with a mazy run before seeing his low shot saved well by Smithies at the near post.

At the other end, Simonsen had to be alert to deny Alan Lee after a slight gap had parted for the former Crystal Palace striker to get a shot in. The match continued to explode into life with another clearance off the line thwarting Huddersfield as Montgomery on his 400th club career appearance swivelled to hook away a Clarke attempt after the big central defender had again won the ball in the air this time from a Tommy Miller free-kick.

Huddersfield - who triumphed 3-0 at Bramall Lane in September while losing 1-0 to United at the Galpharm Stadium in February in the league meetings between the sides this season - finished the game the stronger of the two sides as both still looked to get up the field and push forward in the hope of snatching the game from the other in the last minute but the dreaded lottery of the penalty shootout could not be avoided with the chance for somebody to make a name for themselves in the pressure cooker of spotkicks.

The Terriers missed their first three kicks as experienced trio Miller, Johnson and Lee all failed to dispatch from twelve yards while Lee Williamson and Matthew Lowton also couldn't score for United having found Alex Smithies in unbeatable form either side of a successful penalty from Neill Collins as United looked in charge.

The pendulum swung the other way as Clarke equalised with a calmy taken kick before Andy Taylor thumped the post for the Blades while Scott Arfield brilliantly converted with a pacy effort to put Huddersfield 2-1 up which was to be the first of thirteen successful penalties with many opting for a combination of power, height and placement.

After every single outfield player had made the long walk from the halfway line to step up from the spot, it was left down to the goalkeepers to hold their nerve from twelve yards with Smithies blasting home for Huddersfield to leave them at matchpoint.

In addition, it left opposite number Simonsen in the impossible situation of needing to score to keep his side in with a shout but the former Everton and Stoke City goalkeeper blazed over the crossbar agonisingly as he collapsed to the ground in disbelief to the sheer delight of the wearers of blue and white behind the goal who finally achieved their dream of returning to the second level of the footballing pyramid.

It kept up Sheffield United's unwanted record of never being promoted via the play-offs as the Blades trundled off the pitch at the end stewing over deep disappointment as their bid to return to the Championship at the first time of asking failed miserably with certain off the field distractions taking their toll.

Danny Wilson, who was beaten with Bristol City and Swindon in the play-offs earlier in his managerial career, suffered again with the heartache of losing and will have raise spirits before regrouping to do it all again next year in League One.

In contrast, Huddersfield bring an end to an eleven year wait for second tier football to come out on top in their fourth play-off final.


ANALYSIS
Adam Higgins
The Football Site -  Chief Football Editor


"Huddersfield have deserved the chance to have a crack at the Championship for their efforts over the last three years in League One and the disappointment in particular of last season's play-off final so a huge congratulations to them for achieving it at long last. It was an extremely tight game as everyone expected, not a lot between the teams and difficult to separate. The conditions were unbearable at times which affected the match as a spectacle as it drained the energy from the players especially with an extra half an hour. You wonder where this leaves Sheffield United who were in a similar situation as West Ham were in the Championship whereby they missed out on automatic promotion and had to make do with the play-offs. It is going to mean a massive overhaul in the squad and they are going to have to do it all over again in the summer. They need to pick themselves up and start afresh similarly to how Wednesday did in their second season- ideally they will now be even bigger favourites and huge expectations on them next season but this huge defeat could spell the end for Danny Wilson."

 

 

Saturday 26th May 2012

Npower League One Play-Off Final

Wembley Stadium (North London)

 

Huddersfield Town 0-0 Sheffield United         AET                       KO 3pm           (HT 0-0)  

 

(Huddersfield Town win 8-7 on penalties)

 

  • Tommy Miller (Huddersfield) missed 0-0
  • Lee Williamson (Sheffield Utd) missed 0-0
  • Damien Johnson (Huddersfield) missed 0-0
  • Neill Collins (Sheffield Utd) scored 0-1
  • Alan Lee (Huddersfield) missed 0-1
  • Mathhew Lowton (Sheffield Utd) missed 0-1
  • Peter Clarke (Huddersfield) scored 1-1
  • Andy Taylor (Sheffield Utd) missed 1-1
  • Scott Arfield (Huddersfield) scored 2-1
  • Chris Porter (Sheffield Utd) scored 2-2
  • Jordan Rhodes (Huddersfield) scored 3-2
  • Stephen Quinn (Sheffield Utd) scored 3-3
  • Gary Roberts (Huddersfield) scored 4-3
  • Harry Maguire (Sheffield Utd) scored 4-4
  • Calum Woods (Huddersfield) scored 5-4
  • Michael Doyle (Sheffield Utd) scored 5-5
  • Jack Hunt (Huddersfield) scored 6-5
  • Michael O'Halloran (Sheffield Utd) scored 6-6
  • Sean Morrison (Huddersfield) scored 7-6
  • Matt Hill (Sheffield Utd) scored 7-7
  • Alex Smithies (Huddersfield) scored 8-7
  • Steve Simonsen (Sheffield Utd) missed 8-7      
  •  

    Huddersfield:  1 Smithies- 8/10, 32 Hunt- 8.5/10, 5 P Clarke (C)- 8.5/10, 15 Morrison- 8/10, 2 Woods- 7/10, 11 Ward- 7.5/10 (Lee 98- 2/10), 14 Johnson- 5.5/10, 18 Miller- 6.5/10, 27 Higginbotham- 7/10 (Roberts 79- 3.5/10), 17 Rhodes- 7/10, 21 Novak- 7.5/10 (Arfield 116- 1.5/10).

    Subs not used:  25 Colgan, 12 T Clarke

    Booked:      Higginbotham (61), Johnson (112)

    Sheffield United:  1 Simonsen- 8/10, 2 Lowton- 7.5/10, 15 Collins- 7/10, 19 Maguire- 9/10, 32 Hill- 7.5/10, 14 Williamson- 7.5/10, 4 Montgomery- 7.5/10 (Taylor 120+1- 0.5/10), 8 Doyle (C)- 8/10, 11 Flynn- 7/10 (O'Halloran 108- 2.5/10), 28 Quinn- 8.5/10, 17 Cresswell- 7.5/10 (Porter 85- 4/10).

    Subs not used:  13 Howard, 20 McAllister

    Booked:      Maguire (105+1)

     

    My Man of the Match:    Harry Maguire (Sheffield United) - Rating 9/10

    My Poorest Performer of the Match:    Damien Johnson (Huddersfield Town) - Rating 5.5/10

     

     

    Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire) - 9/10
    Assistant Referees: Harry Lennard (East Sussex) and Matthew Wilkes (West Midlands)
    Fourth Official: Danny McDermid (Hampshire)
    Reserve Assistant Referee: Mark Scholes (Buckinghamshire)


    Attendance: 52,100

     

     

    Match Facts


    Possession:
    Huddersfield - 50%                 Sheffield United - 50%

    Shots: Huddersfield - 13                     Sheffield United - 11

    Shots on target: Huddersfield - 5                    Sheffield United - 7

    Shots off target: Huddersfield - 8                    Sheffield United - 4

    Corners: Huddersfield - 8                       Sheffield United - 9

    Fouls: Huddersfield - 16                    Sheffield United - 15

    Offside: Huddersfield - 1                       Sheffield United - 3

    Assists: Huddersfield - None                  Sheffield United - None

     

     


    Huddersfield Town manager Simon Grayson

    "Unfortunately there can only be one team who wins on occasions such as these and they've given a great account of themselves in a very tough game for us. We feel for Sheffield United in losing of course and wish them well for next season. It was sweltering out there on the pitch, the heat was unbearable and the lads did well to survive the conditions and not let it affect the way they played. Lee Clark deserves a lot of credit because he's had this team up from the start of the season as well. I've got a chairman who went out of his way to attract me to this football club and its his day as well. The ambition of it all. We're just going forward and it's a great occasion for the club to be playing in the second tier. We're just obviously delighted that we've won the game especially after overcoming a difficult semi-final against MK Dons and are going to the Championship. I cannot ask for more and I am very proud. You've got to have the nerve to take the penalties and I felt the lads did it magnificently- every single one of them. You've got to be brave and have responsibility and also keep your composure. My goalkeeper has been unbelievable and they're a Championship team now - it's great."


    Click here to watch the post-match interview with goalkeeping hero Alex Smithies

    Click here to watch the post-match interview with Terriers boss Grayson after promotion

     

     


    Sheffield United manager Danny Wilson

    "I can't think of a worse way to lose a play-off final and to lose out on promotion. The players were physically drained after 120 minutes of football in such intense conditions to play in. I thought that Steve (Simonsen) had a terrific game. Who would have thought it would come down to the two keepers? He feels doubly disappointed because of his performance. These boys are devastated, all their hard work over the last eleven months has been taken away, it's very difficult to console them in that dressing room having lost in the manner we have done and having lost a game that was even and the fact the majority of our penalties were outstanding. I felt we had done enough over the course of the season to get promoted, we had a good number of points and have played some really good football. I cannot believe that I am not talking about us winning the game really. We have to get this out of our system in time for next season and rebuild. It is going to be hard for us all to get over the disappointment of this, I feel sorry for the lads, the staff and thank all the fans for making the journey down here and backing the lads throughout the season."

     

    Click here to watch Huddersfield's epic penalty shoot-out victory over Sheffield United

    Click here to watch match highlights

     

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