Huddersfield beat Sheffield Wednesday on penalties and will face Reading in Championship play-off final
Sheffield Wednesday 1 Huddersfield Town 1 (Agg 1-1) Huddersfield Town win 4-3 on penalties
Two penalty saves from Danny Ward carried Huddersfield Town through to a Championship play-off final with Reading after more than 210 minutes of football between these local rivals produced just two goals and failed to separate them.
After 45 years away from top-flight football, the Town keeper denied Sam Hutchinson and Fernando Forestieri as Town went through 4-3 in the shoot-out.
Steven Fletcher, a player who can be considered to have unfinished business with the Premier League, had earlier broken the deadlock in this keenly-contested play-off derby only for Nahki Wells to leave it once more poised on a knife-edge.
Scotsman Fletcher, released by Sunderland last summer after an underwhelming spell with the north-east club, started the move that led to the opening goal after 51 minutes, winning the ball back after an error by team mate Kieran Lee.
Finally, Barry Bannan swung over a cross for Fletcher to steer an unstoppable header past the diving Danny Ward.
The opening goal will have angered visiting manager David Wagner who had seen a strong penalty appeal fail late in the first half.
But Wells eased those frustrations after 73 minutes when Rajiv Van La Parra’s ball found substitute Collin Quaner whose low cross was steered in by the striker, although replays suggested defender Tom Lees had provided the decisive touch into his own goal.
The opening minutes of the return leg offered more attacking intent, and entertainment, than the entire 90 had done in a nervy first leg at Huddersfield three days earlier.
But, given that the three previous meetings between the teams this season had produced just three goals - all of them from Sheffield - perhaps the fact that a goal was not quickly forthcoming should not have been a surprise.
Wednesday, shamelessly negative in the first game, adopted a distinctly different approach on their own ground, forcing a corner after eight minutes - it had taken nearly 45 to see one on Sunday - and almost taking the lead on 19 minutes.
First, though, Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal was forced into a tactical reshuffle after just five minutes when Ross Wallace injured his hamstring and limped off to be replaced by Reach.
The substitute it was who, on 19 minutes, skilfully controlled Kieran Lee’s cross and forced Huddersfield keeper Danny Ward into the game’s first save.
Sheffield’s greater ambition naturally opened the door for Huddersfield on the counter and Nahki Wells robbed Sam Hutchinson, advancing into the home area before being forced into a weak shot by defensive cover.
After 25 minutes, however, Huddersfield should have been ahead as Wells broke down the left and crossed for Izzy Brown, the on-loan Chelsea striker, who succeeded only in scraping the outside of the post from six yards.
Sheffield were just as profligate when Barry Bannan picked out Steven Fletcher who should have shot but, rather, tried to pick out team mate Fernando Forestieri, which he failed to do.
And Bannan was again influential when his free-kick was headed goal wards by Tom Lees for Hutchinson to control and shoot high over the goal.
A finely-balanced tie could have shifted in favour of the visitors dramatically on 38 minutes when Wells went to ground after contract from keeper Keiren Westwood as they competed for Tommy Smith’s cross but referee Andre Marriner rejected the penalty appeals without hesitation.
It was a decision which clearly infuriated Huddersfield manager David Wagner and his bench and, for neutrals at least, a goal for the visitors might have guaranteed an enthralling second half.
Instead, first blood fell to the home side, which led to no less an exciting conclusion to the tie.
After going behind to Fletcher’s goal, Huddersfield offered a swift response as Wells marauded into the home area and shot wide after good tracking by defender Lees.
A shot from Rajiv Van La Parra was deflected behind for a corner and the same Huddersfield attacker then caused monetary panic in the home area with a cross which Lee eventually managed to hack to safety.
The Hillsborough crowd, suitably invigorated, really sprung to life with the goal, their hopes of seeing Wednesday return to the top flight after a 17-year absence growing with every passing minute and counter attack although the equaliser dampened their spirits considerably.
And those dreams might have been extinguished on 85 minutes had Westwood not saved well from Wells’ fierce shot from another Quaner cross and the goalkeeper repeated the exploits in the final minute of normal time at Wells’s feet.
Independent News Service