2014/15: Sky Bet Championship – Huddersfield Town v Fulham (A Yorkshire Trilogy: Part 3)
The last time Fulham travelled to Huddersfield on 14 April 2001, they knew that victory would see them promoted to the Premier League. Town also had plenty to play for as they were battling against relegation.
A 2-1 win for Fulham through a Louis Saha penalty and a Luis Boa Morte goal five minutes from time, sealed Fulham’s promotion to the top flight, and pushed the Yorkshire club closer to their eventual drop down to the third tier of English football.
Given its significance, you might think that every kick of that game back in 2001 would be indelibly etched into my memory. Incredibly it isn’t and even watching the goals back, I can’t seem to recall one of the biggest days in the club’s history. Instead the abiding memories of the day are of sitting next to a guy from Canada who had travelled over for the game and the stewards at the ground who didn’t allow us long to stay and celebrate the victory.
Fourteen years later, it is now Fulham fighting against a second consecutive relegation as they return to Huddersfield.
It’s a bright day as I take the simple and quick journey to Huddersfield from Leeds. The train is a direct service, so locations such as Dewsbury, Batley and Muirfield are no more than buildings blurred as the train hurtles into Kirklees.
Arriving at Huddersfield I resist the temptation of a pint at either of the stations fine watering-holes and instead make the relatively short walk down to the John Smith’s Stadium, home to both Huddersfield Town and Huddersfield Giants. It is by no stretch of the imagination an attractive walk to the ground taking in as it does both the Huddersfield ring-road and the gas works. However, the walk is worth it, as for me, the stadium is amongst the best of the new-builds.
Back in 2001 the away end was filled with a bouncing cacophony of fans, buoyed by expectation and anticipation. Today the 500 or so hardy souls gathered in a nervous group were still coming to terms with the midweek defeat by Leeds in a ‘smash and grab’ victory and the fear now was that only five points separated the team from one of the relegation spots.
As those football philosophers ‘Saint & Greavsie’ espoused – football is ‘a funny old game’. In midweek the footballing gods had granted Fulham no luck, and despite 27 efforts on goal, including 3 which hit the woodwork, had ended up losing 3-0.
Today though the gods must have felt some pity after their recent cruelty and were indeed generous as within two minutes Fulham were gifted the lead.
From the far end it all looked a bit of a mess. Alex Kacaniklic swung in a corner from the right and was soon surrounded and congratulated by his team mates, as the ball nestled in the Town net. It made for confused celebrations as the Fulham faithful exchanged puzzled glances. In the end the conclusion was that Alex Smithies in goal for Huddersfield had left it for the man on the post, who assumed his keeper would deal with it. Net result, a lead in the most fortunate of circumstances.
The half passes in an instant and the overriding thought is, how have Huddersfield not equalised. Incredibly as the whistle blows for half-time, Fulham somehow have a 1-0 lead. At least the break allows for the classic football ‘Three P’s’ – pie, pint and a piss.
Huddersfield are out for the second-half early and it is a while before Fulham and the officials emerge.
As the game restarts my overriding feeling is that a victory today would probably seal survival in the Championship for the season, but that is 45 minutes away.
What unfolds can only be described as the one of the most bizarre halves of football I have ever witnessed. Just over ten minutes into the second-half, Huddersfield wins a corner and in the resulting melee, Ishmael Miller’s curling effort is handled on the line. Referee Richard Clark awards a penalty and shows Cauley Woodrow a red card. There is then a period of confusion which from the away end is not easy to interpret. Are the Fulham players complaining about the penalty award? What is going on? Woodrow seems reluctant to go and is finally ushered towards the touchline by his teammates. However the protests on the pitch continue and eventually referee Clark consults with the fourth official. Woodrow is then recalled from the touchline and Fulham skipper Sean Hutchinson is instead dismissed.
After over five minutes of confusion, the penalty is eventually taken. Nahki Wells steps up but his effort is saved by Marcus Bettinelli, diving to his right. Minutes later Woodrow having been reprieved by the officials nearly scores, as he gets in behind the defence but hits the post with his shot.
Down to 10 men with well over 25 minutes to go, is it realistic to think that the lead can be maintained?
The feeling in the away end is like that of a dazed boxer clinging to the ropes and another big punch lands when Huddersfield are awarded a second penalty with twenty minutes remaining. There is no real protest from the Fulham ranks, rather a resigned acceptance that the home side will have an equaliser.
Nahki Wells shows bottle by stepping up to take the penalty. However with Bettinelli not even bothering to dive, the spot-kick strikes the post and bounces away. The Town fans can hardly believe what has happened and a few Fulham faithful swap less than friendly hand gestures with Terriers fans close to the away end.
Huddersfield manager Chris Powell decides to ring the changes with fifteen minutes remaining as Radoslaw Majewski replaces Tommy Smith and Joe Lolley replaces Jonathan Hogg. The barrage on the Fulham goal continues as efforts from Scannell, Butterfield, Edgar and Majewski rain in. Still Fulham hold out and defend heroically as Town make their last substitution with David Edgar making way for Jake Charles.
With just three minutes remaining Fulham try to run down the clock as Woodrow makes way for Hugo Rodallega. However, even when the ninety minutes is up there is no respite as the official indicates six minutes time added on – no surprise given the events surrounding the first penalty incident earlier.
Still Huddersfield come forward, still the Fulham defence somehow holds out. Whistles ring out from the away end as the last minute of time added on ticks away. Then Seko Fofana picks up the ball in his own half and with Huddersfield committed to attack, the Manchester City loanee streaks away from the limited Town cover who like hapless Keystone Cops are unable to catch the Fulham player. His shot hits the post but the rebound falls kindly and he slots home for an unlikely second goal.
The relief at clinching victory is shared by both the crowd and the players. Fofana is swamped amongst the traveling support and keeper Bettinelli runs the full length of the pitch to celebrate with the rest of the players. It is a celebration as wild and carefree as those fourteen years ago. There is only time for Huddersfield to kick-off before the referee blows for the end of the game.
The grins on the faces of fellow Fulham fans are as wide at the Thames and will probably last all the way back to West London. For me though I slip away in the car park and merge in the Town fans as they weave their way back to the town centre.
Collar up, head down I smile inwardly and take in the conversations around me. Many bemoan James Vaughan’s midweek sending-off against Norwich, as they convince themselves the errant forward would have converted both penalties. But those are merely if’s and but’s. Fulham have been battered today, but have emerged with three points that could ultimately secure their Championship status this season.
My three game adventure is at an end. A win, a loss and a draw. Three very different experiences which sum up why as fans we love the game and more importantly our team.