AFC Bournemouth 1 Huddersfield Town 1: A blend of youth and experience
The story of Bournemouth’s meeting with Huddersfield Town was always destined to centre on the battle between youth and experience. So, for the few interested parties that shunned Manchester United’s attempt to win their 19th Premier League title and the countdown to the FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Stoke City, there was little surprise that the game’s key actors were those at either end of their careers.
Both sides were relying on teenagers to provide their firepower – Bournemouth in the shape of 19-year-old striker Danny Ings and Huddersfield through Arsenal loanee Benik Afobe, even younger at just 18. Add their ages together and you only have to deduct three years to be left with Kevin Kilbane’s age, yet it was Huddersfield’s experienced Irishman who made a dash to the front post to net the first goal of the Football League play-offs halfway through the first half at Dean Court.
Ings and Afobe enjoyed the two best opportunities to score the second goal of the contest before the hour mark, Ings having a first-half penalty saved by visiting goalkeeper Ian Bennett (39 years young, to labour a point) before Afobe was denied by Bournemouth goalkeeper Shwan Jalal from what looked like a certain goalscoring position.
Instead, the next goal arrived courtesy of a 21-year-old who may have been turning out at Wembley in different circumstances. Donal McDermott is out of contract this summer at Manchester City, but has spent the past four years of his footballing education on loan at Milton Keynes Dons, Chesterfield, Scunthorpe United and now Bournemouth. He levelled the scores with half an hour to play with a fierce long range drive that beat Bennett low to his left.
Bournemouth were spurred on from the touchline by manager Lee Bradbury and watched from the stands by former bosses Eddie Howe and Sean O’Driscoll. These three men have contributed so much to the Cherries over the years to differing degrees but it speaks volumes about Bradbury in particular, as well as his assistant Steve Fletcher, that the hosts were able to impose themselves on this game following a difficult opening period.
Huddersfield finished 16 points ahead of their opponents in the League One table and that superiority was reflected in the early stages. With Kilbane and his fellow veteran Joey Gudjonsson calmly controlling the midfield area, Bournemouth struggled to get the ball to Ings, McDermott and Liam Feeney in space. When Feeney did finally get a chance to run at Terriers captain Peter Clarke, a poor touch gave the Huddersfield man an opportunity to clear.
The second half was a different affair, with Bournemouth keeping the ball in a far more accomplished fashion and carrying a much larger threat to the goal into which Kilbane headed the opener. McDermott’s fine strike was a deserved reward for their showing after the interval, the pattern of play seeing Huddersfield’s danger restricted mainly to the counter attack. Afobe demonstrated his promise with one quick dribble deep into Bournemouth territory, but the foul he drew resulted only in the ball being fired high over the bar from a Joey Gudjonsson free kick.
A late aerial onslaught, inspired by the introduction of the 38-year-old assistant manager Fletcher as a late substitute, nearly brought a winner for the home side. The best chance fell to midfielder Anton Robinson in injury time following a towering Fletcher flick-on. Instead, they will go to Huddersfield with the tie still level.
Wednesday’s second leg will be a tough test for this young Bournemouth side, who put a huge amount of effort into an energy-sapping second half and now face a long trip north to the Galpharm Stadium. Huddersfield will be strong favourites to progress, given the experience among their ranks and their excellent home form this season, but Bradbury’s men can take heart from the way they finished this first leg against a side that were close to automatic promotion.
It is set up nicely for a thrilling return fixture – one which will not have to compete against the two Manchester giants.