Huddersfield Town 0 Peterborough United 3: Match report
Three quickfire goals towards the end of a finely-balanced League One play-off final gave Peterborough United victory over Lee Clark’s Huddersfield Town, who gave an impressive performance for long periods before finally succumbing to strikes from Tommy Rowe, Craig Mackail-Smith and Grant McCann.
Peterborough were unchanged from their semi-final second leg win over Milton Keynes Dons, while Huddersfield kept top scorer Jordan Rhodes on the bench with Arsenal loanee Benik Afobe selected at centre-forward.
With just five minutes gone, Mackail-Smith hared towards goal and looked certain to open the scoring for Peterborough but Terriers defender Antony Kay managed to get a crucial touch on the ball to help divert it wide of the post. George Boyd then took centre-stage, twisting and turning in possession to good effect without managing to create a clear chance.
Huddersfield were yet to show, but a couple of dangerous set pieces, both delivered by Gary Roberts from either side, displayed their threat as Posh held firm at the back. Despite the lack of goals in the opening quarter of an hour, the game was shaping up to be an interesting one with both teams committed to attack.
The Terriers came close to opening the scoring when Peter Clarke’s looping header was clutched by Paul Jones in the Peterborough goal at full stretch, before a long clearance downfield saw Mackail-Smith posing his usual danger despite the close attentions of Clarke, Kay and Town keeper Ian Bennett.
Arsenal’s Afobe was struggling to impose himself on an unusually resilient Posh back line, but this was not down to lack of effort. The teenager’s elaborate attempted first touch took the ball away from the on-rushing Danny Ward, Afobe understandably blaming crowd noise for the poor decision.
There was little let-up in the action. Posh midfielder James Wesolowski threw himself to the floor in a vain attempt to win a penalty, before Huddersfield wasted a superb chance on the counter-attack and Lee Peltier earned an overdue yellow card for a lunge at Wesolowski after an earlier hack at Boyd.
With both sides having exerted a huge amount of energy during the opening half hour, there was a lull towards the end of a very even first half. This disappeared as the game edged towards stoppage time before the interval when Boyd conceded a free kick on the edge of Peterborough’s penalty area. Roberts drew a fine save from Jones with an excellent attempt and the second subsequent corner during Huddersfield pressure led to Afobe firing wide on the turn from six yards.
The half ended as it had begun, Mackail-Smith poking the ball wide of the upright with the goal at his mercy after more great work by Tomlin and Boyd. The two sides left the Old Trafford turf at half time with the score remaining goalless.
Huddersfield began the second half strongly but then conceded a free kick in a similar position to the one from which McCann struck Peterborough’s first goal in their semi-final second leg against Milton Keynes at London Road. The Northern Irishman’s effort flew narrowly over the bar at the near post. Shortly afterwards, Jones punched a deep Huddersfield cross clear with two Terriers free beyond him.
Peterborough were indebted to their centre-back Ryan Bennett for a timely headed clearance ten minutes into the second half when Roberts nodded another cross back into the six-yard box and Afobe was lurking. By this time it was all Huddersfield, attacking the Stretford End in which their vast support was gathered.
Ward was enjoying by far his best spell of the game after a relatively quiet first half, firing one shot wide before dribbling half the length of the pitch and smashing the cross bar from a tight angle. Afobe was then inches from connecting with a Hunt cross as Huddersfield remained firmy lin the ascendancy.
Peterborough sought to rectify their problems by removing left-back Grant Basey, against whom Ward was thriving due to an injured hamstring, in favour of Charlie Lee. The substitute was booked after seconds on the pitch after a nasty high challenge on Peltier.
With Huddersfield manager Lee Clark becoming increasingly agitated on the sidelines, it was Peterborough who began to show their menace again as the game entered its final twenty minutes. First Mackail-Smith and then Boyd rediscovered their threat as Huddersfield dug in at the back, while Roberts wasted a great chance on the counter with Afobe well-positioned after a mistake by Peterborough’s Bennett.
Play then went straight up the other end after more good work by Boyd, this time inside his own half, and Kay was forced to haul down Mackail-Smith to earn a booking. The resulting free kick was blasted into the wall by Tomlin, but Posh soon won another when Naysmith stuck a foot out behind him and Boyd tumbled inches from the penalty area.
This time, McCann’s excellent low, flat delivery was glanced beyond Bennett and into the net by Rowe, sparking wild celebrations among the Peterborough fans behind the goal.
Within a minute, they were celebrating again. Boyd did well on the left-hand side and cut the ball back for Mackail-Smith, whose deflected shot bobbled slowly into the far corner. More Posh pandemonium, who threatened to add a third when Rowe danced past two men only to be denied by a challenge on the edge of the Huddersfield area.
With just over six minutes remaining, the tie was quickly put to bed. Again McCann stood over a free kick in a similar position to the one he had scored against Milton Keynes. This time the trajectory was higher but the end result was the same, Bennett sprawling helplessly as the ball flew into the net. McCann hared off towards the Old Trafford dugouts, in front of which a jubilant Ferguson was celebrating – in stark contrast to the figure cut by his defeated father less than 24 hours earlier.
Posh were not up against Barcelona. Far from it. But they did face an excellent Huddersfield side who were unfortunate not to win automatic promotion and who dominated large parts of the second half here.
Magnificent displays from Bennett and Zakuani at the heart of an oft-derided Peterborough back four set up the victory, but it was all about two of the three: the win was clinched by the excellence of McCann, whose dead balls supplied two of the three goals, and two members of Peterborough’s famous holy trinity. From that trio, Aaron MacLean is long gone. Next season, only George Boyd will remain with Mackail-Smith set to exit. The latter pair combined for Peterborough’s vital second goal. If Posh can defend like this during their second Championship spell in three years, perhaps this time they will stay there. Three goals send Peterborough United back to the second tier.