Cowan rises to occasion

Stephen Brenkley
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Cup giant-killers usually come in the form of unexpected goalscorers. At Loftus Road yesterday, the old competition was within seconds of throwing up a hero in the shape of an unexpected goalkeeper.

Tom Cowan, the Huddersfield defender, had been in goal for almost an hour and looked the epitome of composure. Thanks to his protective defence and a somewhat strange Queen's Park Rangers strategy, he had little to do but he dealt cleanly, unfussily and valiantly with what came his way. At 5ft 8in, the second smallest man on the pitch, it would have been a giant-killing indeed.

Huddersfield had held the lead for almost 25 minutes when Rangers at last managed a clean shot on target. Substitute Mark Hateley, who had been booed on to the pitch, unfurled his left foot close to the edge of the area and his shot threaded its way through the defence into the far corner. This is difficult territory for any keeper. Had Cowan been quick enough he would simply not have been long enough to make the distance.

It was an equaliser that Rangers' play barely merited. They were occasionally neat but much too patient and never assertive. This was an occasion for the direct approach.

The goalkeeping change had been caused when Huddersfield's veteran Tony Norman pulled a hamstring in gathering a header back. He is the only fit senior keeper on the Yorkshire club's books at present, so manager Brian Horton had no option but to fill the vacancy with an outfield player.

"We had three or four volunteers," the manager said. "But Tom did well, didn't he?" Horton added, referring to Cowan's Dells Hill birthplace: "You never know, Scotland may have found a goalkeeper." Cowan waited 10 minutes for his first meaningful touch, a low save from a near-post Daniele Dichio header. In the second half, he was all but untroubled. Rangers' policy of the careful build-up did not place him under any need to hurry and their intermittent shots from distance were wayward.

Huddersfield defended well in depth, and Jon Dyson did everything in his power to make sure that the way through to the man who normally stands alongside him in defence was not an easy passage.

After 64 minutes, Gary Crosby gave Huddersfield the lead when he was left with the pleasant task of firing in Rob Edwards' low cross from the left.

Rangers raised the tempo but remained indecisive. Only Hateley's experience denied the diminutive Cowan his moment of FA Cup history.