Ekoku injures Huddersfield pride

Huddersfield Town 2 Rowe 7, Cowan 48 Wimbledon 2 Ekoku 65, 90 Attendance: 17,307;
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The Independent Online
Huddersfield Town 2

Rowe 7, Cowan 48

Wimbledon 2

Ekoku 65, 90

Attendance: 17,307

HUDDERSFIELD Town, spick and span, successful and solvent and still seeing Wembley as a realistic target. But there are none so good at pruning ambition as Wimbledon, who yesterday missed a dozen chances to get through this strange, thrilling FA Cup fifth round tie but had to rely on Efan Ekoku's goal in the second minute of injury time to get the replay they deserved.

Brian Horton, Huddersfield's manager, put it all in neat perspective when he emerged from his team's dressing room and said: "They're shattered. They're down, but if a First Division team is down after not beating a Premiership side, you know you're on your way.'' Wimbledon's Joe Kinnear could only concur. "Huddersfield are flying. We just stuck in and you need the luck in the Cup."

Huddersfield may not have thought much about it, but what probably irked Wimbledon as much as anything was that they had to come to a state-of- the-art stadium that is exactly the sort of thing they think they deserve themselves rather than remaining lodgers at Selhurst Park. All they can do is plough on in the old Plough Lane spirit that usually survives against all the odds. And it did again yesterday when they were 2-0 down.

Against a team formidably effective at home but living slightly under the shadow of a drugs scandal involving one of their reserve players, that Wimbledon spirit was quickly examined as Chris Perry fumbled over a tackle on Rodney Rowe in the penalty area. Rowe, with unexpected possession, almost fell over the ball but managed to prod it past the Dons' goalkeeper, Neil Sullivan.

Hesitant, disorganised defending continued to endanger Wimbledon, who nevertheless risked sending Mick Harford forward from his adopted midfield role. His power had Huddersfield living dangerously in their own defence, especially in the air. Yet it was a ferocious volley from outside the penalty area by Oyvind Leonhardsen that almost cost them their lead as the ball vibrated across the crossbar, which Harford also hit with a header from Alan Kimble's cross. Even when Ekoku did finally head in he saw that the lineman's flag had already been raised.

Quite how Huddersfield survived their constant retreat was known only to Wimbledon's Robbie Earle, Marcus Gayle and Dean Holdsworth, whose misses were flagrant. So when, after 49 minutes, Wimbledon conceded a second as Tom Cowan headed in from Paul Reid's corner logic and the whole current of the game became confused. After all, perversity is normally Wimbledon's preserve.

The crowd on the hill outside the ground grew larger. The noise inside increased in wonderful astonishment and when Holdsworth came off, Wimbledon were in even deeper trouble. Yet there was no denying that they merited at least a replay. Andy Clarke had only just replaced Holdsworth when his centre was headed in from close range by Ekoku.

Wimbledon railed against what they felt was the injustice of still being behind. But even when Huddersfield lost both Steve Jenkins, who had served them well in defence, and Rowe, who had led their attack with speed and ingenuity, they were unable to turn their possession into sufficient penetration. Indeed they became more ragged, more impatient and ever more likely to find themselves ending their Cup run. Finally, though, justice was served and it was Ekoku who again rescued them with his header from Kimble's corner as the referee eyed his watch.