On a day of top-of-the-table showdowns throughout the Nationwide League, the visit of Huddersfield, third in the First Division, to the leaders, Manchester City, was undoubtedly the biggest. Joe Royle, his side unbeaten since the end of September, has been playing down promotion euphoria for all he is worth, but wins over the other sides in the top four, Charlton and Barnsley, over the last week, have left City looking very well placed indeed.
Still without one of his potential matchwinners in Mark Kennedy, Royle has applied a little extra pressure to his strikers this week by closing in on Gillingham's Robert Taylor. This is a signing to concentrate the minds of both his namesake, Gareth Taylor, and Shaun Goater as they lined up at Maine Road against an unchanged Huddersfield, spearheaded by the division's most prolific combination of Marcus Stewart and Clive Wijnhard.
In the absence of Kennedy, Danny Tiatto was pressed into service in the left-wing role he also filled for Australia against Brazil earlier this month, and it was his persistence that produced a cross from which Goater headed over after just two minutes. Both Tiatto and, Jeff Whitley on the other flank continued to stretch Huddersfield, whose most obvious counter- attacking threat came from the energetic running of the Dutchman, Dean Gorre.
One left-wing raid by Tiatto and Danny Granville was halted by a foul and Kevin Horlock's free-kick was headed against the post by Richard Jobson. It was the first of two escapes in as many minutes for Huddersfield, the other coming when their full-back Steve Jenkins, blocked a low, goal-bound shot from Taylor after Goater had eluded the defence on the right of the area.
At the other end, Stewart's close control took him through on goal, but he wanted a little too much time and his shot was smothered. As half- time drew closer, it was Huddersfield who were showing the surer touch, with much of City's approach work ragged by comparison.
If the news that Charlton Athletic, the team separating them in the table at kick-off, were two goals up at half-time reached both sides, it might have been expected to have a galvanising effect. One immediate change was that Royle brought on a specialist winger, Terry Cooke, in place of Tiatto.
Huddersfield had the first strike on goal, though, Kenny Irons hitting one of his trademark long-range efforts that had to be tipped over by Nicky Weaver. Cooke then marked his arrival with an even better attempt, from outside the area and destined for the top corner until Nico Vaesen intervened.
Five minutes into the half, however, Huddersfield did what they had been threatening to do since before the break, taking the lead when the Welsh fullback Jenkins found room on the right to put over a perfect cross which was met on the edge of the six yard box by Beech and headed firmly home.
City also introduced Lee Peacock, a pounds 500,000 signing from Mansfield, for his third substitute appearance, and their two newcomers almost combined to good effect when Peacock positioned himself for a return pass from Cooke, only to lift his shot over the target.
City staged an increasingly desperate cavalry charge as time ran out, but the quality of the final ball was too often lacking. The closest they came to an equaliser was when Peacock chested down Cooke's chip and Goater fired high and wide. The City players also thought they should have had a penalty when the ball appeared to strike Jamie Vincent's hand.
Huddersfield should have had a second before the end when Wijnhard's header sent Gorre clear, only for his fellow countryman to miss the target completely.Reuse content