With the half-way point of the season approaching, City had the chance to secure their place on top of the First Division by beating one of the sides immediately below them. Despite a bright opening and an increasingly frenzied finish they rarely looked like doing so, and Chris Beech's winner was a fair result for a Huddersfield side who were the more balanced and controlled throughout.
Beech was unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box to meet Steve Jenkins' early cross from the right and head firmly past Nicky Weaver. With the veteran Kenny Irons a splendid midfield fulcrum, and their front- runners, Marcus Stewart and Clyde Wijnhard, always threatening, Steve Bruce's side could easily have had more goals.
"It was a great performance from us," Bruce said. "We showed the resilience and character that was needed against a side who have been in the form that City have. Chris Beech has now scored six goals from midfield, which is a great return from him."
Although most Huddersfield supporters would probably have settled for a draw before the game, Bruce had urged his side to be more ambitious. "We came to be positive. I've been trying to get the belief into them that they are capable and that we've got some very good players." Both they and the rest of the division will now have to take Huddersfield's promotion aspirations more seriously.
City, buoyed up by recent victories over the two other sides in the top four, Charlton and Barnsley, started as though they expected to take another rival's scalp. Danny Tiatto's cross produced an early headed chance for Shaun Goater, who also had a shot smothered by Nico Vaesen. Then Kevin Horlock's free-kick saw Richard Jobson head against the post and Gareth Taylor had a low, goalbound effort blocked by Jenkins.
But Huddersfield steadily assumed control in midfield, where the Dutchman Dean Gorre added some exciting flourishes to the solid work of Irons and Beech.
There were signs of what could happen when Stewart dribbled through skilfully before half-time, but wanted a little too much time to set himself and saw his shot blocked.
After the break, Royle brought on a specialist winger, Terry Cooke, for the willing and versatile Tiatto, and Cooke could have given City the lead with a fierce rising shot from outside the area that had to be tipped over by Vaesen.
Then came the goal. Royle was disappointed that Beech was not picked up as he went through from midfield for what turned out to be the winner, but was otherwise philosophical about the afternoon's events. "It's been a great run," he said. "But one or two things caught up with us today and they were probably the best team we've seen here this year. If we're going to lose, that's not a bad way to do it. If that's the worst we play, we'll be well pleased."
And, as Royle pointed out, anyone at Maine Road last summer would have settled for a situation going into December that sees them two points clear at the top with a game in hand.
There was still time in this game for that position to have been improved still further, but City's cavalry charge in the last quarter never quite had the precise execution that was required. The closest they came to an equaliser was when another substitute, Lee Peacock, chested down Cooke's chip for Goater to fire high and wide.
There was also an appeal for a penalty when the ball appeared to strike Jamie Vincent's hand, but City could equally well have gone two - or more - behind. Wijnhard had a shot saved and his glancing header sent his fellow countryman Gorre clear through, only for him to flight his attempt over the exposed goal.
One goal was enough to complete a sobering result for City, while Huddersfield have surely served notice that they are a force to be reckoned with.Reuse content