Football: Electric Harper hit by thunderbolt

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The Independent Online
Huddersfield Town 0

Wimbledon 1

Chris Watt must be quite a goalkeeper. In selecting his all-time top team in the Huddersfield programme on Saturday, Steve Harper found a place on the substitutes' bench for Pele, but overlooked his own claims in favour of Watt and the rest of the Easington Half Moon XI.

On the evidence Harper provided at either end of the McAlpine Stadium it was difficult to understand why, two months short of his 23rd birthday, he has not been a regular first-team keeper since his teenage days as a Northern Leaguer with Seaham Red Star.

The diving save he made on the half-hour to keep out a Marcus Gayle header had the striker shaking his head in disbelief and Terry Yorath, on the Huddersfield bench, doubtless casting his mind back through the FA Cup annals to Dickie Guy's Elland Road heroics in Wimbledon's Southern League days and to Jim Montgomery's Wembley acrobatics in 1973.

It was that good and it was not the only tangible affirmation that Harper is a high-class keeper not so much in the making as in waiting. The shining star of this dull Cup tie is neither a Huddersfield nor a Wimbledon player. Harper is a Newcastle player, though he has yet to play for them.

He happens to be fourth in line for the No 1 spot at St James' Park, though the scouts who no doubt underlined his name on Saturday should note that the contracts of Shaka Hislop and Pavel Srnicek end in May and Harper recently signed a three-year one. He is on loan to Huddersfield strictly until the season's end.

Harper could not keep out the thunderbolt that decided the tie, struck by Neal Ardley from the edge of the area in the 62nd minute, but he made an infinitely better job of trying to save it than his colleagues did of even hitting the target at the other end.

Though Huddersfield were left screaming blue and white murder, swearing they should have had a penalty when Dean Blackwell handled while seemingly attempting to protect his face, the First Division side only had themselves to blame. Wayne Allison's miss 10 minutes before half-time almost defied belief.

So the Dons were left wombling Wembley-wards again - well, hobbling, perhaps. Robbie Earle (knee ligament damage) and Ceri Hughes ( hamstring) failed to survive the opening 10 minutes, stretching their club's casualty list to eight first-teamers.

"That's the way our season has been going," Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, said. Still, every Don has his day and Wimbledon remain on course for a 10 anniversary repeat of their greatest one.

Goal: Ardley (62) 0-1.

Huddersfield Town (4-1-3-2): Harper; Gray, Morrison (Edmondson, 77), Dyson, Jenkins; Phillips; Dalton (Richardson, 70), Horne, Johnson (Edwards, 70); Allison, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Makel, S Francis (gk).

Wimbledon (4-3-1-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble; Ardley, C Hughes (Solbakken, 8), Earle (Castledine, 3); M Hughes; Gayle (Clarke, 86), Cort. Substitutes not used: D Francis, Heald (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).

Bookings: Huddersfield: Dyson, Jenkins. Wimbledon: Cort.

Man of the match: Harper.

Attendance: 14,553.

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