Football: Huddersfield set sights on future

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The Independent Online
Huddersfield Town 3

Oxford United 3

THE locals could not quite pin down when the last time the words 'Huddersfield' and 'futuristic' had last occurred in the same sentence, but the evidence pointed in the direction of the town's 19th century canal. 'It has the longest, highest tunnel in . . ,' one said before pausing - 'it could be England or Europe, I'm not quite sure.'

There was some doubt about many things concerning the town's new pride and joy. People wandered outside the Alfred McAlpine Stadium with bewilderment in their faces, and most of them were stewards. 'It's either the second or third floor,' one replied to his umpteenth inquiry. 'Everything's so new you need a ball of string to find your way out.'

Huddersfield Town's new home is a mystery to the indigenous population. They marvel at the great arcs that are the stands, and wonder how they came to be built among the relics of old and decaying industry. It is a football stadium turned tourist attraction, a ground drawing architects as well as supporters; inspiring and, yes, futuristic too.

Certainly they came in numbers on Saturday, more than 10,000 without counting the scouts from Premiership clubs, Sheffield Wednesday's Trevor Francis and Everton's Mike Smith among them. Speculation had it they were at this Second Division match to study two strikers, Huddersfield's Andrew Booth and Oxford's Paul Moody, and they were rewarded by goals from both of them.

Booth, a 21-year-old brought through the Town ranks, is quick, if slight for a front player, and took his goal well, flicking the ball over Oxford's goalkeeper, Philip Whitehead, to revive Huddersfield who had gone two down in 34 minutes.

Moody, meanwhile, at 6ft 3in and 14st, wins most balls in the air while showing agility on the floor. His strike was a penalty, a ferocious lash into the roof of the net after 27 minutes, that took his tally to eight goals this season, and the main query against his ability to perform at a higher level concerns his time at Southampton. An inability to displace Ian Dowie does not inspire confidence.

Afterwards Denis Smith, the visiting manager, was disgruntled that his team had squandered their advantage but conceded he would have been happy with a point beforehand. Oxford, who are unbeaten, are tidy as a Mary Poppins cleared room, are packed with experience and have the air of promotion hopefuls.

'If we finish above Oxford I expect we'll be champions or thereabout,' Neil Warnock, Smith's Huddersfield counterpart, agreed. 'Not many teams are going to beat them. It was a good game which I'm sure the representatives from the Premiership clubs will have enjoyed. It was better than the stuff their sides turn out.'

Warnock believes his own players will rise or fall with their education. 'The problem with football is that you get your brains too late,' he said. 'When you're young you fly but don't think; when you're old you can't catch the youngsters. My players need experience. When they get it, who knows.'

Like the ground at Huddersfield, the team is futuristic too.

Goals: Moody (pen, 27) 0-1; Druce (34) 0-2; Booth (39) 1-2; Starbuck (pen, 51) 2-2; Bullock (58) 3-2; Rogan (67) 3-3.

Huddersfield Town (4-4-2): Francis; Billy, Dyson, Gray (Mitchell, 48), Cowan; Starbuck, Logan, Bullock, Reid; Booth, Dunn (Baldry, 63). Substitute not used: Blackwell (gk).

Oxford United (4-4-2): Whitehead; Robinson, Elliott, Ford, Rogan; Massey, Smith, Dyer, Allen; Moody, Druce (Ford, 67). Substitutes not used: Lewis, Deegan (gk).

Referee: W Burns (Scarborough).

(Photograph omitted)