FOOTBALL: Huddersfield's romance ends abruptly

Huddersfield Town 2 Wimbledon 2
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The Independent Online
At the end Brian Horton was a picture of disappointment. He looked long at his watch, made a few half-hearted pats on backs and then zipped up his tracksuit top, with a force that oozed frustration. Romance of the FA Cup? At that moment he would have found more in a damp dishcloth.

It was not that he could put hand on heart and say Wimbledon did not deserve their replay but desserts mean nothing in the Cup. As the clock ticked past 90 minutes Huddersfield were in the quarter-finals for the first time in 24 years, four minutes later they faced a replay at Selhurst Park.

Later Horton had recovered his optimism to find the usual defiance. "It's another 90 minutes," he said. "The game isn't over yet". Nevertheless the body language of those around him mouthed that his side's chance had gone.

It was a seductive argument. If Huddersfield's name is on the Cup than you would have expected Efan Ekoku's 93rd-minute header to have hit a post. Instead it crashed into the net as the home side's hopes hit the floor.

"I know how Brian must be feeling," Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager said. "But to be fair if we'd lost my feelings would have been on the floor as well. A draw was a just result.''

Actually a just result would have been a win for Wimbledon who dominated possession, had enough chances to win the competition never mind the match but somehow contrived to be 2-0 down.

Huddersfield did not fit the normal bill as underdogs. For 15 minutes they showed why they began the day third in the First Division. Rodney Rowe put them ahead, slipping past Chris Perry and shooting between the legs of Neil Sullivan, but having found the right route to cause an upset they tried the short cut and got lost.

They abandoned culture, hoofed optimistically forward, did not tackle in the prescribed manner and watched the ball come back at them with interest. With Wimbledon winning almost everything in the air the result was mayhem in the home area. Mick Harford hit the bar with a header, Oyvind Leonhardsen rattled the frame of the goal with a 20-yard volley.

Surprisingly, Wimbledon cracked rather than Huddersfield. Kinnear had warned his team of Tom Cowan's aerial threat at half-time but, at the first corner after the interval "Marcus Gayle went to sleep" and the full- back flicked a near-post header into the net.

"You start thinking it's not to be," Kinnear added. "A lot of teams would have folded. We're 2-0 down, they're flying in the League and the crowd was geeing them up. Things were stacked against us but you have to give our lads credit. They stuck in there.''

In the Wimbledon manner of former years they pounded at the Huddersfield back four with too many crosses to bear. Ekoku pounced on one from Andy Clarke and then broke home hearts in time added on for injuries to Huddersfield players.

"When you're down after failing to beat a Premiership team you know you're going places," Horton said. "But we have to pick ourselves up. We've got massive games against Charlton and Crystal Palace coming up and they're more important to me." After what he had just seen you could hardly blame his preference for the League.

Goals: Rowe (7) 1-0; Cowan (49) 2-0; Ekoku (65) 2-1; Ekoku (90) 2-2.

Huddersfield Town (4-4-2): Francis; Jenkins (Collins, 73), Sinnott, Gray, Cowan; Reid, Makel, Bullock, Dalton; Rowe (Dunn, 79), Booth. Substitute not used: Norman (gk).

Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Reeves, Kimble; Harford, Earle, Leonhardsen; Holdsworth (Clarke, 63), Ekoku, Gayle (Euell, 75). Substitute not used: Thorn.

Bookings: Wimbledon: Reeves, Clarke.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

Attendance: 17,307.

Man of the match: Earle.

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