Who Shined in the 2012 npower League One Playoff Final
For the weak of stomach, the game itself was nauseating. For the faint of heart, the shoot-out delivered the goods.
The npower League One final brought decidedly few thrills until the penalty shoot-out. There, the drama was incredible as it took all 22 players to finally decide that Huddersfield Town would be moving on to the Championship in place of Sheffield United.
The 0-0 draw after extra time was settled after Alex Smithies converted his penalty and opposite number Steve Simonsen skied his for an 8-7 Huddersfield win.
Both squads have been snake-bitten in the play-off rounds before, but the third time was the charm for the Terriers, who had lost their previous two chances for promotion in the playoffs.
Huddersfield should be proud of their achievements as they look to find a way to stay in the Championship next season.
The Winners: Huddersfield Town
After two straight seasons of making appearances in the play-offs and two straight seasons of falling short, Huddersfield Town makes the jump to the Championship after knocking off Sheffield United in a penalty shoot-out.
The season could have gone dramatically differently after the sacking of Lee Clark in February. Simon Grayson, himself having just been sacked by Leeds, came aboard and managed just well enough to keep Huddersfield in the play-off spots.
The rewards came after knocking off MK Dons in the semifinals and claiming a penalty shoot-out that saved what was otherwise a drab encounter.
Expect the bookies to tip them for an immediate return to League One, but before then, one man will get a chance at redemption against his old side....
The Manager: Simon Grayson
My, how sweet it must be.
After Leeds sacked Grayson for not pushing for the play-off positions in the Championship, Huddersfield Town just happened to have a spot for a manager to lead the club over the top in their own play-off push.
While his former club sank to midtable in the Championship, Grayson did enough to keep Huddersfield from dropping out of the top-seven and was rewarded with promotion to the second tier of English football.
Along with Huddersfield, several players will surely be making the step up in division, several of whom played in the Saturday final.
The Players: Harry Maguire
Of all the Sheffield United players who didn’t deserve to be on the wrong end of the stick, 19-year-old Harry Maguire was top of the list.
Selected as part of the npower League One Team of the Season, the center back hardly put a foot wrong against Huddersfield.
Jordan Rhodes had scored 37 goals for the Terriers in League One play. He never got a sight of goal until the penalty shoot-out thanks to the efforts of the young Englishman.
Expect someone with a shrewd eye to be bringing him to the Premier League within two years.
For Sheffield United, it might also be time for Stephen Quinn to step up a level in competition.
Easily the best offensive player on the field for the Blades, Quinn was able to spray passes and had a touch on the ball no one else in the match came close to matching.
He also provided Sheffield United with one of their best chances after beating five defenders on the dribble before firing at goal.
His 13 league assists this season should see him moving up to the Championship, at the very least.
For Huddersfield Town, much of their threat came from the overlapping of fullbacks Calum Woods and Jack Hunt, with both players willing to drive past defenders and whizzing in crosses.
Hunt, at 21 years old, had pace to burn against a solid Sheffield rear guard and wasn’t afraid to pull out the tricks.
Hunt had his hands full later on with Quinn, but certainly did enough to raise his profile and more than likely ensure that he’ll be playing in the Championship past next season, regardless of what Huddersfield do.
How about that for a “remember me?” game.
Goalkeeper Alex Smithies, after having been the No. 1 three years ago, has spent the last two years riding the pine due to injuries and wasn’t able to hold off Ian Bennett for the starting spot this season.
Bennett’s injury in the semi-final against MK Dons opened the door for Smithies, and, while he looked a tad shaky early on, he held down the fort and became the man of the hour in the penalty shoot-out.
Chances are good Smithies has got his job back for next season.
While Maguire was hounding Jordan Rhodes all over the carpet at Wembley, Sean Morrison was busy busting the chops of any Sheffield attacker in his vicinity.
The Reading loanee was stout at the back, rendering Richard Creswell an anonymous figure on the pitch.
Only briefly, when Chris Porter entered the fray, did anyone ever get the better of the young central defender.
Another loan may be forthcoming but, with Reading gracing the Premier League again, perhaps Morrison might be ready to make the jump into the Royals’ senior squad.
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