The extent to which the history of a football club can be woven into its modern day persona. It’s obvious that there is nothing genetic in passing down a legacy of greatness at a club. The enduring power of those that stay at the top is nothing to do with inherent superiority, but is usually a more prosaic matter of financial clout and strong organisation at every level of the club concerned. It is possible to argue that short, protracted periods of success can be the legacy of one individual. Herbert Chapman was the manager of Huddersfield Town for just four years, but the imprint that he left upon the club has proved to be indelible. Huddersfield won three championships and an FA Cup during the 1920s. Chapman departed for Arsenal in 1925, but the club remained a regular fixture in the First Division until the mid-1950s. Apart from a couple of seasons back there in the early 1970s, however, they haven’t been back there since. How much does the weight of his history hang over the club in the twenty-first century?
Compared to Huddersfield Town’s rich heritage, Peterborough United could be described as nouveau riche, but it is now more than half a century since they replaced Gateshead in the Football League after having won the Midland League for five consecutive seasons. Like Huddersfield, though, they are now a solid part of our football firmament, although the last few seasons have been amongst the most dramatic in the club’s history, with back to back promotions from League Two followed by a relegation back to League One at the end of last season. This season has seen that air of rakishness continue in League One. Peterborough United have been the division’s entertainers, having scored one hundred and six and conceded seventy-seven goals this season. Huddersfield ended the season in third place and eight points better off than Peterborough, but Peterborough, with Craig Mackail-Smith, the leading scorer in all four divisions, leading their line, have been League One’s Jekyll and Hyde team this season.
There are over 50,000 people at Old Trafford this afternoon, and over 30,000 of them have come from Huddersfield. Every seat of one half of the ground, including the Stretford End, has had a blue or white t-shirt with “Believe” printed on the front laid upon it. It’s a little cheesy, certainly, but how much of a psychological effect might seeing a wall of blue and white behind one goal have on their opposition. Perhaps belief is what Huddersfield Town have been lacking a little over the last few seasons. They should be full of confidence going into this match – they’re unbeaten in the league since January, beat both Southampton and Brighton in the league, and gave Arsenal a run for their money in the FA Cup. Peterborough, meanwhile, have opted to wear next season’s change kit today, all of which begs the question of how long we will have to wait before knowing whether this is a “promotion kit” or not.
Peterborough, a team that have played much of this season as if defending is merely something that other teams do, start with a tempo which indicates that they don’t intend hanging around this afternoon. Within four minutes, the ball is threaded through to Mackail-Smith, but Antony Kay lunges in and manages to divert his shot against the base of the post and out. Within a couple of minutes, George Boyd lashes in a shot that Ian Bennett saves. It feels as if the Huddersfield players are at best still adjusting their bearings, and at worst freezing in front of the massive crowd. As the half wears on, however, they start to thaw and create a couple of chances of their own. Peter Clarke’s header is saved by Paul Jones and Benik Afobe puts the ball from six yards out. The half ends, however, with a portent of things to come. Mackail-Smith, again through on goal, puts the ball narrowly wide of the post. Huddersfield have had their warnings of his capabilities.
Unrattled by these concerns, Huddersfield start the second half strongly, and for the first fifteen minutes it feels as if a goal coming is inevitable. Danny Ward gets away on the right-hand side and, having cut back from the by-line and curls in a shot that Jones, with his fingertips, pushes onto the crossbar and out. Chances, however, have been comparatively rare and it starts to feel as if Huddersfield may come to rue the chances that they have created. Peterborough United have been under pressure, and are weathering the storm successfully. It might take only one break to alter the balance of this match irrevocably.
That break comes with twelves minutes to play. George Boyd is felled on the edge of the penalty. Grant McCann swings the free-kick over and Tommy Rowe’s deft header is enough enough to carry the ball beyond Bennett and in. With the timbre of the match having suddenly – and somewhat expectedly – changed, the floodgates open. Within a couple of minutes, the lead is doubled. Huddersfield, clearly rattled by conceding, concede possession sloppily just inside their their own half. Peterborough break on the left and the ball finds its way to Mackail-Smith, who curls a shot which is deflected wide of Bennett and agonisingly just inside the post. From being an evenly-balanced match that Huddersfield have been just about shading, they are chasing, shell-shocked, a sudden and explosive burst from Peterborough which has left them cold. The icing on the cake comes three minutes later. It’s another free-kick on the edge of the penalty area and McCann, fuelled with confidence, bends the ball around the wall and in. Game, set and match to Peterborough.
It’s a third promotion in four years, then, for Peterborough United, who make an immediate return to the division from which they tumbled at the end of last season. Their devil-may-care attitude has won them the ultimate prize of promotion, but there can be little question that they will need to defensively strength next season. The other matter of what may happen to the unquestionable talent that is Craig Mackail-Smith is quite different. Peterborough will have a chance of anything with a player of his talent on their team. The temptation to cash in on his season and sell him on may prove difficult to resist, though, no matter how wealthy owner Darragh McAnthony may be. Huddersfield Town, on the other hand, will leave their supporters waiting for another year at least. They came close this afternoon- closer, certainly, than the final scoreline betrayed and will surely be able to challenge near the top of the table again next season. Today, though, belongs to East Anglia.
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