Some head-spinning circumstances with our main striker imprisoned in the closing weeks of the season and us throwing away a seemingly insurmountable lead to our closest and hated rivals was hard to take. Defeat at Wembley was just another kick in the teeth to the loyal fans who have backed the side to the hilt once again this season but now must face up to another term in the third tier. Unquestionably, the Blades are now the biggest club outside the top two divisions.
United began without Kevin McDonald, who failed to recover from a hamstring injury, meaning a start for stalwart Nick Montgomery in the centre of midfield. Richard Cresswell was deemed fit and was preferred to semi-final hero Chris Porter up front as the lone striker, as United played the same formation they had against Stevenage.
Huddersfield were without former Blade Ian Bennett, Alex Smithies coming in to start in goal. The prolific Jordan Rhodes started up front with Lee Novak and Alan Lee on the bench.
The game began in searing heat with United kicking away from their own supporters. Huddersfield forced an early corner and Higginbotham scuffed wide. United had been slow to get going but forced a half chance when Cresswell chased down a long ball but his shot was blocked and then Williamson pulled his shot wide after Flynn had retrieved the ball.
The game was relatively even and, with Maguire and Collins keeping a close eye on the Terriers’ front two, it was a cagey affair. Huddersfield won another corner and Hunt’s flick header was not too far off target before good work from Maguire saw off Rhodes. Flynn’s cross was not taken by Smithies but the ball fell nicely for Town to clear, and Hill had a shot blocked.
The half-time whistle sounded the end of a game that had been mostly mired in a slow-paced midfield battle, with numerous breaks due to the humid conditions. United would have been happy keeping it tight, and Huddersfield likewise with having shaded it.
After the break, Huddersfield came out with a renewed vigour and nearly scored after less than two minutes. The ball dropped to Ward, who hit a cracking curling shot but the ball cannoned off the bar with Simonsen well beaten. The Terriers were finding more space, and United had to be at their most alert at the back to see off a few breaks.
Maguire headed wide at the other end before Clarke was off target with a similar effort for Huddersfield. The first booking came when Higginbotham was cautioned for pulling back Lowton and soon after, the impressive Quinn almost forged a chance with a pull-back, but once again there were very few Blades in the box. Huddersfield made a change when Higginbotham was replaced by Roberts.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, the Terriers came on strong and had a series of chances to win the game. Clarke’s header was excellently saved by Simonsen, and then from the scramble that ensued Doyle kicked away on the line. From the next corner Clarke headed goalwards but Simonsen saved well, low down to his left. Rhodes, who had been superbly marshalled by Maguire, finally got away but his header went just wide.
As United hung on, Porter replaced the tiring Cresswell and extra-time beckoned.
After the players took on much-needed refreshment, the game restarted and once again Huddersfield looked the livelier of two very tired sides. United defended well in numbers and saw off two more corners, then broke out and had maybe their best spell, with Porter having an effort blocked and good link-up play leading to Quinn nearly creating an opening. However, the best chance of the game for United came when Quinn drifted inside, dribbling past three players and hitting a low shot that was saved by Smithies. His approach was excellent, but Quinn will have been disappointed not to have done better with the shot.
Maguire was harshly booked for a foul on Rhodes. Lee came on for Ward and already used his ‘experience’ to win two fouls after innocuous challenges.
The second period began and O’Halloran replaced Flynn, but United still employed only one up front, deciding to put O’Halloran out wide left. The next chance came for Town as Lee was in on goal after Roberts through-ball but Simonsen saved well again. Another great chance came when, from a Clarke header, the ball fell down near the line but Montgomery hooked clear when it seemed like a goal was inevitable.
Arfield came on for Novak and Taylor for Montgomery, as both managers had an eye on penalties, and the final whistle signalled that the final promotion place would be settled on spot-kicks.
Miller (Huddersfield) – Missed. His kick was low to the left but Simonsen got down to save well. United 0-0 Huddersfield
Williamson (United) – Missed. Another poor kick that he seemed to scuff. It was close to the corner but was not hit true and Smithies saved down to his right. United 0-0 Huddersfield
Johnson (Huddersfield) – Missed. A shocking kick that was wide by a few yards to Simonsen’s right. United 0-0 Huddersfield
Collins (United) – Scored. A cool effort. He waited until Smithies committed before rolling it to the left, with the keeper going the other way. United 1-0 Huddersfield
Lee (Huddersfield) – Missed. Another really poor effort that had Simonsen springing to his right to save fairly comfortably. Town had missed all three of their kicks and United now had a great chance ... United 1-0 Huddersfield
Lowton (United) – Missed. Too close to the keeper not high enough. A huge moment; if Lowton had scored, United would have only needed to score one more. Undoubtedly the turning point the penalties. United 1-0 Huddersfield
Clarke (Huddersfield) – Scored. Simonsen went early and was sent the wrong way. After four kicks parity was restored. United 1-1 Huddersfield
Taylor (United) – Missed. Why he was brought on to take one is anyone’s guess. Has he ever taken penalties before? Has he ever scored or even had an effort on goal? Why he was taking one before several strikers and Quinn was baffling. United 1-1 Huddersfield
Arfield (Huddersfield) – A vital kick, as a miss and United could have won it. He scored fairly comfortably. Pressure was now really on United going second every time. United 1-2 Huddersfield
Porter (United) – Scored, sending the keeper the wrong way. United 2-2 Huddersfield
Rhodes (Huddersfield) – Perversely, the penalties were now going in easily, and Rhodes sent Simonsen the wrong way. United 2-3 Huddersfield
Quinn (United) – Pressure was always on United now but Quinn took an excellent penalty, going high with keeper nowhere near it. United 3-3 Huddersfield
Roberts (Huddersfield) – Went straight down the middle to score really easily. United 3-4 Huddersfield
Maguire (United) – A big moment for the 19-year-old but his penalty summed up his excellent performance. United 4-4 Huddersfield
Woods (Huddersfield) – Another cool effort hit hide and wide left. United 4-5 Huddersfield
Doyle (United) – Sent the keeper the wrong way and showed a lot of bottle, as United kept answering back. United 5-5 Huddersfield
Hunt (Huddersfield) – Another calmly rolled effort sending the keeper the wrong way. United 5-6 Huddersfield
O’Halloran (United) – A very well-taken kick low to the left with the keeper going the wrong way. United 6-6 Huddersfield
Morrison (Huddersfield) – Simonsen almost got to this one. He went the right way and was not far off it. United 6-7 Huddersfield
Hill (United) – Maybe United’s best kick of the shoot-out. High and into the top corner. United 7-7 Huddersfield
Smithies (Huddersfield) – The turn of the keepers. Smithies’s effort was solid but Simonsen got a hand to it and it just went in due to the power. United 7-8 Huddersfield
Simonsen (United) – A shocking kick, blazed well over the bar. Huddersfield went berserk; Simonsen laid prostrate on the turf. United 7-8 Huddersfield
That was it. The game was over. United had been in a great position in the shoot-out but somehow, despite Huddersfield missing all their first three, they could not take advantage. It felt inevitable and, other than the brief moment when they missed the third, most United fans feared the worst.