Huddersfield players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out against Reading
Christopher Schindler stepped up more than two hours of nail biting tension at Wembley to ram home the penalty that took Huddersfield back into the top flight after 45 years.
As Gary Lineker once observed, football is about 22 men chasing a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end the Germans always win. Quite often on penalties.
Centre-back Schindler cost the Terriers £1.8 million from Munich 1860 last summer. His nerveless spot-kick to settle this Championship final earned his club in an instant a cool £185m, and it could be even more if they survive next season.
Reading’s players slumped to the pitch in tears as Huddersfield celebrated. They had had glory in their grasp but had blown it – 3-2 up at one stage in the shoot-out, only for Liam Moore to blaze over the bar, and then Terriers goalkeeper Danny Ward saved superbly from Jordan Obita to set up Schindler’s moment of history.
It was a nightmare return for Reading manager Jaap Stam, who as a player missed a penalty for the Netherlands as they went out in the Euro 2000 semi-finals to Italy.
And it was of course, the cruellest way to settle a match that can transform the life of a club and a player. But there is little doubt that David Wagner’s team deserved to make it to dreamland. It was a grim, attritional struggle at Wembley and a match that will not live long in anyone’s memory.
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Huddersfield Town have been promoted to the Premier League!
But that little corner of West Yorkshire, which once featured managers as great at Herbert Chapman and Bill Shankly in its illustrious past, will not care a jot about that this morning.
Huddersfield were in the bottom tier of the Football League just 14 years ago, so it has been a long and arduous climb back, inspired by the likeable Wagner, recruited from managing Borussia Dortmund’s reserves.
In pre-season he sent his players to a remote Swedish island to fend for themselves for a week. They were the team with one of the smallest budgets in Championship. But they had forged a tremendous bond under the German, and it showed at Wembley.
Wagner’s team started much the brighter, as the charismatic Michael Hefele nodded wide from close range.
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But there came an even better chance five minutes later, as Elia Kachunga crossed, and Izzy Brown somehow put his shot wide from two yards out when it seemed easier to miss. It was one of the misses of the season, and it seemed all too ominous yesterday.
Reading in fact created little, though Lewis Grabban did curl a shot wide. They found it very hard to get through Huddersfield’s ‘gegenpressen’ – high press, in German, in case you wondered.
Huddersfield will be playing Premier League football next season
Stam’s team were better after the break, though goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi had to move quickly to save Chris Loewe’s shot. For the Royals, John Swift saw his effort beaten away by Ward. But it was Huddersfield still creating the better of what few chances there were, Adrian Mooy setting up Collin Quaner but his drive going wide.
Almost on the whistle though, Reading nearly won it, as Welsh international Chris Gunter’s header dropped an inch over the bar. There were seven agonising minutes of injury time, and in them Nakhi Wells had the chance to win it, but Al-Habsi saved again.
The tension was almost unbearable, Huddersfield owner Dean Hoyle unable to look in the stands, as Reading sub Garath McCleary shot a foot wide. Eek.
Extra time saw Wells miss another good opportunity, and then Loewe’s free kick just eluded Martin Carnie at the far post. Fingernails had long disappeared by then and so it came down to penalties – no way to book a place in the most lucrative league in world football after ten months of hard work.
It was Hefele, the Terriers cult hero, who missed the fourth kick to put his side in jeopardy. But then came Moore’s awful blast over the bar, and Liverpool loanee Ward’s crucial save from Obita.
That will be one call that Wagner might want to make to his pal Jurgen Klopp over the summer – please can we keep him?
A German manager with a German player scoring the winning penalty. Who would have thought it?