HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 1, LUTON TOWN 0
(Huddersfield won 2-1 on aggregate)
Huddersfield Town banished their home play-off hoodoo as they won through to the Championship final at Wembley.
A late goal from substitute Jordan Rhodes gave the Terriers a first-ever home victory in the play-offs after nine previous failed attempts.
The Oldham-born Rhodes, 32, may no longer be a first-team regular but he still has a prowess in front of goal with a strike which potentially could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds if they beat either Sheffield United or Nottingham Forest to regain their Premier League status they lost in 2019.
And it sparked joyous scenes at the final whistle as thousands of home fans flooded on to the pitch to celebrate a feat few thought possible when the season kicked off in August.Embed from Getty Images
Town manager Carlos Corberan praised Rhodes, who is in his second spell with the club, declaring: “It was a very, very difficult goal to score. Only one striker with a lot of instinct can score a goal like that.
“The players had the character not to be beaten. I had no expectation about how the game would be, only that it would be tough.
“Without the character of the players, it would be impossible to get to Wembley.”
Corberan added he is “excited” to have one more game to play, the final.
“We have to prepare well to arrive at Wembley in the best possible condition,” he said.
Luton manager Nathan Jones paid tribute to his players, describing them as the best group he has ever had.
“Three years ago, they were in the Premier League and we have come from the Conference which shows how far we have come to reach the semi-finals of the play-offs,” he said.
“I am really proud of my group which was outstanding. We were the better team and created more chances, but am gutted and disappointed.
“Apart from the goal we conceded, it was a top performance, and we were better all over the pitch. They had one moment of quality.”
Jones, who congratulated the Terriers for having an “outstanding” season, described an element of the fans who invaded the pitch at the end as a “disgrace”.
“They have not painted Huddersfield Town in a good light. Go and celebrate with the players, but for some it was about taunting and abusing our players.”
Both sides made two changes from the first leg, a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road.
Town brought in Pipa and Levi Colwill for Ollie Turton, who was injured, and Naby Sarr who dropped to the bench.
For Luton, Robert Snodgrass came in from the off in place of the injured Henri Lansbury, while Danny Hylton started up-front alongside Harry Cornick, with Cameron Jerome among the substitutes. Top scorer Elijah Adebayo was on the bench.
Luton were the more potent attacking threat early on as Cornick had two great chances to give the Hatters the lead inside 11 minutes, dragging an effort wide and then firing straight at goalkeeper Lee Nicholls from six yards when he looked set to score.
Nicholls then parried a drive from Snodgrass with Amari’l Bell firing the rebound wide as the visitors had the momentum and Town looked decidedly nervous.
The Town shot-stopper also had to beat out a James Bree shot as Luton continued to carry far kore of an attacking threat.
Town had to wait until the 37th minute before they carved out their first clear-cut chance.
Left wing back Harry Toffolo’s weaving run into the box ended with a shot which was well turned away to safety by goalkeeper Matt Ingram as he almost extended a remarkable run of five goals in the previous eight games.
Town were dealt a blow shortly before half time when 14-goal striker Danny Ward limped off to be replaced by Rhodes.
It was an altogether different Town from the restart as they were firmly on the front foot and in the opening minutes Tom Lees and Daniel Sinani had chances.
Town had the ball in the net midway through the half when Lees headed home Sorba Thomas’ free kick, but referee Peter Bankes blew for a foul on centre-back Sonny Bradley.
Nicholls was called into action to beat out Cornick’s angled shot as Luton remained a threat.
Huddersfield had a strong shout for a penalty rejected as Ingram challenged Toffolo for a loose ball after he had initially parried Pipa’s shot.
But in the absence of VAR – which will be used for the final – Bankes waved play on the astonishment of the home crowd.
The breakthrough came with eight minutes left when Town substitutes Sorba Thomas and Rhodes combined.
Thomas fired over a free kick from the left to the far post for Rhodes, sliding in at the far post, converting from no more than three yards for only his fourth goal of the season but possibly the most lucrative of his illustrious career.
It was a 15th assist of the season for Thomas who had been considered not fit enough to start the game.