Luton Town and Huddersfield Town played out an exhilarating first leg in the Championship play-off semi-finals, with Kenilworth Road failing to separate the two sides in a 1-1 draw.
The Terriers came rampaging out of the blocks like they had an early curfew, keen to get the job done and return to the John Smith’s Stadium, and they nearly had the advantage in the opening seconds after Harry Toffolo appeared to be brought down for a penalty, but referee Robert Jones was unmoved.
The West Yorkshire side soon got their noses in front, finding the breakthrough just ten minutes later after Norwich City loanee Danel Sinani found himself in acres of space with Matt Ingram’s goal bearing down on him, and he duly tucked into the near post to send the travelling fans into raptures.
Nathan Jones’ men, though, like they have done all season, refused to lie down and let the travelling Terriers revel in their advantage. Parity was restored on the half-hour mark after captain Sonny Bradley directed Kal Naismith’s whipped free-kick past Lee Nicholls.
That finish provoked pandemonium from the Kenilworth Road terraces and set the rest of the match up perfectly for an evenly-matched, yet pulsating affair. Both sides pressed and probed, with more penalty shouts, crunching challenges and slight openings dictated the rest of the contest.
And so, these two sides travel north next week with the scoreline level, teeing up a winner-takes-all contest at the John Smith’s Stadium. It’s a result that will favour Huddersfield manager Carlos Corberan, whose side have lost just four times at home all season — and he knows the atmosphere will be electric on Monday night.
Kenilworth Road can be an intimidating, cacophonous arena, so the Spaniard will be praising his players for holding firm amid the backdrop of an intense, unified noise from the stands; for Jones, he will be frustrated his side didn’t make more of their home advantage, but he certainly won’t be disappointed with a draw.
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And so, in a week where Leeds United, bitter West Yorkshire rivals of Huddersfield, moved a step close to Premier League relegation, the Terriers take a step towards the Promised Land, and doing so with a former coach at Elland Road, one who sat on the backroom staff of a certain Marcelo Bielsa, before embarking on his own managerial career in England.
Corberan was appointed in the summer of 2020 after leaving Leeds, but his maiden campaign at Huddersfield can hardly be described as a success. The first half of last campaign was a somewhat promising start to his tenure, albeit with the jury still out as he looked to finish the second half strong.
So, when the clock struck midnight and 2021 rolled around, Corberan would have been hoping Lady Luck would have looked favourably upon him at the John Smith’s Stadium. ‘New Year, New Me’ as the modern maxim reads. Football and fate though, as we know, tend to be cruel mistresses and Huddersfield went on to win just three Championship games between the turn of 2021 and May. That’s three in 24 games as they finished a lowly 20th last campaign.
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Despite that rather shocking form, the makers and shakers in West Yorkshire decided to stick rather than twist, believing Corberan had the minerals and tactical invention to transform fortunes and turn the club back into a genuine promotion contender. It was a brave roll of the dice, an almost quixotic, fanciful punt that the Spaniard would in fact turn out to be Bielsa’s philosophy incarnate.
Having earned his tactical stripes under the esoteric teachings of the Argentine, Corberan had the perfect education to warrant time, the most valuable commodity in the dugout. It was a punt that proved a masterstroke, as Corberan guided the club to third this season, and now just two games away from the Premier League.
Diego Simeone, Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Jorge Sampaoli are all managers who have credited Bielsa for having shaped their managerial philosophies in some capacirty, and if Corberan goes on to clinch promotion for Huddersfield, the Argentine will have another disciple flourishing in the big time.
‘I value his opinion more than my own’, Bielsa once remarked of Corberan. The Spaniard certainly appears to have the makings of an elite coach.