You had to feel for Huddersfield on Wednesday. They were on pins all night and every time Cardiff attacked, they had kittens. The visitors revelled in the sort of time and space that they rarely experience and if some think Cardiff have had it tough this year, it’s hard to tell that the hosts were competing in the top flight this time last year.
The fact that Cardiff fielded so many former Terriers must have made it all the more galling, as Alex Smithies, Jazz Richards, Sean Morrison and Danny Ward all featured for them in the past. In fact, three of those were instrumental in the rebirth of Huddersfield Town; their 2012 League One play-off victory.
That year, Huddersfield finished fourth, inspired by a truly remarkable campaign from Jordan Rhodes, who plundered a staggering 40 goals in all competitions. Smithies was a key player and so to Ward, who had arrived from Bolton the previous summer. Morrison joined on loan from Reading in January and Alan Lee was already in and around the side too.
Even Jon Parkin briefly passed through, as Malky Mackay desperately tried to get shot of him. Coincidentally, Lee Peltier and Anthony Pilkington had also only just departed, heading off to Leicester and Norwich respectively.
The final saw Huddersfield face off against a Sheffield United (whatever happened to them?) side marshalled by a young Harry Maguire. The game was largely a non-event, although Ward struck the woodwork during the second half and Town had the better of the chances, but couldn’t prevent the game heading to a penalty shootout, and that’s when the fun really started.
In front of the Huddersfield end, a true epic consisting of 21 spot kicks and almost all of the above featured. Smithies, who has developed a reputation as a penalty killer, saved two of the first three he faced. Lee, who had replaced Ward, stepped up and missed the fourth, as six of the first eight takers failed to score.
From then on, it was nothing but net, as Rhodes and Maguire both converted too. Morrison, all fresh faced and cropped hair, was called upon for number 18 in sudden death and also calmly netted.
Having gone once round, it eventually fell to the goalkeepers. Smithies stepped up and scored before Steve Simonsen slammed his over the bar, as the Huddersfield fans erupted. He slumped to the turf, head in hands and it was one of those occasions where a player lies there for an age before any team mates come to console him.
Smithies had wheeled off to receive his plaudits. Huddersfield born and bred, he joined the club as an eight-year-old and was already a local hero before cementing his legend here.
A shootout for the ages in the biggest game many of those involved will likely have ever played in. Formative experiences for some future Cardiff favourites and happier times for Huddersfield fans, who are now looking over their shoulder and fearing a return to that level.