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Huddersfield Town 1-0 Luton Town (agg 2-1): Jordan Rhodes goal sends Terriers into Championship play-off final

Jordan Rhodes returned to Huddersfield in the summer, nine years after leaving for Blackburn

Jordan Rhodes scored a late winner to send Huddersfield Town into the Championship play-off final with a 2-1 aggregate victory over Luton Town.

The visitors dominated the first half, but Harry Cornick shot straight at Terriers goalkeeper Lee Nicholls from just six yards out.

Cornick was thwarted by Nicholls again after the break.

However, Rhodes converted an 82nd-minute free-kick from fellow sub Sorba Thomas at the back post.

Huddersfield will play Nottingham Forest or Sheffield United, who meet at the City Ground in their second leg on Tuesday, in the final at Wembley on Sunday, 29 May.

The West Yorkshire side had two seasons in the Premier League between 2017 and 2019 and their fans spilled onto the pitch as the final whistle went.

Town rode their luck in a game where they struggled to find their fluent best, but their campaign will now end at English football’s grandest stage – and the chance to return to the top flight.

The two sides had drawn 1-1 in an even first leg on Friday, but it was Luton who enjoyed the better of things at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Nathan Jones’ men, who had finished seven points and three places behind Town, will certainly look back and regret their first-half profligacy, with Cornick’s 11th-minute shot at Nicholls the best of a number of chances they carved out.

Carlos Corberan’s hosts improved in the second half and, after Nicholls had saved well from Cornick’s fierce strike, they should have had a penalty when Hatters goalkeeper Matt Ingram took out full-back Harry Toffolo.

With extra time looming, Town snatched victory when Wales international Thomas, only recently back from a knee injury and not fit enough to start the game, whipped over a teasing free-kick that Rhodes slid in from close range after escaping his marker Amari’i Bell.

The goal deflated Luton and they were unable to create a meaningful opportunity in the final minutes as Huddersfield saw the game out in relative comfort.

All Rhodes lead to Wembley

Harry Toffolo
Huddersfield should have been awarded a second-half penalty when Matt Ingram clattered into Harry Toffolo

It has been a remarkable season for Huddersfield, who finished 20th in the Championship a year ago and suffered a 5-1 defeat by Fulham in their first home game of the season.

Despite working with a limited budget, boss Corberan – previously an assistant to Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds – has masterminded a complete turnaround in their fortunes thanks to astute signings and quality coaching.

Goalkeeper Nicholls, signed on a free from MK Dons, has been outstanding all season, while Thomas – who now has 15 assists – joined from non-league Boreham Wood in January 2021.

Rhodes had scored 73 goals in 124 league appearances in his first spell with the Terriers between 2008 and 2012, but the last five years have been difficult for him, culminating in being a member of the Sheffield Wednesday team relegated to League One last season.

The 32-year-old returned to Town on a free in the summer and, having been brought on before half-time when 14-goal top scorer Danny Ward was forced off with an injury, showed that his predatory instincts remain with a clinical finish.

A step too far for the Hatters

Nathan Jones
Luton boss Nathan Jones said his players were “magnificent” after they fell to defeat at Huddersfield

Like Huddersfield, Luton have enjoyed a fantastic campaign.

Hatters boss Jones won the Championship manager of the season award for guiding the club into the second tier play-off places, eight years after they were a non-league team.

A long injury list left them short on numbers for the play-off semi-final. Top scorer Elijah Adebayo was only fit enough to be thrown on as a late substitute and goalkeeper Ingram was an emergency loan from Hull City, but they still put in a terrific performance across the two legs.

This season is the sixth successive campaign that the Bedfordshire side have improved on their previous finish.

If they can do this in 2022-23 then they could well find themselves in the Premier League for the first time.

Huddersfield boss Carlos Corberan told BBC Radio Leeds:

“It was a difficult and tough game. I cannot tell you that I was enjoying it, it was a hard game to manage. They were better and more comfortable than us in the first half.

“I think the concentration in the backline and the goalkeeper was massive. Jordan Rhodes had a great contribution, not just with his goal.

“I’m really, really excited and motivated to take the team to Wembley. I think it is important that the players celebrate now because this was the target we had. From tomorrow we have a different target.”

Luton manager Nathan Jones told BBC Three Counties Radio:

“I’m really disappointed but that’s overshadowed by the pride I have for the club and how we have gone about it. We were outstanding tonight.

“We were the better team, we had the better chances, more corners, we just couldn’t find the opening.

“Tactically we were superb, we were aggressive, we pressed – people say they’re the best tactical side in the league, they’re not.

“It’s quite easy to sit in and be pragmatic, we don’t. We go after everyone and how we went about our work, I am so proud of our group – it’s a magnificent group.”

Line-ups

Huddersfield

Formation 3-5-2

  • 21Nicholls
  • 32Lees
  • 6Hogg
  • 26Colwill
  • 2Ávila
  • 19HolmesSubstituted forSarrat 86′minutes
  • 37Russell
  • 8O’Brien
  • 3Toffolo
  • 24SinaniSubstituted forThomasat 61′minutes
  • 25WardSubstituted forRhodesat 41′minutes

Substitutes

  • 7Anjorin
  • 9Rhodes
  • 14Ruffels
  • 16Thomas
  • 18Blackman
  • 23Sarr
  • 48Eiting

Luton

Formation 3-5-2

  • 27Ingram
  • 16BurkeSubstituted forMendes Gomesat 86′minutes
  • 5Bradley
  • 4NaismithBooked at 64mins
  • 2Bree
  • 22Campbell
  • 12Snodgrass
  • 18ClarkBooked at 59mins
  • 29Bell
  • 7CornickSubstituted forAdebayoat 90′minutes
  • 9HyltonSubstituted forJeromeat 65′minutesBooked at 81mins

Substitutes

  • 3Potts
  • 11Adebayo
  • 14Mendes Gomes
  • 15Lockyer
  • 20Kioso
  • 21Isted
  • 35Jerome

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