GUTSY Huddersfield Town were rewarded for sheer persistence and never-say-die spirit in a match which Alex Smithies will never forget.
They trailed for 87 minutes in Essex after the Town keeper’s attempted clearance kick was blocked straight back into the net by Steven Gillespie.
But Smithies made up for that mistake with excellent saves to deny Ian Henderson and Kayode Odejayi, a brilliant late penalty block to keep out Anthony Wordsworth and then a booming assist for the equaliser.
Four minutes of stoppage time had almost been used up at the end when Smithies launched a kick down field which bounced on the ‘D’ and, as Alan Lee challenged, Magnus Okuonghae headed over his stranded keeper Ben Williams for a bizarre own goal.
It earned Town their 11th away draw of the season and 17th in all – more than any other team in the division – to leave them five points off the two Sheffield clubs with a game in hand and tomorrow’s trip to bottom club Chesterfield hot on the agenda.
As manager Simon Grayson pointed out, it was the least Town deserved from an eventful encounter at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, where 493 travelling fans were put through the wringer again before enjoying a dramatic finale.
Town, with the excellent Peter Clarke back in defence and Gary Roberts restored to the starting line-up (at the expense of Jamie McCombe and Scott Arfield respectively), looked very comfortable in a standard 4-4-2 formation and did not deserve to lose because they dominated large swathes of possession and territory.
They also took the game to John Ward’s side at every opportunity, although Town were badly let down by their final ball until the last quarter of the game.
Williams, in fact, didn’t have a save to make in the first hour as Town wasted a lot of encouraging build-up play with poor delivery, although Colchester had a massive let-off on 59 minutes.
That was when Joey Gudjonsson superbly picked out Danny Ward raiding into the box and he crashed a back-post volley against the bar which then bounced to safety off the keeper’s chest.
By then, the hard-working Roberts had been booked and replaced by Alan Lee, who was constantly booed by the home contingent for his Ipswich connections but who put further jitters into a Colchester back four which hadn’t looked at all convincing throughout.
If Town could have matched their outfield passing with a quality set-up to some of the final runs which were being made then they might well have gained more success, as Colchester were relying on numbers behind the ball to frustrate rather than much in the way of truly organised resistance.