IT’S 11 long years since Huddersfield Town were last in the Championship.
And it took 11 nerve-jangling, gut-wrenching penalties to get them back there, with keeper Alex Smithies firing himself into club folklore as the man to put away the crucial kick.
If that’s what it was like for the fans – and 52,100 from West and South Yorkshire created a superb atmosphere in London – imagine how it felt for the players who were put on the spot?
In what must number among the most amazing penalty shoot-outs football, never mind Wembley, has witnessed, Town, in front of their own supporters, missed their first three, through Tommy Miller, Damien Johnson and Alan Lee.
Even Charles Dickens’ eternal optimist Wilkins Micawber would have been worried when Lee’s effort was saved by Steve Simonsen and Matt Lowton ran up with the chance to put Sheffield United 2-0 to the good with just two penalties apiece to go.
But Town fans have long known Smithies, only in the side because Ian Bennett failed a fitness test on his hand injury, is something of a specialist spot-kick saver.
And the 22-year-old didn’t disappoint.
Having already thwarted Lee Williamson, he denied Lowton, and when captain fantastic Peter Clarke drove home Town’s fourth attempt with real aplomb, then ex-Galpharm loan defender Andy Taylor hit a post for the Blades, it was all level at 1-1 and the momentum seemed to have shifted.
Amazingly, the next 12 takers (Scott Arfield, Jordan Rhodes, Gary Roberts, Calum Woods, Jack Hunt and Sean Morrison for Town), all scored, and with the shoot-out tied at 7-7, both sides were down to their keepers.