WEMBLEY hero Alex Smithies summed up Huddersfield Town’s promotion joy in one simple sentence: “We’re feeling on top of the world.”
The 22-year-old stopper got his chance because of a hand injury to regular choice Ian Bennett and emerged the penalty shoot-out hero with saves from Lee Williamson and Matt Lowton before netting the decisive spot-kick himself.
That was immediately before opposite number Steve Simonsen skied his effort over the bar to give Town an 8-7 success after 120 minutes of a goalless final – and Smithies left Wembley clutching the signed match ball courtesy of keeper colleague Nick Colgan, who was on the bench.
“This is the best feeling ever, we are on top of the world,” said Smithies, who had a list stuck on the bottom of his water bottle of where the Sheffield United penalty takers usually place their kicks!
“It’s amazing to be in the Championship because it’s what we’ve been dreaming of all season. The squad and the staff have worked so hard for this and especially the chairman. It’s fantastic for his dream to come true.
“Last season we were all devastated and it’s third time lucky in the play-offs. We bounced back this time but we might have found it a lot harder to bounce back next time if we’d lost this final.
“To be in the Championship is just so good. We are over the moon and it’s unbelievable what it means to us all.
“I was almost in tears when I was looking over to my family in the stands because they were so nervous beforehand.
“There were so many friends and family there, people I’ve been to school with and who I spend a lot of time with – and to make them so proud just means everything to me.”
Having missed their first three penalties through Tommy Miller, Damien Johnson and Alan Lee, Smithies’ saves from Williamson and Lowton kept the team in it and, when skipper Peter Clarke finally got Town on the board and Andy Taylor hit a post for United, the scene was set for an incredible finale and the Blades’ fourth loss in a play-off final (sixth overall).
The research of goalkeeping coach John Vaughan was a key, said Smithies, hence the list stuck to his drinks bottle, and after Clarke had eased the nerves, Scott Arfield, Jordan Rhodes, Gary Roberts, Calum Woods, Jack Hunt and Sean Morrison all netted before Smithies himself.
“I didn’t get nervous at all until it got to the ninth penalty and then I thought ‘if I don’t save one soon I’m going to end up taking one.’
“When we were practising in training, I just hit mine like a goal-kick while the rest of the lads were sidefooting theirs or whatever.