HUDDERSFIELD Town may have made their Carling Cup exit but they went down fighting in great style at Championship outfit Cardiff.
Lee Clark’s proud side had looked as though they might take a bit of a beating as Cardiff bossed the first half, but after the interval Town looked easily in the same class as their rivals – and at times they were distinctly better.
When Jordan Rhodes netted Town’s third two minutes from time it looked as though he had completed another fightback and won the tie – and that would have been fair enough.
Town really applied themselves after the interval and scored three times through Rhodes (twice) and the impressive Danny Ward as the home side wilted under the pressure.
In fact the natives were getting restless as they looked to be heading for the second-round exit door, but a cruel stoppage-time equaliser from Don Cowie took it into extra-time, where Craig Conway and Cowie eventually spared some Welsh blushes.
Cardiff left striker Rob Earnshaw on the bench despite him hitting his 200th career goal in their last Championship outing (drawn at Burnley).
Town boss Clark made just one change to his starting line-up with Danny Ward replacing Gary Roberts, who was relegated to the bench.
But there was little evidence of a cup-tie atmosphere as both sides made subdued starts.
That all changed on 16 minutes as City struck twice in a minute.
Firstly, a free-kick on the right was met by Gabor Gyepes and his effort looped out of Bennett’s reach.
Then an attack down found Jon Parkin and his header too was beyond Bennett’s grasp, going in off a post.
Clark made a change on 25 minutes with striker Novak making his way from the pitch nursing a muscle strain (ex-Cardiff man Alan Lee went on).
The home side continued to look the more threatening outfit and on 34 minutes Conway carved Town open on the right and his ball across the danger zone just eluded Gestede in the six yard box.
A minute later City built neatly again and Parkin took the opportunity to shoot early, with his effort flashing just wide of the target.
Cardiff finished the half strongly with Bennett having to beat out a thumping Conway drive four minutes from the break, and Town looked back on 45 minutes where they failed to genuinely test City keeper Tom Heaton as their midfield struggled to make an impact in the contest.
The message must have been forcefully put across by Clark and his backroom team as Town started the second half with far more purpose.
Eight minutes into the second period Ward, one of the visitors’ most enterprising performers, broke free on the left hand side and his cross eluded Rhodes by only inches in the Cardiff six yard box
It was only moments later that Rhodes made amends as City skipper Paul Quinn made a gift of the ball to Town and the striker was alert to provide the finish that put Town right back in the contest.
City reacted but Conway and Gestede wasted openings and on 70 minutes they were made to pay.
Town, growing in confidence, powered forward again and a sustained push saw a flurry of goalmouth action as Heaton beat out a Ward drive, then Jack Hunt’s follow-up was blocked only for the ball to break to Ward and he placed his shot into the corner of the net to level the tie.
A minute later Lee charged forward and his shot forced a good save from Heaton, and then two minutes from time Town looked to be in dreamland.
A through ball saw the Bluebirds defence stop, claiming offside, but Rhodes played to the whistle and kept running and produced a textbook finish that looked to have settled the contest in favour of the Terriers.
But in the final minute of time added on City launched a final desperate attack and from a ball in from the left Cowie met it first to head past Bennett and force an extra half hour.
While Town were cursing their poor luck, City were obviously feeling they had been let off the hook. and started the extra period in very impressive fashion.
It took them six minutes to restore their lead when Conway broke from halfway and as the Town defence backed off he cut in from the left and his shot from 20 yards took a deflection to beat Bennett.
City could have added to Town’s agonies on the stroke of half-time of extra-time when Gestede and Kenny Miller combined smartly, but the latter’s shot came back off a post.
The second half of extra-time saw Cardiff looking a little more comfortable, but defeat was still a bitter pill for Town’s brave battlers to swallow.