HUDDERSFIELD Town put their push for automatic promotion firmly back on track last night.
Not only did they gain revenge for the Boxing Day defeat at the Galpharm, but they closed the gap on second-placed Bournemouth with a performance that suggested they can make a strong challenge in the last 13 games of the season.
Anthony Pilkington sealed victory with his 14th goal of the season after just 12 minutes in what was a necessary show of strength after recent draws, which had taken the wind out of Town’s sails to some extent
Boss Lee Clark opted for a 4-5-1 formation, but Town were looking fluent going forward and Gary Roberts and Pilkington, in particular, were very quick to support Lee Novak up front.
The team option looked a good one for the whole of the first period as Antony Kay and skipper Peter Clarke ensured the Hartlepool threat was closed out and keeper Ian Bennett had a surprisingly uneventful 45 minutes.
Town weren’t slow to create chances in attack and went ahead (after 12 minutes) when former Town defender Sam Collins failed to deal with a through ball under pressure and the subsequent consternation in the United penalty area saw Pilkington pounce to fire in from 10 yards to close within two of leading scorer Jordan Rhodes.
It wasn’t long before Town were causing problems again with a Roberts raid on the left leading to a near-post delivery to Pilkington, who turned smartly but found his shot well smothered by Scott Flinders in the United goal..
Town had to be patient as they looked to open the home defence again and it wasn’t until the 33rd minute that they created another clear-cut chance, but Pilkington struggled to control a ball that bounced to him awkwardly and his shot was directly at Flinders.
On the stroke of half time, a clumsy challenge by Peter Hartley on Novak led to a free-kick in perfect range for Joey Gudjonsson, but the contrived free-kick routine ended with the Icelander firing wide.
Town started where they left off in the second half, with Novak the first to test the United defence with a header glanced just wide of the far post from a Roberts cross.
Skipper Clarke was next to go close as he saw a header turned away by Flinders and, from the resulting corner, another headed effort from the skipper was blocked by United’s massed defensive ranks.
Novak again looked to hit the target when he turned smartly on a ball forward from Scott Arfield, but the striker’s first-time effort faded just wide.
The home side finally clicked into gear with their first clear-cut chance on 57 minutes when Adam Horwood fired in a free-kick which was deflected just wide of the target.
This effort was rapidly followed by an Andy Monkhouse attempt on goal and then Antony Sweeney was played in, but Clarke managed to block his first effort and Kay denied the second. Town got back into gear after 72 minutes, roared on by their following contingent of 564, when Arfield again led a breakout and Novak’s intelligent first-time ball gave Pilkington the opportunity to cut in from the right, but his angled shot was well dealt with by Flinders.
The home side looked more dangerous in the closing minutes, but their best chance went begging when Leon McSweeney managed to turn quickly but pulled his shot wide from the edge of the box.
The game finished in confusion as, at the end of six added minutes, a drop ball led to both groups of players clashing as Collins joined Roberts in the book for a skirmish.