AT LAST Huddersfield Town and their long-suffering supporters can start looking forward rather than back after Lee Novak’s late strike ensured a third successive tilt at the League I play-offs.
The industrious Geordie striker snapped a three-match losing streak and six-hour wait for a goal with his 89th-minute effort which finally broke Scunthorpe’s stubborn resistance and put Simon Grayson’s side on course for a final position of fourth or fifth and a two-legged showdown with MK Dons.
Town, whose midfield was by-passed too often for comfort, might easily have been trailing by the time Novak netted for the 15th time this season, because the visitors hit the woodwork three times and brought two great saves from Ian Bennett.
But while this was far from a perfect performance, there were vital signs of life from the home side, and hopefully the victory will have gone some way to boosting the players’ confidence and calming the fans’ nerves.
Grayson has two more games in which to fine-tune and fettle for the play-off semis, which will take place on Saturday, May 12 and Tuesday 15, with the team finishing fourth having home advantage in the second leg.
And with a bit of luck, Town will rediscover the scoring touch which brought them 75 goals in 40 league games prior to the dip which followed the 3-1 win at Leyton Orient on April 14.
The first half of Saturday’s game reflected a side struggling for form, because while they created a decent flow of chances, Town lacked conviction in the final third.
Novak, back in the starting side at the expense of Danny Ward, and Scott Arfield, both of whom caught the eye with their workrate, hesitated that crucial fraction over shots while Gary Roberts sent a low drive straight into the arms of keeper Sam Slocombe.
It continued into the second period, with Jordan Rhodes scooping a 60th-minute effort over the top.
But with Ward on as a substitute and willing to shoot at every opportunity and 38-goal top scorer Rhodes finally hitting the net only for his 76th-minute strike to be ruled out for offside, it seemed Town were finally starting to believe the breakthrough would come.
Come it did, thanks to Roberts’ pass and Novak’s composed finish.
The winger’s through ball had a Scunthorpe defence including Town old boy David Mirfin backpedalling.
And while Slocombe got a hand to the shot, it had sufficient power to beat the attempted save and nestle in the back of the net.
While Slocombe is building a bright reputation, Town’s Bennett has nothing to prove, and the 40-year-old, playing a second successive game in the absence of injured Alex Smithies, deserves real credit for this clean sheet.
He made a terrific one-handed save to thwart Robbie Gibbons when the midfielder unleashed a venomous shot in the 11th minute.
Then in the 78th, he showed terrific reactions to block another well-struck Gibbons shot, looking on in relief as the follow-up from the well-placed Bobby Grant scraped the top of the bar and fell to safety.
In between, Grant, recalled from his loan at Accrington Stanley after injuries caused a Scunthorpe striker crisis, crashed a 26th-minute free-kick against the left-hand angle.
Then, when Roberts was caught in possession by Grant in the 67th minute, Jimmy Ryan’s shot brushed Bennett’s right-hand upright.
Nerve-tingling moments indeed, and there will no doubt be more to come!