FORTUNES can change fast in football – especially in the roller-coaster of a division called the Championship.
Three weeks ago, Huddersfield Town were in the play-off places on the back of a 1-0 win at Barnsley while Leeds were down in 18th and looking anxiously over their shoulders after a 6-1 thumping at home to Watford.
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A takeover and four matches on, Leeds fans are talking about regaining the Premier League place lost in 2004 while Town’s are reflecting on a run of just one point from 12 and desperately hoping a dip in form doesn’t turn into something more damaging.
“You should have gone Christmas shopping,” sang the gleeful visiting contingent as they celebrated their side’s third win running.
An early present in the shape of the return of ex-Leeds ace Jermaine Beckford, who notched the winner at Barnsley but has been absent ever since with a hamstring injury, would certainly be welcome, because Town are badly lacking some spark up front.
They could also do with a fully-fit James Vaughan, who after seven matches out with a thigh problem, emerged from the bench in the 63rd minute, but looked distinctly rusty.
Simon Church put in plenty of work, but hasn’t yet been able to match fellow loan men Vaughan and Beckford in terms of impact, and with widemen Scott Arfield and Danny Ward well shackled on Saturday, Town struggled to make the most of Alan Lee.
The seasoned striker, handed a first start of the season in place of Lee Novak as manager Simon Grayson made changes after the 3-0 loss at Middlesbrough, provided a bit of muscle, held the ball up well and kept the Leeds defence occupied.
That helped midfielder Chris Atkinson, also making his first start of the term and only third for the club, to make the most of the space afforded to him by ghosting in to meet Leeds old boy Adam Clayton’s pass and follow up the five goals he scored while on loan at Chesterfield with a first for Town.Related content
It arrived in the 12th minute and capped a bright opening by the home team, who looked comfortable until Leeds levelled against the run of play.
Keeper Alex Smithies has been in fine fettle this season, but he was out of sorts in the big derby and while he was looking straight into awkward low sunshine, will have nightmares about Michael Tonge’s 35th-minute shot, which was innocuous looking but squirmed under his body.
Smithies was less able to do anything about Luciano Becchio’s first goal of the game three minutes later, because it was sweetly struck after the impressive Ross McCormack again provided the assist from Tonge’s fine pass.
Grayson’s side grabbed a lifeline before the break, when Lee used all his experience to eke out a free-kick from Town old boy Lee Peltier.
As Danny Ward swung the ball in, Premier League referee Mike Dean spotted Becchio’s pull on Anthony Gerrard and gave Clayton the opportunity to drill home his third penalty and fourth goal of the season – and celebrate right in front of Neil Warnock, who allowed him to leave Leeds for Town in the summer.
But ex-Town chief Warnock, celebrating his 64th birthday, had the last laugh after David Norris and Becchio, with another goal Smithies should probably have saved, struck to seal victory for Leeds, their first in six attempts against Town and their first in Huddersfield since October 1963.