Ritchie’s joy as Terriers banish Blues

ANDY RITCHIE might not be the ideal person to ask when it comes to discussing the romance of the FA Cup, not least because the Huddersfield Town manager’s heart was broken by it no less than four times during his playing career.

Yet it seems his love-hate relationship with football’s oldest competition is blossoming again courtesy of his luck changing — in the form of Huddersfield’s surprise victory over Birmingham City at the Galpharm Stadium.

The trophy has been much-maligned in recent years and the debate rages as to its importance. Opinions are divided, yet Ritchie is convinced the tournament should be cherished for the simple reason that it is unique. Town’s win, courtesy of a late winner from Chris Brandon — he used to work in a clothes shop to make ends meet — clearly swayed Ritchie’s opinion, but nevertheless proved his point.

Ritchie lost three semi-finals with Oldham and Leeds United during his playing days, while he was also left out of Dave Sexton’s Manchester United squad for the 1979 final defeat to Arsenal, despite having helped them get there in the first place. You could forgive Ritchie for wanting to bid good riddance to the FA Cup, but that was never going to happen.

He said: “Realistically we’re not going to win the cup, but days like these are what you are in football for. You look at Swansea held at home by Havant and Waterlooville, these are the results the cup throws up.

“I know what [Dave] Kitson said, but Reading are one of those sides that have a chance of getting to the final. It’s a brilliant competition. A lot of the cups are now devalued, it’s just how the game has gone, but results like this can only help.”

Luke Beckett put the League One side ahead inside four minutes before Gary O’Connor equalised soon after. Chances came and went at both ends as Alex McLeish’s side toiled before Beckett reached the byline with 12 minutes remaining and delivered a deep cross which Brandon smashed past Maik Taylor.

Brandon’s professional career didn’t start until the age of 23, having played as an amateur for Bradford Park Avenue, so the fairytale was complete when he proved the difference between his side and McLeish’s multi-million pound superstars.

He said: “I’m just out to enjoy my football and play for someone who wants me in the team. I feel as fit as I’ve ever done and feel as if I have a few years left in me. I didn’t sign as a professional until I was 23. I was at Park Avenue and working part time in the clothes shop.

“I’d like to think I haven’t got all the miles on the clock like the other players who started at 16. It would be nice to go to another Premier League club in the next round. We went to Chelsea two years ago and lost 2-1. It was a close call, so it would be great to have another crack at them.”

McLeish would have hoped for a better introduction to the FA Cup, but promised to cheer himself up with some signings in the transfer window. “Huddersfield were more alert and competitive,” he said. “They won the balls that needed winning and I’m disappointed. I’ve spent seven weeks assessing the players since I arrived and it’s clear we need to bring in new faces.”

HUDDERSFIELD (4-5-1): Glennon 7, Collins 7, Sinclair 7, Mirfin 6, Williams 6 (Skarz 46, 6), Kamara 6 (Jevons, 6), Brandon 8, Holdsworth 7, Berret 6, Schofield 7, Beckett 7.

Subs Not Used: Smithies, Young, Killock.

BIRMINGHAM (4-4-2): Taylor 6, Kelly 7, Ridgewell 7, Jaidi 7, Queudrue 6, De Ridder 7, Larsson 7, Muamba 8, McSheffrey 6, O’Connor 7, Forssell 7 (Jerome 62, 6).

Subs Not Used: Sadler, Doyle, Parnaby, Mutch.

REFEREE: Steve Tanner (Somerset). 7. Had few controversial decisions to make but handled the game well and tried to let it flow, despite the pudding of a pitch.

MATCH RATING: *** Never reached top gear. There was a lack of genuine quality on offer, mostly on Birmingham’s behalf.

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