By Gareth James
Former Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock has completed his Huddersfield Town miracle – thanks to ex-Bluebird Danny Ward – but ruled out staying on as boss.
Warnock guided the Terriers to safety on Thursday night, their 1-0 win over already promoted Sheffield United meaning Huddersfield will be in the Championship next season and Reading are relegated.
The 74-year-old came out of retirement in mid-February to take on the role, with the Terriers battling to get out of the relegation zone.
However, a run of just one defeat in their last nine league matches ensured they achieved safety as Danny Ward’s stunning 25-yard strike got the job done against United with a game to spare, instead sending Reading tumbling into League One.
Warnock had previously said keeping the Terriers up would be the “greatest achievement” of his career, which has spanned over 1600 games and included eight promotions.
And he believes it was no less than the players deserved after a nail-biting 90 minutes at the John Smith’s Stadium.
“I’ll remember tonight for the rest of my life,” said Warnock. “It’s a massive achievement and I couldn’t be any prouder.
“When (Warnock’s assistant) Ronnie Jepson phoned me, he said ‘are you sure? This is the worst team I have seen’. Everyone has worked their socks off for me but I can’t do another 10 months of this. The job is done for me.
“I have great memories and didn’t want to leave having gone down.
“You can imagine relegation, jobs at stake. We looked nervous, not wanting to have a second touch. At half-time we told them what we’d been doing the last nine games and we deserved it in the end.
“Danny scored one like that for Cardiff at Forest, I said we could do with another one of those. He’s an unsung hero.
“It’s been an amazing ride. I think tonight could have converted youngsters for years to come.
“I remember watching Joe Shaw for (Sheffield) United one night and it did me. I had to be an United-ite and there will be Town fans like that tonight.”
— Huddersfield Town (@htafc) May 4, 2023
Warnock’s declaration that the job is over and he’s moving on should be taken with a pinch of salt. He’s been saying he’s on his final job before his last five appointments.
But the result caps a remarkable turnaround since Warnock’s appointment at the John Smith’s Stadium in mid-February, with Town losing just one of their last nine league matches, including five wins in their last eight.
Victory over Yorkshire rivals United lifted Huddersfield six points above the bottom three, with the final round of fixtures to be played on Monday.
The Blades, who had already secured their return to the Premier League next season, dominated the early stages and penned the hosts in.
Huddersfield shot-stopper Lee Nicholls stood tall to make a great early save and keep out Daniel Jebbison after he raced through on goal in the eighth minute.
Blades striker Jebbison squandered another decent chance to fire the visitors ahead on the half-hour mark as he headed George Baldock’s cross over at the far post.
Warnock’s charges continued to absorb the pressure as United hammered on the door, and at stages in the opening 45 minutes, only keeper Wes Foderingham was in the visitors’ half.
Sander Berge was the next Blades player to have a crack at goal, but his tame effort barely troubled Nicholls.
The hosts were the first to show after the break with their first big chance of the match.
Tom Lees rose highest at the back post to meet Jack Rudoni’s teasing corner, but his close-range header was blocked.
United manager Paul Heckingbottom quickly rang the changes as he threw on Oli McBurnie and Billy Sharp up front.
Foderingham pulled off a good stop to parry Josh Koroma’s effort wide after he nutmegged Chris Basham to force his way into the box.
And the pressure told two minutes before the hour as Ward’s crucial stunning strike, a curling left-footed effort from 25 yards which nestled in the bottom corner, fired Town in front.
The goal would have come as a huge blow to any watching Reading fans and Huddersfield came close to extending their lead when David Kasumu hit the side netting after being slipped through by Koroma.
United pushed hard for an equaliser in the closing stages, but Warnock’s charges held firm, sparking widespread celebrations in the stands.