AFC Fylde 3 Harrogate Town 1: Play-off heartache but plenty of positives for Harrogate

Harrogate Towns Jack Emmett challenges Fyldes goalscorer Andy Bond. Picture: Matt KirkhamHarrogate Towns Jack Emmett challenges Fyldes goalscorer Andy Bond. Picture: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Towns Jack Emmett challenges Fyldes goalscorer Andy Bond. Picture: Matt Kirkham
THE crowded Fylde coast may yet accommodate a third Football League side in time for next season, but North Yorkshire’s wait for another EFL representative goes on.

Yet while there was understandable disappointment on the night for Harrogate Town after coming out on the wrong side of a terrific battle between two ambitious Roses outfits, there will be pride at another season of marked progress once the pain subsides.

At the interval, it looked like being a game too far for Harrogate with a fraught first half compounded by a penalty miss on the stroke of half-time by ex-Coasters player Jack Muldoon.

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Trailing 2-0 after 15 minutes and up against it, Harrogate –urged forward incessantly by manager Simon Weaver on the touchline – emptied the tank in a rousing second half with an own goal from Luke Burke setting up an anxious final 35 minutes.

But last night ultimately belonged to Fylde, who moved within two victories of a remarkable progress to the league in their endearing quest to rub shoulders with near-neighbours Blackpool and Fleetwood Town.

It also maintained their hopes of a magnificent promotion and FA Trophy double in the process.

Beaten 2-0 on home soil at the weekend against White Rose opponents in FC Halifax Town, Fylde brought back their leading lights who had been rested and they took the cue to produce a polished and slick first half.

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It was almost picture-perfect, only for an aberration to arrive moments before the break when a defensive mishap presented Harrogate with a penalty lifeline, but the gift was passed up.

Home keeper Jay Lynch raced out of goal and caught Jordan Thewlis after Jordan Tunnicliffe misjudged the flight of a routine throughball, but the cherished spot-kick was passed up.

Penalty expert Lynch guessed right to turn away Muldoon’s effort to his right and it had all the makings of a major moment.

The bulk of the first-half showcased Fylde’s footballing prowess, ably led by Danny Rowe, who proved that sometimes appearances can be deceptive.

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Before kick off, the targetman was presented with the National League player of season award in recognition of his 27-goal haul this season, but it was his deft footballing abilities which which came to the fore in the first period.

A corner from Rowe set up Ryan Croasdale’s close-range opener, with Harrogate punished for switching off after Tunnicliffe won the initial header.

Worse was to come when a wretched moment saw James Belshaw spill Rowe’s long-ranger and Andy Bond obligingly tucked away the rebound.

Nick Haughton went close to a third with a header and Belshaw partly redeemed himself to deny Bradley before Town painfully fluffed their lines from 12 yards.

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Early second-half pressure led to the visitors reducing the arrears from close-in after Burke diverted the ball into his own net after Thewlis’s initial effort and Weaver’s side sustained their charge and afforded the Lancastrians scant respite.

Harrogate peppered the home goal with crosses in the hope of something breaking for them, although Fylde did go close to sealing it when Belshaw made a point-blank save to thwart substitute Alex Reid.

Reid spurned two further chances on the break – with his second effort striking the post – as Town threw caution to the wind. Relief was then abound among those with Red Rose blood when Dan Bradley settled the issue with a powerful stoppage-time strike.

The season may be over for Harrogate, but what a journey.

AFC Fylde: Lynch; Burke, Byrne, Tunnicliffe, Francis-Angol; Croasdale, Bond; Bradley, Philliskirk (Reid 61), Haughton (Crawford 77); Rowe. Substitutes unused: Hardy, Griffiths, Odubina.

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Harrogate Town: Belshaw; Burrell, Howe, Kitching, Senior (Leesley 45); Emmett, Falkingham, Fallowfield; Thewlis (Knowles 67), Muldoon (Thomson 75), Beck. Substitutes unused: Cracknell, Agnew.

Referee: P Gibbons.