Harrogate Town 3 Notts County 1 - Harrogate enjoy Wembley play-off final glory to reach Football League
After a four-month wait when at times it look like they might be defeated by coronavirus, the Wetherby Road outfit beat Notts County 3-1 in the Conference play-off final at Wembley to claim their place among the 92.
Just to be competing with a famous name like Notts County has been an achievement in itself, but Simon Weaver’s team did not get where they are by respecting reputations. Next season historic football clubs will be regular visitors to North Yorkshire.
A goal from Jack Diamond, on loan from Sunderland, took the headlines but having lost their way after a rampant first half, what really made the difference was a bit of Steadying.
The Sulphurites are fortunate to be able to call on the 37-year-old who includes Huddersfield Town, Bradford City, Sheffield United and Notts County amongst his former clubs, and it was his reassuring presence, not to mention the nifty footwork which allowed him to create Diamond’s goal, which calmed the nerves of those watching in Harrogate.
It was a brilliant first half from their side, scoring twice, hitting the post and wasting a couple of other good opportunities, but when the Magpies scored less than a minute of the second half, it looked like they might have made the classic mistake of upsetting a big club without finishing them off.
County must not have know what hit them with the right-sided combination of Ryan Fallowfield and George Thomson taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
They could have been behind three minutes, though had Ben Turner’s clearance bounced a few inches the other way and inside the post off Aaron Martin, it would have been a real fluke. There was nothing undeserved when they did take the lead three minutes later.
When right-back Fallowfield crossed at the end of a good move, Thomson gave it the delicate touch needed to guide it wide of Sam Slocombe and inside the far post.
Martin, in only his second goal for the club he joined from Guiseley days before the lockdown, did brilliantly to pluck a pass out of the air after nine minutes, but out to have hit the target.
Jack Muldoon missed a more difficult chance under pressure from a Josh Falkingham free-kick.
Going into the drinks break you worried Harrogate might pay for it because their dominance was going to be hard to maintain.
Centre-back Connor Hall put any doubts to bed after Fallowfield won a free-kick off Joel Bagan out wide. Martin jumped across Hall’s path but did not distract him from stretching out a foot and converting.
Martin hit the near post after 41 minute when County failed to clear a Thomson free-kick, and would make way after an hour.
By then, the complexion of the game had changed completely. Neal Ardley made a double half-time substitution and Callum Roberts curled a beautiful free-kick past Belshaw less than 60 seconds after the restart.
Roberts fired a shot wide, Belshaw saved at his near-post from Kyle Wootton and Enzio Boudewijn. Hall was booked for kicking out at Wes Thomas’s heels.
Weaver saw what was needed and called for Stead’s experience. His side looked instantly more settled, offering a much-needed outset. Jack Muldoon stabbed wide Town’s first chance of note since the second half to make the drinks bread much more refreshing.
Brilliant footwork by the veteran was followed by a ball down the line to Muldoon, who crossed for Diamond to score.
Stead might have marked his Wembley debut with a goal, curling a shot onto the post, but he got the prize he wanted. Harrogate are heading to League Two/.
Harrogate Town: Belshaw; Fallowfield, Smith, Hall, Burrell; Thomson, Falkingham, Kerry, Diamond; Martin (Stead 61), Muldoon (Beck 81). Not used: Emmett, Leesley, Cracknell, Harratt.
Notts County: Slocombe; Brindley (Kelly-Evans 81), Lacey, Turner, Bagan; Roberts; Rose, Doyle, O’Brien (Thomas 46); Wootton, Dennis (Boldewijn 46’). Not used: Rawlinson, Crawford, McDonnell.
Referee: J Bell.