FOLLOWING plenty of FA Cup theatre and a touch of farce on a pudding of a pitch, you just wonder what the butler thought of it all.
The man in question being Hastings goalkeeper Matt Armstrong-Ford, a ‘naked butler’ by day in his working life, with some tennis line-judging thrown in.
Armstrong-Ford, son of leading tennis umpire Gerry Armstrong, bravely soldiered on in the ‘Battle of Hastings’ after sustaining a nasty knee injury early in Saturday’s encounter, and Harrogate Town managed to beat him just once through Tom Platt’s 41st-minute close-range header.
Manchester United fan Jamie Crellin’s rebound just after the hour mark ensured the cup combatants cross swords again at Pilot Field early next week with the prospect of dining out in the third round tantalisingly on the table still for both sides.
For Simon Weaver’s Harrogate, it means a 545-mile round-trip to East Sussex – although an overnight stay prior to the game is a possibility.
While some might venture that Harrogate’s best chance of carrying on their cup adventure may have gone, it could, just could, turn out to be the opposite, with Weaver’s troops predilection for passing football likely to be aided more by Hastings’ pristine surface than it was by Saturday’s.
Groundstaff worked wonders to get the pockmarked, bobbly pitch just about fit for purpose, with the surface protected by a massive thermal covering overnight.
The pitch prevented flowing football, but did produce a spectacle, with both sides emerging with honour intact after an engaging joust amid glorious winter sun on a pitch which resembled a mud-clogged battlefield when time was called just before 3pm.
On the stalemate, Weaver, whose side had a meal on Saturday night at a Spanish restaurant in Harrogate – it was Burger King at 11pm on their victorious trip back from Torquay in the first round – said: “It was mixed emotions, really. Before the game, without being arrogant, you visualise winning and are thinking, ‘What a massive day it is for the club’.
“The lads were so hyped up and bouncing off the walls before they came out because they wanted it that much. But both teams did not want to give up that right.
“In the first half, we came out of the traps, but did not quite capitalise on the opportunities we created.
“If you look at the pitch, it just got worse and worse in the second half. At half-time, they would have come in and I assume their manager would have said, ‘Look, you are in this, going downhill in the second half’.
“It is bit of a lottery on that pitch when it is a gluepot like that. To their credit, they came out and were on top in the second half.
“I am looking forward to going down there and playing on their pitch. I have been down there twice so far and it is a magnificent pitch. I also have to give credit to their superb sound system; I am looking forward to listening to that. It was unbelievable; I was texting people back saying it was awesome!
“I am not downbeat. We have got another FA Cup game at least.”
After running out to the ‘Rocky’ theme tune, it was Harrogate who landed the early punches with striker Paul Beesley spurning a great early chance on 14 minutes after being sent clear by Dave Merris, with Armstrong-Ford – prostrate on the ground five minutes earlier following a separate challenge – needing further attention after a brave block.
Beesley shot wide later on in the half with Harrogate finally making the breakthrough four minutes before the break when Merris’s deep corner was hooked back across goal by captain Alan White with Platt knocking the ball in, Chib Chilaka making doubly sure.
But Harrogate failed to build on that opener after the break with United – and their hardy band of supporters who left the south coast at 5am – bossing large parts of the second half and earning a replay.
That was claimed when Crellin gobbled up the rebound after a curling strike from the impressive Bradley Goldberg, son of former Crystal Palace chairman Mark, hit the post.
Both sides could have won it. A contender for miss of the season was registered by Zac Atwood on 76 minutes when he tapped an effort lamely at Craig MacGillivray when he had pretty much an open goal to aim at.
Two minutes later, Chilaka almost became a hero for the second round running with his header from substitute Dan Clayton’s cross hitting the post – much to the anguish of Weaver and the majority of the 2,926 crowd.
Weaver said: “I was up, although it does not take much for me to jump up. I thought he had done it and it was a great ball in.”
A draw was about right, with the heart-warming reaction at the final whistle of the Hastings players, who raced over and hugged their delighted supporters, providing endearing evidence of just why the cup is so special.
Proud Harrogate player-manager Sean Ray, draped with a claret-and-blue scarf around his neck and muddy boots still on when he addressed the press, said: “The tie is still up in the air, to be fair.
“Harrogate are a good footballing side as well as us and will be happy to play on our pitch rather than theirs.
“Both our teams are in the third-round draw and how many times is that going to happen?
“It is massive for us. We have probably the lowest budget in the Ryman League.
“A lot of our players are not even in three figures in their football earnings. Some of the youngsters on our bench do not even get paid.”
Harrogate Town: MacGillivray, Samuels, Killock, White, Merris, Platt, Bolder, Dean (Clayton 78), Forrest (Elam 68), Beesley (Allan 78), Chilaka. Unused substitutes: Bloomer, Nowakowski, Veiga, Bolland.
Hastings United: Armstrong-Smith, Cox, Ray, Jirbandey, Whitehead, Carey, Crellin, Dixon, Okojie (Ellis 51), Atwood, Goldberg. Unused substitutes: Manning, Camera, Richardson, Bachellier, Winchester, Abbott.
Referee: M Brown (East Yorks).