Harrogate Town's fans cannot help as their lack of self-belief leads to 1-0 defeat

As we enter the depths of winter, Harrogate Town are going through a tough spell. Their 1-0 defeat to Forest Green Rovers was their eighth in 12 matches in all competitions, albeit nowhere near as comprehensive as the last two.

LIVELY: Harrogate Town's Brendan Kieran plays the ball in front of the socially-distanced crowd

But for a long time after Rovers took the lead through Jamille Matt after 56 minutes, there seemed to be a lack of belief that despite some decent football in midfield Town could get back into the contest. With fans back in the Wetherby Road stands for the first time since March, you could hear it.

Only in the final 10 minutes did they seem to believe an equaliser was in the offing, and their hopes would be dashed.

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The fans were quickly into the game, latching onto any minor incident to make some noise – a header back to Town goalkeeper James Belshaw and his opposite number Luke McGee kicking the ball out of play.

Forest Green started the better, wing-back Jayden Richardson shooting just wide from distance in the fifth minute and smacking another effort against a team-mate when Haarrogate, having not learnt their lesson, left him alone at an 18th-minute corner.

Coming into the game on the back of a chastening week which saw them concede nine goals, the Sulphurites took a while finding their feet, but when they did it made for an open game. Their build-up play was good, their final ball too often less so.

Aaron Martin led the line well for them and played George Thomson in for his side's first real chance in the 11th minute but the shot was blocked by Harrogate-born former Town loanee Liam Kitching.

Midway through the first half Thomson played an excellent ball to Connor Kirby and although he found Martin, the pass helped McGee to close the ball down.

The crowd of just over 500 responded to everything good or bad with the excitement of supporters who had not seen their team in the flesh since March, and the game was better for it.

Forest Green seemed to enjoy it too, with Chris Stokes galloping out of the back three and down the left to deliver a cross Aaron Collins ought to have headed on target.

Brendan Kiernan's pace down the right – the side in the first half occupied by the managers and substitutes rather than the fans – made him look Harrogate's most dangerous player but when Martin headed a long ball into his path, McGee sprinted off his line to beat the winger to it.

The half ended with Kieran feeding Jack Muldoon, whose shot had all the sting smothered out of it.

Harrogate were roared out of the tunnel for the second half but again Rovers started the better, and were rewarded when Nicky Cadden applied the after-burners, Jamille Matt tapped in the cross he pulled back from the byline. With no away fans allowed, for a few seconds there was silence before the claps and shouts of encouragement rang out.

For the next 25 minutes, no one in yellow or in the stands seemed to think an equaliser would be coming, even though Kiernan continued to play well down the wing.

Fans cried in vain for the introduction of Jon Stead but it would be the 91st minute before Simon Weaver made his only change, and Mark Beck was the striker he turned to.

Forest Green looked more likely scorers, Cadden coming inside and curling a shot at Belshaw, Matt having an effort blocked.

Then, in the 82nd minute, Martin had a shot tipped over and the crowd was sparked into life, noisily stamping their feet at each of a succession of corners. McGee denied Martin again, Kiernan had a shot blocked to groans, and the keeper got down to a long-range Thomson shot which took a nick. Kiernan's shot was held at the second attempt.

Still, the crowd showed there appreciation at the full-time whistle, applauding the players as they came across to show theirs.

It had not been a fairytale day for Harrogate's first Football League game in front of their fans but off the field, at least, things have taken a step forward. The players need to drag their weary legs to do the same.

Harrogate Town: Belshaw; Fallowfield, Lawlor, Hall, Burrell; Kiernan, Thomson, Falkingham, Kirby (Beck 90); Martin, Muldoon.

Unused substitutes: Cracknell, Stead, Kerry, Miller, Lokko.

Forest Green Rovers: McGee; Godwin-Malife, Stokes, Kitching; Richardson, Adams, Moore-Taylor, Winchester, (Wagstaff 90) Cadden; Matt, Collins (Sweeney 84).

Unused substitutes: Wilson, Stevens, Bailey, Whitehouse, Thomas.

Referee: M Edwards (Tyne and Wear).

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