After just five matches – six for most of the rest – league tables are just glorified form guides but little Harrogate top League Two’s.
They did not blow Mansfield Town away but after seeing them get off to a flier, including scoring in the third minute, matched their hosts and Jack Diamond and Luke Armstrong did the rest for Harrogate.
Once Armstrong scored one and made one they put a lid on the game and waited until the pressure built up to a Mansfield explosion of two straight red cards in one stoppage, the second apparently a headbutt by veteran former Sheffield United, Rotherham United and Hull City midfielder Stephen Quinn which cut Josh Falkingham.
Last season Harrogate were decent Football League freshers, winning a few, then losing a few. Now they have added goals.
For the last three seasons, Jack Muldoon has been the main man in front of goal – almost the only man. On Saturday he was just one of three scorers. No 9s are usually fuelled by big egos but Muldoon, who wears 18, is loving sharing the limelight.
“It sounds big-headed to say last season it seemed to be down to me but a lot of the goals came from myself,” he reflected after the 3-1 win. “This season we’ve got four lads (himself, Armstrong, Alex Pattison and Danilo Orsi whose Football League Trophy hat-trick only earned him a place on the bench) with two-plus goals five games in.
“I felt last season we were having a few chances in a game and this season we seem to be having five, six, seven and we’re capitalising on probably one in three.”
Armstrong scored the first and made the second while Diamond oozed class at the start of a second season-long loan from Sunderland.
“The last thing you want is second-season syndrome,” said manager Simon Weaver. “There’s always a fear of slowing up but that drives you on.
“We’ve tried to recruit really hungry lads with enough professional pride to ensure the group don’t go backwards.”
The moment that summed up why Harrogate won did not even produce a goal. For the second time in the game Diamond cleverly let a ball across him and drove forward to win a free-kick. Warren Burrell helped it on and Armstrong won his header, like so many others, only to see the offside flag after the ball hit the net.
“Luke’s my dream type of player because he takes all the weight off me with the big centre-halves nailing him and I try and get in between and get the ball to feet,” explained Muldoon.
Diamond has raised his game since his last Harrogate appearance, scoring in the match which clinched promotion from the National League. He was pretty good then.
“There was a bit of pressure on him because he was the man last time but he just looks even stronger,” commented Weaver.
Muldoon was “texting him every minute to say I couldn’t believe he was coming back. I thought when he left us the first time that was him gone, pushing on to League One and the Championship because he’s going to be that player.
“He goes either way now and he’s been with Sunderland, who aren’t really a League One club.”
Armstrong headed in a George Thomson corner Diamond won two minutes after Rhys Oates’s opener, and ended the first half by helping Pattison’s cross onto goalscorer Muldoon. By then, referee Paul Howard was fighting to keep control.
“We’ve got to play with edge but it’s hopeless if you just lose control,” argued Weaver. “At half-time we said we wanted the first 10 minutes to come and go without drama but then we wanted a bit more passing and a bit more playing control. It only takes once incident at 2-1.”
Harrogate kept their cool, until Mansfield lost theirs, Ollie Clarke professional-fouling Diamond after he skipped past Richard Nartey. As Howard showed the red card, Falkingham went down clutching his face. Howard spoke to his linesman then dismissed Quinn too. In all Howard flashed his card 10 times.
Thomson’s bullet header with nine minutes left put Harrogate top on goal difference. At this stage it means very little but the confidence and momentum they are building could be significant.
Mansfield Town: Bishop; Gordon, Hewitt, Nartey, McLaughlin; Maris; O Clarke, Quinn; Lapslie (Johnson 68); Oates (Rawson 76), Hawkins (Bowery 82). Unused substitutes: Shelvey, Burke, Sinclair, Stirk.
Harrogate Town: Oxley; Burrell, McArdle, Hall, Page; Thomson, Falkingham (Kerry 76), Pattison (Power 84), Diamond; Armstrong, Muldoon (Orsi 87). Unused substitutes: Fallowfield, Martin, Cracknell.
Referee: P Howard (London).