Jack Muldoon strike decides National League play-off semi-final and books Harrogate Town's place at Wembley

Harrogate Town players celebrate Jack Muldoon's winner against Boreham Wood. Picture: Matt KirkhamHarrogate Town players celebrate Jack Muldoon's winner against Boreham Wood. Picture: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town players celebrate Jack Muldoon's winner against Boreham Wood. Picture: Matt Kirkham
Jack Muldoon's second-half goal proved sufficient to seal Harrogate Town's place in the National League play-off final at the expense of Boreham Wood.

The Wetherby Road outfit's top-scorer pounced from close range to decide an absorbing semi-final clash and set up a Wembley date with either Notts County or Barnet next Sunday.

Simon Weaver's men were quick out of the blocks, yet had nothing to show for a blistering first-half display of sharp, incisive football.

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The visitors ended the opening period on top, then started the second brightly, but Town ultimately got their just desserts for what was undoubtedly one of their best performances of 2019/20.

Given that they last played a game of competitive football on March 7 - more than four months ago - the pace and intensity at which Town begun the contest was staggering.

There were no signs of rust as they moved the ball around slickly and completed dominated their visitors for 40 minutes.

Despite this, it was the Wood who went closest to drawing first blood on 11 minutes when Matt Rhead's far-post header from a right-wing centre glanced the outside of an upright.

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The next half an hour was however one-way traffic, with George Thomson the first Harrogate player to test visiting custodian Nathan Ashmore from inside the penalty area.

A dazzling burst down the left then saw Jack Diamond extend Ashmore before Thomson put the ball in the back of the net, only for referee Simon Mather to blow up for a foul in the build-up.

Muldoon and Lloyd Kerry both drew fine stops out of the Wood goalkeeper with efforts from distance, before debutant Aaron Martin looked set to break the deadlock.

His close-range blast seemed destined for the top corner, only for Ashmore to somehow tip the ball over his cross-bar at point-blank range.

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Yet, for all their superiority, Town could have found themselves behind at half-time.

A minute before the interval, Sorba Thomas got in behind down the left, though his prod across the face of goal found neither the home net, nor a team-mate.

Then, in first-half stoppage-time, a cleverly-worked short-corner routine saw Thomas pick out Tyrone Marsh, whose finish only narrowly cleared James Belshaw's bar.

That they had played so well during the opening 45 without making it count will doubtless have been playing on the hosts' minds at the interval, with question marks hanging over their ability to continue to function at such a high tempo as the afternoon wore on.

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And sure enough, the second period began with Wood seeing far more of the ball than they had done before the break.

A threatening raid down the right ended with Marsh forcing Belshaw to save with his feet before Rhead's header was cleared off the goal-line by Connor Hall, Kabongo Tshimanga just unable to force the loose ball in at the back stick.

The breathless nature of the contest continued, Town going straight down the other end where Muldoon, then Diamond stung the gloves of Ashmore.

The game looked on a knife-edge at this stage, but it was to be Harrogate who struck a decisive blow with 64 minutes on the clock.

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Thomson's corner from the right was met by Will Smith and Muldoon was on hand to divert the ball into the net from inside the six-yard-box.

Substitute Jon Stead came close to adding a second when he curled a left-footer narrowly past the upright from the edge of the area, then Wood's golden chance to draw level came and went.

Justin Shaibu arrived unmarked at the far post to meet an inviting delivery from the right, though he couldn't find a first-time finish with the goal gaping.

Another opportunity to equalise arrived four minutes from time as Femi Ilesnanmi lofted over a left-wing cross, and although the officials somehow missed the most blatant of shoves in the back of Hall, Rhead powered his header over the top.

And that was as close as the Wood were to come as Town managed to negotiate four minutes of stoppage-time without any further scares.

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