Harrogate Town stay on course to hit club high ahead of centenary

THE PRIZES will be handed out late next month at Harrogate's highly popular annual Spring Flower Show.

Mark Beck, left is congratulated by Ben Parker after scoring Harrogate Towns second goal in their 2-0 home win over Gainsborough Trinity (Picture: Steve Riding).

It will also be a time when the spa town’s leading football team, approaching full bloom after a pretty radiant season, will be eyeing their own best-in-class award and a rosette marked ‘National League’.

These are uplifting days for Harrogate Town. When manager Simon Weaver took over in May 2009 crowds were around the 250 mark. Now they are over 1,000 with the feel-good factor discernible to anyone who visits Wetherby Road.

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The yellow and black paintwork at the spruced-up CNG Stadium is fresh and those who wear the Harrogate jersey are proud, young and hungry too. Expectation is in the air; you sense it among the players and supporters. ‘Surely it is our time’.

Results are bolstering that innate sense of conviction. Saturday’s win over Gainsborough was Harrogate’s seventh on the trot in the league at Wetherby Road.

Yet given the events 160 miles away from Harrogate at Kidderminster, the footballing sages will find it impossible to escape the conclusion that the club’s fates are highly likely to go down to a final day of judgment on April 28.

It just has that feel; you sense that Weaver inwardly might just think so too.

Saturday was a good day for Harrogate, who found the net at key junctures in the first and second halves to repel a Gainsborough side whose hard luck story on the road is assuming epic proportions.

It looked like being a grand one when news filtered through that Harrogate’s big National League North title rivals Salford City were losing 2-0 to Kidderminster at Aggborough at half-time, with that development joyously relayed at the interval by Harrogate’s stadium announcer. Perhaps a little bit too eagerly, in hindsight.

Two-nil turned into 4-0 well into the second half, with Harrogate’s faithful brazenly referencing the scoreline in a song directed to Salford co-owner Gary Neville. But while Town eased to victory over Gainsborough, amazing events in the West Midlands saw Salford somehow fight back to draw 4-4.

So it is Salford who stay on top of the National League on goal difference for the time being with Harrogate playing their game in hand at home to a half-decent play-off chasing Spennymoor Town side tomorrow.

It is the first of eight more steep gradients to climb for Harrogate, whose forthcoming fixture list will test the mental fortitude of a predominantly young squad.

Weaver’s side visit third-placed Brackley on Saturday before hosting fifth-placed Blyth Spartans on Easter Monday.

Then there is the considerable matter of a North Yorkshire derby at York City on April 7.

If Harrogate are to achieve their Holy Grail of Conference football for the first time in their history – and hopefully ahead of their centenary in 2019 – then they are going to have to do things the hard way.

Events at Kidderminster certainly suggest that it will be one almighty fight for silverware.

Weaver said: “I am not despondent because they (Salford) have got two points from the last six and we have done the job here in getting three in this game. We are delighted with our progress; it is seven wins and a draw in our last eight games and that is all we can control.

“Obviously you hope things go wrong down the road and that is me being totally truthful about it. But if we do our job we are going to end up in the right spot.

“It is a hard challenge, especially with the type of teams we are up against. But it is great that the stakes are raised all the way and the lads are looking forward to playing all these games and they would rather do that than train.”

Harrogate’s squad may be youthful, but it comes with a sprinkling of experience in the shape of two seasoned campaigners in John McCombe and Ben Parker.

Polish arrives on the wing in crowd favourite George Thomson, with the nous up front of Dominic Knowles complementing the brute force of Mark Beck.Chemistry is easy to spy across the pitch in a line-up that looks reassuringly well-balanced.

Captain Josh Falkingham is a hive of engine-room industry and one of Saturday’s scorers in Jack Emmett marries an insatiable work ethic with a clear box threat and looks a player who can come into his own at this time of year.

Emmett’s main contribution saw him latch onto Knowles’s astute lay-off to fire Harrogate ahead on 18 minutes. His well-stationed clearance on his goalline to deny Trinity defender Michael Jacklin early in the second half also carried weighty significance.

Lowly Gainsborough may have arrived on the back of an atrocious away run that had seen them lose their previous seven away league games and incredibly not score on the road since October, but no one could accuse them of being down at heel on Saturday.

The last side to win at Harrogate, courtesy of an FA Cup win in the autumn, Gainsborough, managed by ex-Farsley chief Lee Sinnott, posed problems with James Belshaw making key saves to deny Nathan Jarman and Ben Hinchcliffe and the home goal afforded other scares too in the first half.

But Gainsborough did not panic, with Thomson firing a shot against a post just after the break before the killer second arrived midway through the second half.

It was a moment of pure incision with Warren Burrell bursting past toiling defender Nathan Stainsfield before teeing up Beck, who slid the ball home from close range. Job done.

Harrogate Town: Belshaw; Burrell, McCombe, Kitching, Parker; Thomson (Agnew 82), Emmett, Falkingham, Leesley (Thewlis 79); Knowles (Wright 76), Beck. Unused substitutes: Cracknell, Fallowfield.

Gainsborough Trinity: Ravas; Jacklin, Evans, Stainfield, Fleming; Richards (Davie 68), Clarke, King, Walker; Hinchcliffe (Simmonds 74), Jarman. Unused substitutes: Beatson, Russell, Storey.