Harrogate Town 1-1 Curzon Ashton
Three red cards were shown as Harrogate Town drew with Curzon Ashton in a feisty encounter at the CNG Stadium.
Curzon winger Joe Guest was the first man off after reacting to Paul Clayton on six minutes before Warren Burrell jumped into a heavy challenge three minutes later.
The early drama rocked both teams and goalmouth action was at a premium before Matthew Warburton gave the visitors a half-time lead with a simple finish.
Town were handed a lifeline shortly after the hour mark when Chris Rowney was red-carded for handling Danny Ellis’ goalbound header.
Substitute Brendon Daniels slotted home the resultant penalty but Town could not force a winner against the nine-men despite Jordan Thewlis steering over the bar.
Burrell’s red card was his second in a Town shirt having only joined the club from Buxton in January. He was marking his return to the fold after a three-game ban for a similar lunge in the 5-0 win over FC United of Manchester and now looks set to miss the majority of Town’s run in.
Daniels had been forced to settle for a place on the bench on his return from England C duty as Simon Weaver promoted Louie Swain to an attacking role in front of Rotherham United loanee Mason Warren.
The Town boss was without new signing Liam Hearn and right-back Lewis Turner through injury while Burrell’s predecessor Lloyd Kerry missed out with suspension.
Dominic Knowles returned to try and solve Town’s four-match goalless run, while Jack Emmett’s inclusion meant Joe Colbeck slotted in at right full-back.
Curzon, who have been a surprise package in their first season in National League North, breached the Town back line inside one minute but Jordan Wright’s cross was cleared behind by makeshift full-back Colbeck.
Then the real drama unfolded. On six minutes, referee Paul Newhouse blasted his whistle and brandished a red card to Guest. The off-the-ball incident involved Town striker Paul Clayton. Guest suggested a stamp had been directed his way but Newhouse had only seen the reaction of the Curzon winger.
Town should have been making use of their man advantage but just three minutes later, Burrell jumped through a challenge just inside the visitors’ half. Despite clearing the ball away, his follow-through saw his studs crash into Curzon midfielder Chris Rowney’s back. An ensuing melee did not help the Town man’s cause and Newhouse had to show his red card for a second time.
The feisty opening seemed to throw both sides off their stride. Town maintained a two-pronged strikeforce and left Platt, who finally secured a permanent move at Town in midweek, to fend for himself in midfield. Curzon settled into a four-four-one approach and looked better equipped for the 80 minutes ahead.
Initially, Town looked to have repositioned the better but much of the play was aerial and possession switched between the sides.
Platt flashed a shot from distance wide while Clayton mis-hit an audacious bicycle kick from Ellis’ cushioned header.
Crook had rarely touched the ball before he was picking the ball out of the net on the half hour. The lack of bodies in Town’s midfield was exploited as Wright peeled off Ellis in the right channel, bared down on goal and laid across on a plate for Warburton to tuck home.
From the goal, Town looked every bit a team that had not scored in more than 400 minutes of football and efforts to find Knowles and Clayton in space were thwarted.
Curzon had the sweeter approach but could not find another way past Ellis and Luke Foster, while Platt was emerging as a real hero of the day for Town in central midfield.
Veteran midfielder Paul Thirlwell was sent on to aid Platt after the restart as Clayton was sacrificed. But the change did little to alter the home side’s creative spark in the opening moments of the second half.
The lifeless attacking performance by Townsaw Weaver throw Daniels and Jordan Thewlis on in place of Knowles and Warren and the change brought the equaliser three minutes after the hour mark.
Daniels’ corner was powerfully met by Ellis at the back post and Newhouse spotted the use of an arm by Rowney and the midfielder was given his marching orders, much to the delight of the Town faithful still questioning his antics in the Burrell red card. Following a brief scuffle, Daniels kept his cool to slot the ball past Hakan Burton’s despairing right hand.
The match continued to be dominated by niggly fouls from the away side and Daniels forced Burton into a panic from a 30 yards but the keeper got a touch behind for a corner.
Town controlled the final half an hour but lacked punch in their attack against the nine men.
One last chance fell the way of Thewlis in injury time, but he steered Daniels’ low free-kick over the bar.
Youtube video by Tom Feaheny.