Harrogate Town 0-1 AFC Telford: Town squander key chances and fall behind in title race

Harrogate Town striker Paul Clayton was reunited with his former teammate Liam Hearn
Harrogate Town striker Paul Clayton was reunited with his former teammate Liam Hearn

New signing Liam Hearn missed a spate of golden opportunities as relegation fighting AFC Telford United rocked Harrogate Town’s automatic promotion hopes.

Telford substitute Mike Grogan headed home the only goal close to half-time as Town slipped to to successive league defeats for the first time since December.

Hearn had the best of Town’s opportunities but Bucks goalkeeper James Montgomery produced a match-winning performance for the visitors.

With AFC Fylde and North Ferriby United both clinching maximum points elsewhere, Town dropped two places to fourth in the National League North table.

Leaders Solihull Moors also collected three points to increase their advantage over Town to 12 points.

Hearn signed for Town from Lincoln City on Thursday and was thrust straight into the team by Weaver to partner former teammate Paul Clayton.

The strike duo had lit up the division at Alfreton Town in a 2010/11 season where the Midlands outfit gained promotion to the highest tier of non league football.

Joe Colbeck was the only other change to the Town starting line-up which lost 1-0 at Tamworth in midweek.

Jordan Thewlis and Jack Emmett dropped to the substitutes’ bench and were joined by Paul Thirlwell on his return from injury as well as Dominic Knowles and Luke Foster.

The Hearn-Clayton didn’t take long to show signs of rekindling its former glories and Town’s latest signing could have had a first half hat-trick.

Instead, he failed to make the most of his chances.

The first was excellently crafted. Starting from Clayton’s floated ball to the wing, Colbeck found Turner overlapping and his cross was mis-kicked at the near post by Hearn.

The former Grimsby Town striker was then given all the time to head home Brendon Daniels’ lifted cross but his downward header was stopped by Telford goalkeeper James Montgomery.

Hearn found Montgomery’s gloves five minutes later, too, after Clayton’s cushioned flick on put the forward behind the Telford defence.

Town continued to enjoy the best of the possession with Telford looking all at sea in defence. The visitors had Montgomery to thank again as Dave McGurk blasted the loose ball from a corner into the keeper’s body.

At the other end, new England C representative Peter Crook had very little to worry him in the opening half an hour. Only a stinging shot from Connor McCarthy, which thudded into his chest, caused the slightest of alarms.

Town’s intensity waned in the final 15 minutes of the first half, though, as Telford began to work the ball around nicely and Lewis Turner had to be in the right place on the post to clear Curtis Tilt’s header before

When the goal came on the stroke of the break, Telford were enjoying their best spell. Tom Platt needlessly gave away a free-kick on Town’s left, and from Lucas Dawson’s following delivery, Grogan lost marker Danny Ellis and flicked past the helpless Crook.

The substitute won another header inside Town’s box two minutes after the restart but with Crook beaten again, Lloyd Kerry scooped the ball clear off the line.

For a man with more than 100 goals in the division, Hearn will have been disappointed not to have found an equaliser ten minutes later when again finding himself beyond the away back four. His weak effort was palmed away to Colbeck on the edge of the box but the follow up was blazed narrowly over the bar.

Hearn’s debut was ended before the hour mark as Weaver threw Thewlis and Emmett on, with Colbeck also making way.

The changes didn’t provide the urgency required, despite Daniels seeing a dipping free-kick tipped excellently over the bar.

An appeal for a penalty for Telford was waved away by referee Ian Turner after the ball came close to Dave McGurk’s arm.

But it did not matter too much for the visitors, as Harrogate were unable to find a leveller in the closing minutes.

Thewlis had the best of the chances but his side-footed volley went tamely into Montgomery’s hands.