The final nail in the coffin was hammered down for Harrogate Town’s play-off ambitions, as Guiseley won the Yorkshire derby 2-0 at Nethermoor Park on Tuesday evening.
Two first-half headers ensured Guiseley maintained their late push for a top five Skrill North spot and more importantly, ended Town’s.
Jake Lawlor powered past Town stopper Craig MacGillivray before Adam Boyes put toothless Town to bed on the stroke of half-time.
Simon Weaver’s men have picked up just three points out of a possibly 15 in their last five games.
With just three matches left, the Sulphurites are 11 points adrift of where they set their seasonal targets.
Significantly, Weaver chose Michael Woods and Adam Bolder to start in a midfield trio with Craig Nelthorpe, after the pair made a valuable contribution from the bench in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Leamington.
Woods was injured in the Boxing Day reverse when Lions midfielder Danny Boshell landed a painful lunge. And the same player left Woods limping again in the first-half this time around. He was then lucky to escape with just yellow after shoving Nelthorpe in the face.
However, Town were already trailing at that point.
After a lively start from the visitors, they failed to deal with a straightforward set-piece. And towering midfielder Jake Lawlor powered a header from Wayne Brooksby’s cross past the helpless MacGillivray.
Former Chelsea man Woods looked rusty in his link-up play with lone forward Ashley Worsfold, while Liam Hardy was often a forlorn figure cast out on the right wing.
Several niggly fouls were committed throughout the Town team and frustration etched across faces when passes went, too often, awry.
Guiseley frontman Alex Johnson should have made Town pay as he found space to shoot, but he lashed only fresh air with Dwayne Samuels in close attendance.
Hardy blazed Town’s only meaningful effort of the first period over the bar, after a rare foray into the Guiseley penalty area.
Another misplaced pass led to Guiseley second on the stroke of half-time. Matt Bloomer’s clearance fell straight at the feet of Lion’s midfielder Boshell, and two passes later, former York City striker Adam Boyes rose well to nod into the corner.
Disgusted with his side’s half, Weaver made two tactical changes at the break, with Woods and Nelthorpe surrendered and replaced by Anton Brown and Dom Rowe.
Brown added an instant urgency to the midfield but Guiseley looked more likely to trouble the scorekeepers.
Former Town man Danny Forrest sent in a deep free-kick on 46 minutes, which Lawlor headed down and Danny Ellis swung acrobatically wide.
Clayton and Worsfold never stopped running for the Town cause, and the former caused problems with his devilish left-footed set-piece deliveries.
One such ball curled onto the head of Hardy, who directed it smack onto the crossbar with home goalkeeper Steven Drench beaten.
Given their lifeline, Guiseley again found a hole in Town’s defence but Boyes failed to capitalise as he plundered a drive into the legs of MacGillivray.
Boyes should have doubled his tally again when he met Rhys Maynell’s floated cross but his header went narrowly wide.
Clayton was given a late rest after his illustrious, but unsuccessful evening’s work, and young Alex Metcalfe was handed five minutes to shine.
The talent, who has played most of the season with Harrogate Railway, gave a late positive for boss Weaver.
With panache, he cut inside one defender before unleashing a powerful low shot which Drench was equal to.
And afterwards, Weaver condemned the injuries that had ruined his end of season plans.
He said: “Two balls in the box and two headers that we didn’t deal with. It’s really disappointing not to come away with anything in that second-half. We changed it to 4-4-2 from 4-3-3 and we had a lot of possession but we couldn’t hurt them.
“We lack height. With the absentees, we got out-muscled in the box a few times and that was the difference between the two teams.
“Second half, we had a few efforts and you couldn’t really separate the teams. I didn’t fault the players second-half, but first-half we looked back to flaky midfield and no edge.
“I would have backed the team that I wanted to put out. I think we would have been physically strong. We beat Altrincham, Hednesford, Solihull and Ferriby. We know we can beat the top teams. I genuinely think we would be still up there if we hadn’t had the heart of it ripped out.
“I’m not naming the settled team that I was before. We are not at the same level as we were.
“You can’t legislate for people being absent. First half we just didn’t get anywhere. We played three in the middle and we didn’t get anywhere near their two. We didn’t cause any problems, we didn’t drive at them.”
“We were playing pretty artistic players but we were not hurting the opposition. That’s frustrating because second-half last week we did so we went with it.
“Because of the lack of movement and real possession it left Ashley (Worsfold) isolated and it shouldn’t do. We should have five attacking in that system. It ended up just one.
“I had to make the changes. I thought they were right at half-time. We needed to breathe new life into it. It was a derby game and no one had made a tackle.
“It made a difference because we were as good, if not better, than Guiseley in the second-half. It didn’t turn into many chances but I can’t remember them having many chances in the 90 minutes either.”