Harrogate had to settle for a losing bonus point after Saturday’s 15-17 defeat to Chester but coach Mike Aspinall deemed it a “massive improvement” on their previous outing.
His troops had been outplayed and outmuscled seven days earlier at Sedgley Park, however despite today’s final score, Harrogate turned in a far more adept performance in a game they dominated for long spells.
Chester edged them in finishing and defence, but ultimately, it could have gone either way until the very kick of the game.
Harrogate made a breakneck start to the contest, quickly into Chester territory and when the visitors strayed offside, Joe Rowntree kicked Gate into an early three-point lead.
Rowntree could have tagged a second from halfway but although the distance was good,it drifted wide.
Two missed lineouts handed Chester their first attack, and then from a scrum they applied extra pressure and a deft kick took them within yards of the Harrogate line.
A pressure relieving kick from Callum Irvine released the tension.
Chester gifted Harrogate another penalty, but a break by Irvine released Lewis Minikin, who was brought down short of the line.
Another Irvine break set up winger Steve Parsons in front of the posts but Chester’s defence was quick to the danger and with no support the chance was gone.
Harrogate were applying most of the pressure but having failed to make it count, Chester went ahead with a converted try.
A break by centre Tom Foden was carried on by flanker Andy Moore. A missed tackle then allowed winger Pete Rees to steal in unchallenged over on the left, the try converted by Luke Gray.
With seven minutes left, and despite having forced a vital turnover which led to a Harrogate attacking drive, skipper Jake Brady was sent to the bin for using his knee and on the stroke of half time, Gray booted a penalty given against Harrogate for ‘hands in’ to take the visitors seven points clear.
It wasn’t an entirely fair reflection on the action up to that point, but Harrogate needed to find a way through the chain mail-like defence of their visitors.
Back up to a full compliment five minutes after the restart, Harrogate attempted to assert their trademark brand of fast running rugby, winger Harry Parrish taking them within reach of the line.
But a dancing run through the middle by full back Sean Green split the defence, and a catastrophic series of missed tackles gifted him a try right under the posts, Gray adding the extras.
It took 20 more minutes for Harrogate to pick the lock.
An Irvine break took them into Chester’s 22, and his offload to Parsons saw the winger within reach of the line.
He was tackled, but number eight Tim Heaton picked up and drove over in the corner, before Irvine tagged the conversion.
Chester went down to 14 when lock Ross White was sent to the bin, and Gate had their chance with a lineout 10 metres out.
From a series of forward drives, Sam Brady eventually barged his way over to move Harrogate within two points of Chester.
Irvine slipped taking the conversion but it was all Harrogate now and they had time to do it.
But a hammer blow arrived when Gate lost Sam Brady to a red card for stamping.
To their credit Harrogate worked hard to keep going, and after a superb driving maul took them to the line, a Chester infringement handed Irvine a last minute penalty.
Sadly, it pulled wide and hopes of a late victory vanished.
“It was touch and go all the way through,” said Aspinall.
“I felt we had bossed the first 20 minutes but we didn’t have too many points to show for it.
“When they got some pressure they got the points, and that was the difference.
“First half, they got what I’d call a gimme try when the winger scored, and then like you find when most top teams, it comes down to bits and bobs at the end of the game, like a red card.
“I was proud of the way we stuck to the game plan, how we came back into the game.
“But it’s those finer points at the end of the game we’ve got to look at.
“We’ve got to keep a clear head when the pressure’s on. It shouldn’t come down to a kick at the end of the game.
“But it was a massive improvement on last week. Now it’s a case of looking at those finer details.”
Harrogate:L Minikin, Parsons, Dench, Rowntree (Edwards 58), Parrish, Irvine, Wickham (Matthews 52), Metcalfe, Yorke, Browne (Reaveley 62), J Brady, S Brady, Wilson (Adair 52), Smith (N Minikin 62); Heaton
Chester: Green, Rees, Foden, Nelson, Evans (Jeffers 65), Gray, Mitchell, Woods, Gill, Whitelock-Wainwright (Fitzgerald 65), Mackenzie, White, Bown, Moore, Ford; Not used Sherlock, Williams