Harrogate were unable to get their glorious season back on track on Saturday, losing 20-21 to well-organised visitors Percy Park at a fog-shrouded Claro Road.
Mike Aspinall’s troops saw their unbeaten run ended at Chester last week, and were hoping to get back to winning ways this weekend against the side just below them in the table.
Expecting a tough game, Harrogate hoped their superior home record would fire them back to victory in National Three North but were without key players such as skipper Jimmy Browne and hooker Aarin Yorke.Flanker Tim Heaton turned out for his 100th league appearance in a Harrogate shirt while Aspinall took up a spot on the bench after recovering from a shoulder injury.
Thick fog at Claro Road made for a tricky and low scoring encounter. Visibility was utterly dreadful - it was almost impossible to see the other side of the pitch.
And with referee Hatim Tall a central figure making for a very stop-start encounter the teams simply exchanged penalties in the first half.
Harrogate enjoyed a good early spell of pressure, and were awarded a penalty five minutes in. Fly half Callum Irvine opted to kick for the corner but Harrogate knocked on after the lineout and were unable to push men forward for the try.
But despite going close again after Max Lewis barged his way through the centre towards the line, hooker Steve Maycock was then yellow carded for a tackle. Harrogate then strayed offside to hand Park a penalty which fly half Ashley Smith slotted with ease.
Harrogate had chance to make amends with a penalty of their own two minutes later. Unfortunately Irvine’s kick hit and bounced off the left hand post.
Park looked the more likely to score the first try, wing Liam Blackburn breaking upfield after another interception. Harrogate’s defence held firm to deny him but Park unleashed wave after wave of attack, largely marshalled by impressive full back Michael Stephenson.
With half an hour gone, Harrogate were awarded a penalty for Park crossing, Irvine again choosing to kick for the corner and push for the try.
Under pressure the move from the lineout didn’t work, but Park were penalised again after an offence in the scrum and Irvine had another shot at goal.
He kicked it but only a minute later, Park were gifted another penalty after Harrogate strayed offside Park went into the break 3-6 ahead.
With Mike Aspinall installed at full back, Harrogate made a good start to the second half, winning their lineouts and exerting pressure on their hosts.
But Park wrestled back possession, and after a great break and kick over the top by full back Stephenson, Blackburn received the pass out wide to cross the whitewash for the first try of the afternoon, converted by Smith.
Harrogate kept their composure, and Park were making just as many mistakes, Stu Wilson sent to the bin as Irvine reducing the arrears with another penalty as Harrogate battled to force their way back into the match.
But Park were awarded a questionable penalty after Harrogate were deemed to be crossing. Despite the kick being taken just inside the half way line, and despite hitting the upright, Smith’s kick bounced over.
Harrogate refused to give up, a great Aspinall break putting centre Pete Wackett over the line under the posts. Irvine converted and Harrogate were just three points behind.
But straight from the kick off, Harrogate missed vital tackles out wide and Park’s George Lewis strolled in in at the corner.
Smith failed to tag the conversion but Harrogate were now 13-21 behind.
However, all was not lost as a beautiful turn of pace from Wackett out wide put wing Oliver Denton in for Harrogate’s second try of the afternoon, converted by Irvine.
With only minutes remaining, Denton broke upfield again but was tackled into touch just shy of the line.
A glimmer of get-out-of-jail hope arrived in the dying seconds when Harrogate were awarded a penalty right in front of the sticks.
Sadly in the encroaching fog, Irvine booted it wide and Park took the victory while the hosts could only make do with a bonus point.
SEE team manager Graham Siswick’s thoughts on our post-match video.
National Two North
Percy Park 21
Harrogate: Rob Almond, Noel Minikin, Kyle Dench, Peter Wackett, Oliver Denton; Calllum Irvine, Phil Wickham; Dan Metcalfe, Steve Maycock, Ben Innes, Tom Harvey, Max Lewis, Jacob Brady, Tim Heaton, Chris Wilson; Mike Aspinall, Nathan Smith, Domm Musetti
Percy Park: Michael Stephenson, James Brid, Ali Blair, Adam Morton, Liam Blackburn; Ashley Scott, John Scott, Alan Blakey, Jonny Dubois, Joe Wafer, Michael Langlands, James Ponton, Hamish Lockwood, Jack Davidson, Brett Sylph; Michael Birkett, George Lewis, Stu Wilson