Football: Harrogate Town 3-2 Oxford City

Shane Killock netted Town's third
Shane Killock netted Town's third

Liam Hardy bagged two goals as Harrogate Town started the firework celebrations early to see off struggling Oxford City 3-2 at the CNG Stadium.

A tepid first half had left Town’s supporters quiet and frustrated, with new loan signing Adam Mitchell offering the game’s brightest spark.

But the match sprung to life in the second half as Hardy’s brace and captain Shane Killock’s header overpowered the visitors

City found the net twice through Kayden Jackson’s wonderstrike and winger Tom Winters but their effort failed to stop them falling onto the bottom of Skrill North.

With the town’s bonfire merrymaking set to take place on the Stray hours after the match, it was perhaps fitting the match would end in such a scorching manner.

But both side’s started slowly in an error-strewn first half.

Weaver had brought Friday’s loan signing Mitchell straight into his first 11 at the expense of pacy wideman Dominic Rowe. And the winger offered Town’s fans early glimpses of his pace and trickery as he threatened full-back Declan Benjamin with every touch.

Craig Nelthorpe and Adam Nowakowski were maintained in the Town midfield by the gaffer, as Matt Bloomer was the only other change to the side that thrashed Workington 3-0, replacing suspended Leigh Franks. Midfielder Michael Woods was out injured with an Achilles problem.

Chances were at a premium in the first half. Dayle Southwell shot straight at City’s French ‘keeper Victor Francoz before veteran visiting striker Steve Basham shot narrowly wide.

Town’s passing in midfield was sloppy and the match lacked rhythm.

Matt Bloomer was on hand to clear after Craig MacGillivray spurned a cross before Hardy sidefooted straight at Francoz.

Mitchell continued to probe and he was unlucky to see his deflected shot loop over the goal on the stroke of half-time, after strong play by Southwell.

Boss Weaver sent a rocket to his side at the break, and the crowd equally rose in volume.

“Up the Town,” came the cry. And Taylor’s interchange with Dave Merris warranted an opening goal, but the left-back fired over at the Hospital End.

City substitute Marvin Richardson gave a burly presence up front, but his shameful dive when rounding Craig MacGillivray earned him a place in the referee’s book.

Weaver threw on Adam Bolder for Craig Nelthorpe and Ashley Worsfold for Southwell.

Bolder’s composed play in the midfield allowed Town to relax, and when Taylor found Hardy in the box, the in-form striker turned and blasted the ball underneath Francoz’ despairing dive.

It was only a couple of minutes before the prolific frontman doubled his tally, following up from Taylor’s saved low shot.

The Southerners, who have struggled so far this season at the lower end of the table, hit back with aplomb. Substitute Jackson, on loan from Swindon Town, blasted an eye-popping shot past Craig MacGillivray, giving the ‘keeper no opportunity to stop it.

But the goal failed to extinguish Town, and Killock rose highest to a Taylor free-kick to divert into the corner.

Towering centre forward Chris Hall nearly added a fourth minutes after his arrival but his header was nodded clear off the line.

The show was not over. The home crowd hoped there would be no big finish.

But, City probed back into the Town half, Richardson headed over when in space before jack-in-the-box winger Winters rattled MacGillivray’s crossbar.

Winters then received the ball 10 yards out and he slotted the ball past Town’s stopper.

It provided a grandstand end to the game. MacGillivray had to be at his best to deny Jaime Cook from range, before Robinson struck the foot post from a similar distance and the ball bounced clear.

Luck was on the Sulphurites’ side in a match that exploded into a spectacle after half-time.

The three points moved Weaver’s men nine points off the Skrill North play-offs in 12th as Oxford fell to the bottom.