Goalkeeper's blunder gifts Town first point of New Year
An 89th-minute blunder by Stockport County goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe gifted Harrogate Town a late point in their New Year's Day meeting at Edgeley Park.
Simon Weaver’s men had trailed to Michael Clarke’s 63rd-minute back-post finish and looked to be heading for a repeat of Boxing Day’s 1-0 loss at the hands of their National League North play-off rivals.
That was until a minute before full-time when Chris Smalley’s seemingly innocuous back pass was completely missed by the Hatters’ stopper and trickled into the back of the net.
Weaver made one change from County’s recent visit to The CNG Stadium; handing a fifth start of the season to youngster Marcus Day in place of James Cadman.
Jim Gannon would have been the happier manager following his side’s 1-0 win, but still made one alteration to his starting XI, bringing in match-winner Courtney Medden-Walters.
Both sides managed to work the opposing ‘keeper in the opening 10 minutes with Stockport’s Danny Lloyd and Town’s JP Pittman hitting the target.
The County winger looked lively in the opening exchanges and forced another save moments later at Crook’s near post.
Pittman then again took his turn to hit the target as the frontman collected a pass from Louie Swain and struck powerfully at Hinchliffe on his right foot.
With four minutes to go until the interval, Simon Ainge was introduced in place of Luke Shiels, and was sent straight into the thick of the action blocking what looked like a goalbound effort.
The centre-half then repeated the trick on the stroke of half-time, keeping out Jimmy Ball’s volley with a typically wholehearted block.
Lloyd again threatened at the start of the second 45 as his shot deflected behind, just as Day’s well-hit effort rebounded fortunately into the arms of Hinchliffe minutes later.
After a good spell of Town pressure, the visitors had Crook to thank for keeping the score level as the stopper pulled off an incredible save to keep Lloyd’s strike from nestling in the bottom corner.
There was nothing Crook could do when the opening goal eventually arrived though, as Clarke bundled in a deep corner at the back post after 63 minutes.
Weaver immediately rolled the dice with the introduction of Andi Thanoj and Chib Chilaka, though it was Pittman who again went close for the visitors, firing into the side netting.
Just as it looked as Town were heading for a second 1-0 defeat in the space of six days, Smalley’s back pass was completely missed by Hinchliffe and ended up in the back of the home net.