Railway begin league campaign with home win over Athersley

Harrogate Railway goalkeeper James Webster produced a man of the match performance to help his side to victory over Athersley Recreation. Picture: Craig Dinsdale

It is not just Harrogate Town who are benefiting from the start of a new era at the beginning of the 2017/18 season.

Simon Weaver’s team sit top of the National League North standings having won their opening two fixtures following a switch to full-time, professional football.

Yet Harrogate Railway, now under the stewardship of club stalwart and former captain Liam Gray, have kicked-off the new campaign in similarly impressive vein.

The Starbeck outfit lost 12 of their last 14 league fixtures of 2016/17, conceding 60 goals in the process and almost ended up getting relegated from the NCEL Premier Division.

They began their pre-season preparations considerably later than most due to Gray not being appointed manager until the second week of June, yet they too have managed to secure a pair of victories in as many games.

Despite finding themselves 2-0 down in Saturday’s FA Cup extra preliminary round clash at Thackley they showed great character to come back and win 4-3, before following that success up with another in their opening league encounter.

Athersley Recreation were the visitors to Station View on Wednesday evening, and although they did their very best to bully Gray’s charges off the park, the Penguins headed back to South Yorkshire on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline.

Railway showed a few nerves during the opening exchanges, but attempted to play football from the off.

The opening quarter of an hour was a fairly even affair, with the visitors looking a threat on the counter-attack.

It was however the hosts who took the lead in the 20th minute when right-winger Adam Carter burst onto a loose ball in the Athersley box, took a touch and then placed an effort confidently past the advancing Jordan Greave in the away goal.

Recreation came close to getting back on terms immediately, but home stopper James Webster showed fantastic reactions to tip a strike from distance over the top of his crossbar.

He then made another good save as Athersley continued to press from the resulting corner, before play switched to the other end and Railway’s debutant wideman Anees Younis rattled the woodwork with a swerving 25-yard effort that had Greave grasping at thin air.

Will Hutton shot wide, Carter saw an effort blocked inside the six-yard box and Luke Stewart came close with a header as the home team continued to threaten, but there were no more goals before half-time.

Railway were quickly out of the blocks in the second period, however, and the new half was barely a minute old when they doubled their lead.

Hutton did brilliantly down the right flank, skipping past two defenders before crossing from close to the byline and picking out Younis who finished emphatically at the back post.

Gray’s troops looked comfortable at 2-0, but Athersley pulled a goal back somewhat against the run of play with 61 minutes on the clock when Luke Walker got in behind the home defence and took the ball around Webster before firing in.

The visitors sensed that there might be a route back into the match, but Railway’s third of the night extinguished any hopes of a comeback in the 70th minute.

Mendes Fernandes won a crucnching 50/50 inside his own half before setting fellow substitute Elliott Williams clean through on goal and the striker kept his cool, shooting past the despairing dive of Greave.

Webster then produced another impressive save, again tipping the ball over the top to keep his side’s two-goal cushion intact.

Younis struck the woodwork for a second time when his 20-yard free-kick came back off a post in injury-time, but Railway had already done more than enough to seal the points.

Harrogate Advertiser man of the match: James Webster. A number of important saves from the youngster proved vital.

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