Harrogate Railway suffered a 5-0 home defeat to Pickering Town after playing well over an hour of Good Friday’s NCEL Premier Division contest with just 10 men.
Returning centre-half Mike Morris was sent off for handball on the goal-line in the 23rd minute with the game still goalless and the Pikes subsequently went on to claim a comfortable victory.
In truth, the visitors looked the better side before the Railway defender’s dismissal, but Ray Green’s team had just begun to find their feet in the minutes preceeding the red card.
Pickering enjoyed the better of the early exchanges and there were a couple of nervy moments for home goalkeeper James Webster during the opening quarter of an hour, but the Railwaymen survived unscathed.
Having seen little of the ball, the hosts eventually began to enjoy some possession, stringing some neat and tidy passes together before Henry King fired an ambitious 30-yard effort over the top of the Pikes’ crossbar.
Then, just as it looked as if they were getting to grips with their visitors, disaster struck for the Rail.
Ryan Blott sent Eddy Birch racing in on Webster’s goal, and although the stopper kept out his initial strike, Birch was first to the rebound and sent a low cross from the left side of the area across the six-yard box.
Waiting at the back post was Ged Dalton who fired goalwards, only for a combination of Morris’ chest and arm to block the ball on the line.
It was the experienced central defender’s first match back after a spell out with a knee injury, and his return was a welcome boost for the Railwaymen, but his sending off effectively ended the game as a contest.
Lewis Taylor made no mistake in converting the resulting spot-kick, and Green’s men were left facing a mountain to climb.
Things went from bad to worse for the hosts 10 minutes later when Pickering doubled their advantage after Nick Thompson was left unmarked at the far post and headed home from a right-wing cross.
It looked as if Railway might make it to half-time just two goals down, but they conceded for a third time in the 45th minute when Birch was afforded time and space to fire home from the edge of the box.
With goal difference potentially crucial to their hopes of avoiding relegation, the Starbeck outfit needed to avoid shipping a hatful in the second period, but found themselves four behind just seven minutes after the resumption.
Railway failed to defend a corner and Pikes defender George Bissett couldn’t miss as the ball fell to him in the middle of the goal just a couple of yards out.
The hosts’ best chance of a goal arrived on the hour-mark when Cameron Lyn played in Roy Fogarty, but the striker opted to take the ball around gloveman Toby Wells, was forced to wide of the target and the opportunity was gone.
Barely sixty seconds later, Pickering’s Ryan Blott showed his opposite number how it’s done when he netted his side’s fifth of the afternoon.
The visitors had further chances to add to their tally in the final quarter of the match, but a combination of some wasteful finishing and some valiant last-ditch defending meant that Webster’s net did not bulge for a sixth time.
Remarkably, despite an an 11th defeat in 12 league outings, the Rail remain 17th in the league standings, but victories for relegation rivals Parkgate and Barton Town Old Boys on Saturday mean that just three points separate Green’s charges from the drop zone.
Their fate is still however in their own hands, however, as just a point from their remaining two fixtures will guarantee survival.
What’s more, should 18th-placed Parkgate fail to beat Bridlington Town on Saturday, then Railway are safe as Parkgate and Barton Town meet on the final day of the season, making it impossible for more than one of those teams to garner enough points to overtake the men from Station View.
Next up for the Rail is a trip to Bottesford Town, on Saturday, 3pm kick-off.