Harrogate Town 1 Carlisle United 0 : Luke Armstrong edges Sulphurites into EFL Trophy quarter-finals

Harrogate Town edged out League Two rivals Carlisle United to secure their place in the quarter-finals of the EFL Trophy.

Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 9:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 12:40 am
Luke Armstrong celebrates after firing Harrogate Town into an early lead against Carlisle United. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

Luke Armstrong's early goal proved sufficient to earn the Sulphurites a first home win since early November, but the contribution of goalkeeper Mark Oxley at the other end was also crucial on a freezing cold evening at Wetherby Road.

Simon Weaver handed debuts to Huddersfield Town loan duo Josh Austerfield and Brahima Diarra, whose arrival on deals until the end of the season was only announced an hour and 20 minutes before kick-off.

His five-month spell with York City having come to an end 24 hours earlier, striker Mark Beck was named on a four-man substitutes' bench as defenders Ryan Fallowfield, Warren Burrell and midfielder Alex Pattison joined injured attackers Simon Power and Aaron Martin and the suspended George Thomson on Town's unavailable list.

Sign up to our daily Harrogate Advertiser Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Huddersfield Town loanee Brahima Diarra made his Harrogate Town debut on Tuesday evening.

Perhaps most significantly of all, veteran centre-half Rory McArdle returned to the heart of the home back-four alongside Connor Hall as Weaver attempted to shore up a defence that has been leaking goals this term.

Despite those five changes to their starting line-up, Town got off to a fine start and were ahead after seven minutes.

Mark Howard's poor goal-kick only made it as far as Jack Muldoon on the Town right and he diverted the ball into the path of Luke Armstrong just outside the United box. He was initially dispossessed by Morgan Feeney, but managed to react quicker than anyone else and lift a deft finish over the advancing Carlisle custodian.

The visitors' response to that early blow was however positive and within two minutes of them conceding, Jack Armer had seen a low blast blocked and Feeney's header from the resulting corner struck the cross-bar.

With Town looking far from convincing in and around their penalty area, the combination of some sprawling defenders and Mark Oxley's body was then required to keep out Jon Mellish's strike.

Harrogate then began to enjoy a spell in the ascendancy, Muldoon drawing a save out of Howard, then lashing one into the side-netting before Diamond's mazy run down the left ended with him blasting high and wide from an extremely tight angle.

Seemingly in control at this stage an overly-casual bit of play by McArdle gifted United a three-on-two counter attack, though the hosts scrambled back at pace and Mellish, Sam Fishburn and Jordan Gibson all saw efforts blocked in quick succession.

The second period started and ended with Carlisle looking the more likely of the sides, with Oxley required to produce a number of big moments.

Shortly after the resumption he was forced to beat away Brennan Dickenson’s strike from distance then watched anxiously on as Josh Falkingham almost put through his own net when the ball was crossed back into the danger zone.

Diamond cleared the bar following a surging run and Armstrong's flick from an inviting right-wing centre by Muldoon brought an excellent reaction save out of Howard as Town pressed for a second, but Carlisle then began to up the ante.

Muldoon made a seriously brave block with his face to divert Gibson’s ferocious goal-bound volley to safety then Oxley had to fling himself high to his right to tip another Dickenson shot around his upright.

A suspiciously offside-looking Mellish then ran through on goal, but failed to beat the advancing Harrogate gloveman, and with that went the Cumbrians' best opportunity to save themselves.

Victory in Tuesday's last-16 tie earns Town £40,000 in prize money.