Harrogate Town 1 Ebbsfleet United 2: Play-off hopes dented by late sucker punch
Harrogate Town slipped out of the National League play-off places after conceding late on against Ebbsfleet United.
Andy Drury's 87th-minute winner saw the Kent outfit snatch a 2-1 victory at the CNG Stadium on Saturday afternoon, dropping Simon Weaver's side down two positions to ninth in the table.
Without a goal in their previous couple of outings, it took the visitors just eight minutes to break the deadlock.
And it was all too easy for Michael Cheek as he rose to meet a left-wing corner and glanced a header into the back of the Harrogate net.
Buoyed by their goal, Fleet kept coming and they could easily have doubled their tally with the home defence all over the place.
Jack Payne sent a 20-yarder just past the post before Town somehow escaped unscathed after again failing to properly defend a corner.
Sam Magri was initially left unmarked at the far post and his header led to chances for Payne and Corey Whitely inside the six-yard box, though a combination of the woodwork and bodies on the line ensured that the ball stayed out.
A free-kick was then dinked over the top with the Harrogate back-four nowhere to be seen, but fortunately for the hosts, Chris Bush opted to square the ball to nobody, despite having just James Belshaw to beat.
Town finally came to life in the 23rd minute, Jack Muldoon breaking down the left and finding Jack Emmett inside the box, the latter forcing Nathan Ashmore into a fine save for a man of such a hefty build.
Warren Burrell then headed the resulting corner over the top when he should have at least hit the target.
The following 20 minutes saw Weaver's men grow into the contest and claim the ascendancy, however it was United who came closest to grabbing the game's next goal as Whitely's swerving effort from outside the box was acrobatically dealt with by Belshaw in first-half stoppage time.
The second period began with a spell of Fleet pressure, but Town managed to get back on terms in the 50th minute.
Josh Falkingham set Ryan Fallowfield away down the right and he pulled back intelligently for Muldoon to take a touch and force a strike past Ashmore at his near post.
A cute pass from captain Falkingham then sent George Thomson scampering towards the left byline from where he rolled an inviting ball back across the face of goal, though there was no-one on hand to apply a finishing touch with the net gaping.
There was little action of any real note during the remainder of the half, and the match looked to be petering out into a draw.
That was until replacement referee Anthony Tankard waved away Falkingham’s appeals for a penalty then awarded Fleet yet another soft free-kick, which eventually led to the ball being headed across goal from left to right for Drury to smash in at the back post.
Defeat leaves Town two points adrift of a play-off berth in ninth, however they do hold two games in hand on Gateshead (6th).