Battle of National League North’s top two ends all-square

Joe Leesley was on target as Harrogate Town and Brackley played out a 1-1 draw at the CNG Stadium. Picture: Town Pix
Joe Leesley was on target as Harrogate Town and Brackley played out a 1-1 draw at the CNG Stadium. Picture: Town Pix

National League North’s top two sides could not be separated on Saturday afternoon as Harrogate Town and Brackley Town played out a 1-1 draw at the CNG Stadium.

Two goals in the opening 10 minutes suggested supporters were in for a classic, though both teams’ defences shone for the remainder of the game to ensure that their records remain identical and Simon Weaver’s men continue to lead the way at the summit on goal-difference.

Boss Weaver made just one change from Bank Holiday Monday’s 1-0 win at Blyth Spartans as Jack Vann made his first start for the club in place injured top scorer Simon Ainge.

Brackley needed just three minutes to take the lead as Lee Ndlovu lost his marker close to the left by-line and tried to beat James Belshaw at his near post, only for the keeper’s save to fall into the path of Aaron Williams for an easy finish.

The hosts responded six minutes later though, Jordan Thewlis’ strike bouncing back off the crossbar and into the path of George Thomson who pulled back for Joe Leesley to sneak in the equaliser at the near post.

With the visiting defence having conceded just twice all season, and Harrogate having kept back-to-back clean-sheets, the early goals came as a surprise, though Shane Byrne and Thomson could not add to the scoreline as their respective efforts at opposie ends of the pitch ended up off target.

With half an hour gone, Town midfielder Josh Falkingham began to stamp his authority on the contest and saw his right-footed shot from 25 yards saved by Danny Lewis.

Brackley were then dealt a blow 10 minutes before half-time as their own leading scorer James Armson pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury and was swiftly replaced.

Despite this setback, the lively Ndlovu was afforded the chance to give the away side the lead before the interval, but fired over after a clearance fell at his feet.

Seven minutes into the second period it was Brackley’s turn to strike the goal frame as a low cross resulted in Town centre-half Terry Kennedy diverting the ball against his own post.

Moments before the hour-mark, Kennedy almost made his mark in the opposition box, but headed Thomson’s free-kick over the top having outmuscled his marker.

Harrogate created another chance 10 minutes later when Ryan Fallowfield’s low centre was teed up for Thomson by Thewlis, but the former FC United of Manchester man could not keep his shot down.

The hosts enjoyed plenty more possession in the final quarter of an hour but Brackley’s defensive unit stood firm and limited Weaver’s side to few sights of goal, ensuring that the spoils were shared.