FA Cup exit for Town

Simon Weaver's Harrogate Town exited the FA Cup at the hands of FC Halifax Town
Simon Weaver's Harrogate Town exited the FA Cup at the hands of FC Halifax Town

Harrogate Town failed to rise to the big occasion as they exited the FA Cup at the hands of Yorkshire rivals FC Halifax Town.

A place in the first round proper and a potential meeting with Football League opposition awaited the victors of the tie, yet Town never managed to find top gear and were second best for long periods on a day where little went right for boss Simon Weaver.

Leading goalscorer JP Pittman limped off with a first-half injury, before a huge deflection handed Halifax a 69th-minute lead.

Simon Ainge was then dismissed for a scarely-deserved second yellow card, while referee Mr Khatib also waved away three Harrogate claims for a penalty, when at least one of them should have been awarded.

Yet, despite their obvious misfortune over the course of the 90 minutes, it’s difficult to make a case for Weaver’s men deserving anything from the game.

They played well within themselves on the day and Halifax were the better side overall, certainly creating the better chances in the final third of the pitch where games are won and lost.

Just 11 minutes were on the clock when the visitors almost went in front, albeit in bizarre circumstances.

Ainge’s attempted clearance from the edge of his own box struck Jordan Sinnott and looped over the head of Peter Crook in the home goal. Fortunately for the hosts, the spin on the ball saw it bounce against a post rather than into the back of the net.

This seemed to stir Harrogate into life and they went straight down the other end of the pitch and fired a warning shot across the Halifax bows.

Joe Leesley did brilliantly down the left and whipped a dangerous low cross to the back post, but Andy Gascoigne just couldn’t quite get on the end of it, despite being at full-stretch.

Crook was forced into his first save of the game on 18 minutes when Josh MacDonald worked his way into the Harrogate box after a good turn of pace, but he shot tamely and straight at the home gloveman.

David Lynch then curled an effort over the top from the edge of the area as Halifax continued to press.

With the half-hour mark approaching, Harrogate began to grow into the game, only to be hit with a huge blow when Pittman went down clutching his ankle.

The club’s top-scorer tried to run it off, but was soon replaced by Jack Emmett, with Leesley pushed up front.

The first half ended with little further incident, although Joe Colbeck did give the Shaymen a scare when he lashed a strike just over the bar from 15 yards after the ball broke to him following a scramble in the box.

Harrogate needed to begin the second period better than they did the first, but almost found themselves behind after 48 minutes when Richard Peniket was afforded time and space inside the penalty area to pick his spot, only for the visiting number nine to fire wide of the target.

Although slightly improved after the break, Weaver’s side were still struggling to find their usual fluency on the ball. Too often they went long, and without a recognised striker up front to hold the ball up, it just kept coming back at them.

Tom Platt was introduced in place of the largely anonymous Gascoigne as the hosts looked to shake things up, but it was the visitors who continued to look the bigger threat.

Liam King burst into the home box, but his strike was well-saved by Crook, diving low to his right.

When Halifax eventually took the lead on 69 minutes, it was courtesy of a fortuitous goal, but one that felt like it had been coming.

Sinnott was afforded too much time on the ball 20 yards out, and although it appeared his well-struck effort was heading wide of the target, a huge deflection off the outstretched leg of Paul Thirlwell looped the ball past the wrong-footed Crook and into the net.

Harrogate tried to force their way back into the game, but got little change out of the Shaymen’s stubborn rearguard.

Things then went from bad to worse for the hosts when Ainge was sent for an early bath.

Thirlwell lost possession inside his own half, allowing substitute Jake Hibbs a run at Harrogate’s other centre-half, covering on the edge of his own area.

The Halifax man knocked the ball around the defender then ran straight into him, Ainge merely standing his ground, in no way obliged to move out of his opponent’s path.

Despite having let a number of similar incidents go unpunished over the course of the previous 88 minutes, Mr Khatib brandished a yellow card in the direction of Ainge, then followed it with a red.

With nothing to lose, the shackles finally came off, and Harrogate bombarded the away box in the final minutes of the match.

One such attack saw Nathan Hotte blatantly handle the ball near his own penalty spot, but once again the match official’s interpretation of the laws of the game will have left the home players and fans frustrated.

With just seconds of added time remaining, Crook advanced well out of his goal in attempt to pump another long diagonal into the visitors’ area.

Unfortunately for him, he could only slice the ball straight up in the air where it was seized upon by Hibbs who showed great technique to find the back of the ungaurded home net from near the halfway line, ending Harrogate’s FA Cup dream for another season.