Harrogate Town 3 Braintree 1: Clinical finishing sinks the Iron

Jack Muldoon slots the ball past Braintree goalkeeper George Legg to bring Harrogate Town level just before half-time. Picture: Matt Kirkham
Jack Muldoon slots the ball past Braintree goalkeeper George Legg to bring Harrogate Town level just before half-time. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Harrogate Town fought back from a goal down to see off Braintree Town in their first National League fixture for three weeks.

After so long without a game, Simon Weaver's men weren't at their fluent best, however they still had enough in the locker to claim all three points as Jack Muldoon, George Thomson and the returning Michael Woods all finished clinically.

Town enjoyed plenty of possession during the opening period, but did very little with it in the final third, their visitors happy to go long while keeping numbers behind the ball.

Braintree skipper Joe Ellul had the clearest chance of the opening quarter of the match, though he could only head straight at home custodian James Belshaw from a third-minute right-wing corner having found himself completely unmarked.

Perhaps too often, the hosts favoured the tactic of looking for the head of big target-man Mark Beck, and although he won his fair share of flick-ons, visiting stopper George Legg remained completely untroubled.

The Iron then snatched the lead, out of nothing, with 26 minutes on the clock.

Justin Amaluzor got the better of Liam Kitching all too easily, gliding past the Harrogate left-back and into the box before cutting inside and sending a strike across Belshaw and inside the far post.

Things almost got worse moments later when Amaluzor was afforded space to pull the trigger again, this time on the right edge of the area, however Belshaw produced a fine parry to deny the Braintree man his second of the afternoon.

Town rallied, marginally, and Beck twice got on the end of balls into the box, though both of his headers ended up wide of the mark.

Then, from what was by far their best move of the first period, Weaver's men got themselves back on terms, just a minute before the interval.

Beck chested a ball down into the path of Josh Falkingham and the Harrogate skipper played Muldoon clean through on goal with a nicely-weighted first-time pass.

Town's top-scorer raced away, confidently slotting past the advancing Legg to register his eighth of the season.

That should have been that for the opening 45, but there was still time for some awful defending to allow Braintree's Luke Allen to stroll in on goal, only for the ever-alert Belshaw to race off his line and thwart the visiting attacker as he attempted to take the ball around him.

Having presumably been on the end of some strong words from Weaver during the break, Town began the second half with a much greater intensity.

Just four minutes after the resumption, the ball dropped for Muldoon around eight yards out, Legg spreading himself and making an excellent block to keep the scores level.

The lively Muldoon was involved in much that was good about the hosts' attacking play and, shortly before the hour-mark, he delivered a teasing low ball across the face of goal that Beck just couldn't get on the end of, sliding in at the far stick.

The game was then turned on its head in the 64th minute, the otherwise quiet Thomson producing an excellent finish from the edge of the penalty area.

Letting a bouncing ball run across his body and onto his left foot, he drilled an unstoppable low strike past Legg and into the bottom corner.

The Iron had a go in the closing stages, and there were a couple of nervy moments inside the home box before substitute Woods rounded things off, and in stunning fashion, three minutes into stoppage-time.

He initially nudged the ball towards Beck, who, with his back to goal, flicked an acrobatic first-time pass back into the path of the ex-Chelsea starlet, 10 yards out.

Woods, only recently returned to the CNG Stadium from Hartlepool United, then let the ball drop before crashing a crisp volley into the back of the net, capping his second debut for the club in style.