Leesley’s late strike sends Town into next round of Trophy

Joe Leesley is congratulated after netting a late winner against Darlington. Picture: Town Pix
Joe Leesley is congratulated after netting a late winner against Darlington. Picture: Town Pix

Joe Leesley’s 90th-minute winner ensured that Harrogate Town progressed to the FA Trophy first round at the expense of National League North rivals Darlington.

After an uneventful first 45 minutes, the contest sparked into life after the break and a whirlwind second period ensued, the sides sharing four goals before Leesley decided matters late on.

Town boss Simon Weaver handed a debut to on-loan Guiseley striker Frank Mulhern, while Louie Swain was involved in the first team squad for the first time since March following eight months out injured.

Darlington made a bright start to the contest on what was a bitterly cold night at Blackwell Meadows, though neither side could create any meaningful early chances.

It took until the 23rd minute for the contest’s first shot to arrive, but Luke Trotman’s effort never looked like troubling visiting gloveman james Belshaw.

Harrogate midfielder Liam Agnew tried his luck from 30 yards five minutes before half-time, but couldn’t hit the target as the referee brought an uneventful first half to a close.

Five minutes after the re-start, Darlo’s Greg Mills raced into the Town area before being brought to the ground, allowing Reece Styche to coolly convert the subsequent penalty to hand his side the lead.

Town were then awarded a spot-kick of their own just five minutes later as Josh Falkingham cleverly flicked the ball into the path of Jordan Thewlis, who was brought down by Wilczynski, allowing Leesley to level things up from 12 yards.

Shortly afterwards, on-loan Bradford City defender Lachlan Barr marked his Town debut with a goal and turned the contest on its head, the towering centre-half heading home Leesley’s right wing cross.

If the first half was dull, the second period turned out to be anything but, and the score could have been 2-2 after 61 minutes if Styche had not missed a sitter at the far post.

The hosts needed a goal to keep their Trophy hopes alive, but Town were next to try their luck as both Mulhern and George Thomson went close.

Darlington remained in the contest and did eventually get back on terms when Styche bundled his way in behind the Town defence and finished low past Belshaw with 82 minutes on the clock.

The tie looked to be heading to a replay until the 90th minute when Leesley darted to the near post to meet Thomson’s corner and sealed a 3-2 success.