Two stunning strikes from the right boot of Joe Leesley weren’t quite enough to seal Harrogate Town’s progress into the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy.
Simon Weaver’s side were held to a 2-2 draw by Isthmian Premier Division leaders Billericay Town at the CNG Stadium on Saturday, setting up a replay in Essex on Tuesday evening.
“We can have no complaints, the scoreline reflected the game and it’s a fair result for both teams,” Weaver said.
“We scored two of the best through Joe [Leesley], again, but we shouldn’t be scoring two to draw a game, we should be building on those magic moments to go on and dominate the match.
“Credit to the opposition though, they closed us down and harried us all day long and made it hard for us.
“The first half was an average performance at best. Second half I thought that there was a bit more space to pass it around but we didn’t fully take advantage of that.
“Goals change games. Billericay were spirited and got the second and suddenly it was a typical cup tie and end-to-end.”
The Blues may play they their football a tier below National League North Harrogate, but there was absolutely nothing to choose between the sides on Saturday afternoon.
Town certainly enjoyed more of the ball, but it was Billericay who looked to carry the greater threat, particularly during the first half where their pace on the counter-attack caused all sorts of problems.
Home stopper James Belshaw was forced into action as early as the third minute, saving well to deny 41-goal striker Jake Robinson when he burst through following a lightning quick raid.
With 10 minutes on the clock, the visitors took the lead. Ex-Premier League star Jamie O’Hara clipped a diagonal ball into the box from the left, Belshaw came to punch but got nowhere near it and giant centre-half Rob Swaine nodded into the unguarded net.
The Town response was instantaneous. Less than 60 seconds later, Leesley came in off the left flank and shifted the ball onto his right foot just inside the area before sending a glorious curling effort across goal and into the far corner of the net.
Ben Parker got forward from left-back to shoot over the bar for the hosts, but it was Billericay that looked the more likely to add to their tally during the opening 45 minutes.
Robinson fired wide of the near post from close range before chesting down a long ball and forcing Belshaw to tip his 20-yard snap-shot around the upright.
Town were better after the break and, as the visitors dropped deeper, Weaver’s side began to take charge.
A dangerous ball across the six-yard box from the right somehow evaded Simon Ainge with the goal at his mercy, but found its way to Leesley, close to the byline on the left side of the area.
In similar fashion to his first goal, but from a more acute angle, the winger opened up his body and sent a curling right-footed effort just inside the far post for a 2-1 lead in the 63rd minute.
Buoyed by taking the lead, Town started to play with a bit more freedom, but with 20 minutes to go Billericay got back on terms.
A good save by Belshaw at his near post after the home side failed to deal with a free-kick into the box saw the visitors earn a left-wing corner that again wasn’t defended properly.
The ball was headed goalwards and then nodded into the bottom corner of the net by Adam Cunnington, 10 yards out.
As the contest opened up, Robinson was denied for the third time by Belshaw, the keeper parrying superbly at his near post at point-blank range after Ricky Modeste’s incisive run and pass had found the Blues striker well placed.
Town then should have won the game in the 83rd minute, but Terry Kennedy was unable to convert with the goal gaping.
Ainge’s knock down from a lofted pass into the box caused chaos in the Billericay defence and, following a scramble, Kennedy was able to stab an effort towards the empty net, only to see it rebound off a post and roll across the goal-line.