Harrogate Town missed the opportunity to take the National League North title race into the final day of the season when they lost out 3-1 at Bradford Park Avenue.
Leaders Salford City’s surprise home defeat to Southport meant that victory for Simon Weaver’s side would have left them in with a chance of nicking top spot when they host Curzon Ashton next weekend, but it was not to be.
Town were never at their best in Saturday’s Yorkshire derby clash and despite Jake Wright’s late goal, back-to-back losses mean that Salford are promoted to the National League as champions and that the men from Wetherby Road will have to settle for a play-off spot.
Such is their superior goal-difference, just a point from their meeting with Curzon will be enough to secure second place in the table ahead of Brackley Town, meaning that Weaver’s team will enjoy home advantage in next month’s play-offs.
“We’ve had a cracking year. We’d have certainly taken this position in the summer,” the Town boss reflected.
“The lads have adapted to going full-time, the club has, and at times we’ve been a joy to watch.
“We can look forward to the play-off games and try and earn promotion through the play-offs now.
“The last thing you want is for it to fizzle out, so I think it’s important that we respond next weekend [against Curzon] because you always want momentum [going into the play-offs].
“We need to focus on ourselves, get people refreshed in the week and come out fighting next Saturday. They’re all up for it, that’s for sure. We’ll be champing at the bit.”
Town fell behind at the Horsfall Stadium with 25 minutes on the clock as Adam Boyes was able to send a header up and over James Belshaw from a corner.
The Avenue lead was doubled shortly after the hour-mark when the visitors committed numbers forward to attack a free-kick and a swift break ended with former Harrogate loanee Frank Mulhern finishing at the far post.
Wright gave Town hope with six minutes left of normal time, reacting first to finish after Steve Drench parried Dominic Knowles’ strike, but Bradford wrapped up the points in the closing stages through Boyes’ second.
“To be fair to Bradford, they deserved the three points,” Weaver added.
“The first goal was a big one for them, and it would have been for us if we’d have scored it because it was a tight affair as you’d expect in a derby against a good team.
“We lost our shape in the second half and got a little bit stretched later on where they scored their third because we tried to commit a lot of attacking bodies forward.
“We just haven’t been ourselves in the last two games, maybe because it’s so close to the end of the fixture list before the play-offs and I’m disappointed that we’ve had a blip, but we’ve had a good chat in the changing room.”