Hartlepool United 2 Harrogate Town 2: Howe header secures a point on the road
Callum Howe's late header earned Harrogate Town a 2-2 draw at Hartlepool United on Tuesday evening.
The club’s first away trip since promotion to the National League promised much following a strong first-half showing, but looked as if it would yield nothing as the game entered the final minute of normal time with Simon Weaver’s men a goal down.
Yet, in a reversal of fortunes from Saturday’s season-opener against Sutton United where they conceded a 2-1 advantage at the death, the Wetherby Road outfit snatched a share of the spoils when Howe headed home a Joe Leesley free-kick.
There were no goals during a lively opening 45, but that was not for the want of both teams trying.
Town saw more of the ball for the first quarter of an hour without really creating a clear opening of note, then Pools suddenly sprang into life with 16 minutes on the clock.
Town keeper James Belshaw had to dive low to his left to deal with Carl Magnay’s long-range effort, then, when the ball was recycled, the Harrogate number one made an even better block with his legs to deny Jake Cassidy.
Just moments later, the hosts came again, but Belshaw used his feet to good effect to keep out Luke James’ low shot from just inside the box.
That 30-second spell aside, the opening half an hour belonged to the visitors, however Belshaw had to come to their rescue for a fourth time, pushing away Nicky Featherstone’s curler following a swift counter-attack down the right.
It was then the turn of home custodian Scott Loach to earn his corn, parrying Dominic Knowles’ strike on the turn.
Next, Jack Muldoon ignored Liam Kitching on the overlap and blasted a low effort goalwards, but Loach made the block and then just got a hand to loose ball before Aaron Williams could pounce.
Town continued to threaten, and Josh Falkingham’s raking pass released George Thomson in space down the right. The winger cut inside and got off a shot, however, just like the two efforts that had preceded it, the hit was too close to Loach, who parried once again.
Pools began the second half strongly and had a great chance to take the lead four minutes after the resumption but Liam Noble’s goalbound effort from Mark Kitching’s cut back was deflected behind.
The hosts kept coming, however, and aided by referee Mr Johnson unwittingly getting in the way of an attempted ball out of defence and setting up another United attack, they broke the deadlock.
Noble sent the ball across goal from close to the by-line on the right side of the Harrogate area and it kicked up perfectly for Niko Muir to nod past Belshaw, just a few yards out.
With the home crowd bouncing, Pools looked to turn the screw, but Town’s response was swift and they were back on terms within seven minutes.
Falkingham found space inside the box to drill a low cross from the right to the back post where Knowles was waiting to tap-in, almost on the goal-line.
The end-to-end nature of the match continued, and after Muldoon had whipped one over the top of the home bar, United re-took the lead in the 70th minute.
It was a poor goal to concede from a Town perspective as a ball lofted into the right channel somehow dissected their back four and Cassidy found himself with a clear run in on goal.
Howe got back to challenge the Pools striker, but his shot still had enough on it to beat Belshaw at his near post and find its way into the top corner.
Conceding a second goal initially looked as if it had knocked the stuffing out of Weaver’s troops, but they dug deep and nicked a point late in the day.
From a free-kick out on the left, substitute Leesley sent a teasing ball to the far stick where centre-half Howe rose highest to head past Loach.
There was still time for Pools skipper Andrew Davies to see a header from a corner cleared off the line by Thomson, but that was the final moment of excitement and the match ended all-square.