Tranmere Rovers 1 Harrogate Town 1: First-ever game as an EFL club ends in shoot-out success

Harrogate Town's first-ever competitive fixture as a Football League club ended in dramatic fashion.

Saturday, 5th September 2020, 5:29 pm
Updated Sunday, 6th September 2020, 12:16 pm
Josh Falkingham celebrates with Lloyd Kerry during Harrogate Town's Carabao Cup victory over Tranmere Rovers. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Having come from behind to draw 1-1 with Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park, Simon Weaver's team emerged victorious from Saturday's Carabao Cup first-round clash courtesy of a thrilling penalty shoot-out success.

And although the two teams could not be separated inside 90 minutes, Town's eventual triumph was richly-deserved following an impressive showing against a club who were playing their football two tiers above them last term.

Rovers may eventually have been relegated from League One after 2019/20 was abandoned due to the coronavirus crisis, but three wins from their last three fixtures before lockdown suggested that had the campaign continued, they would likely have survived.

Jack Muldoon in action at Prenton Park.

Undaunted, last term's National League play-off winners took the game to their hosts at every opportunity, creating much the better chances on the afternoon before eventually holding their nerve when it came down to spot-kicks.

Harrogate's performance in the back yard one of the bookies' favourites for promotion bodes well for their debut year in League Two, while the fact that they picked up where they left off last season in terms of being brave enough to play their own game and ultimately finding a way to get the job done will also leave boss Weaver satisfied.

There was in truth very little between the sides during the opening period, though it was Town who looked the more likely without ever really managing to test home custodian Scott Davies.

Jack Muldoon produced two inviting right-wing deliveries that were begging to be finished at the far post, before the same player flashed a diving header wide after meeting Ryan Fallowfield's cross from the same flank.

It was their trademark slick passing play that enabled Harrogate to get into positions where they could threaten the home goal, while by comparison, Rovers looked somewhat less fluent in possession.

The only time that the Wirral outfit really threatened was nine minutes before the interval when Corey Blackett-Taylor raided at pace down the left and blasted an effort past Joe Cracknell's near upright.

Rovers did however up their game after the break and seized the ascendancy during the early stages of the second period, though Lee O'Connor's sliced finish from their clearest opening was all they had to show for their efforts.

And it wasn't long before Town came back at the home side, George Thomson shooting straight at Davies from the edge of the box, before Muldoon fully extended the Tranmere custodian with a curling strike.

With Weaver's men enjoying something of a purple patch, they were then hit by a 62nd-minute sucker punch at the other end as former Everton striker James Vaughan seized on Fallowfield's under-hit back-pass, coolly rounded Cracknell and slid the ball into an empty net.

The response to that set-back was however impressive, and having immediately got back on the front foot, Harrogate levelled matters on 69 minutes.

It was Lloyd Kerry who netted his team's first-ever goal as an EFL club, slotting a left-footed finish past Davies at his near post from the edge of the Rovers area.

With the contest opening up a little in the closing stages, Town survived a couple of spills of the ball by Cracknell before going on to finish very much on top.

Muldoon planted an effort narrowly over the bar following an incisive burst forward by centre-half Will Smith, then Josh Falkingham's 25-yarder drew a fine diving save from Davies.

The visitors continued to turn the screw, delivering a number of late crosses into the box, but were unable to find a finishing touch, and with 90 minutes up, the match went to penalties.

With the scores tied at 7-7 in an enthralling shoot-out which ebbed and flowed, it was eventually left to skipper Falkingham to step up and fire Harrogate into the second round of the competition and on towards yet another historic first.

Tranmere: Davies; O'Connor, Clarke, Monthe, MacDonald; Khan, Lewis (Banks 63), Spearing, Blackett-Taylor (Morris 42); Vaughan, Ferrier (Payne 61). Substitutes not used: Murphy, Ridehalgh, Nelson, Ellis.

Harrogate: Cracknell; Fallowfield, Smith, Hall, Burrell; Thomson, Falkingham, Kerry, Walker (Stead 73); Martin (Beck 82), Muldoon. Substitutes not used: Emmett, Kiernan, Kirby, Lokko.

Referee: T. Nield (West Yorkshire).