View from the Press Box: My favourite moments and top performers of 2018/19
Harrogate Advertiser Series sports editor Rhys Howell has his say on the latest goings-on at Harrogate Town.
With Town's season having drawn to a conclusion following Wednesday's National League play-off eliminator defeat at AFC Fylde, I thought that now was the time to cast my mind back over the past nine months and pick out my favourite moments and top performers of 2018/19.
Goal of the season.
Town finished the regular season as the highest scorers in the National League. They hit the back of the net no fewer than 78 times, so there’s plenty of goals to choose from when considering which was the pick of the bunch.
Joe Leesley bagged a beauty in a 2-1 defeat at Dagenham & Redbridge in October, cutting in off the left flank and into the penalty area, beating a couple of defenders before smashing one home via the underside of the cross-bar.
Jack Muldoon almost broke the net when he drilled a strike from the edge of the box in front of live TV cameras against Hartlepool United.
There have been other decent efforts, but the best of the lot for me was Michael Woods’ stunning late strike against Braintree Town at the CNG Stadium.
Picking up possession just outside the box, the former Chelsea prodigy played a pass inside to Mark Beck, who acrobatically flicked the ball first-time back into his team-mate’s path and Woods volleyed into the top corner of the net.
It was a breathtaking moment, stylishly crafted and superbly executed and what was even better about the goal was that it capped Woods’ second debut for the club following his return from Hartlepool United.
Save of the season.
James Belshaw has pulled off a number of eye-catching stops this term, but none come close to the flying, one-handed save he produced against Maidenhead United.
With Town leading 1-0, visiting midfielder Ryan Upward met an inswinging left-wing free-kick and powered a header towards the top corner.
It looked a goal all the way, indeed the ball already appeared to be past the airborne Belshaw when he threw out a hand and showcased superb reflexes and agility to somehow prevent the ball from crossing the line, tipping it on to the woodwork.
Post-match, Belshaw remarked: “It’s probably the best save I’ve ever made.” Enough said.
Performance of the season.
It’s Town’s number one who gets my vote once again here for an absolutely incredible display of goalkeeping on the road at Bromley in what was just Harrogate’s third outing of the campaign.
He pulled off save after save that day, thwarting the hosts as they threatened to run riot and his efforts meant that when Dominic Knowles tapped home in the 73rd minute, the goal levelled the scores and did not just prove to be a mere consolation strike.
One down after 12 minutes, Belshaw produced an incredible triple-stop just past the half-hour-mark, pushing away Omar Bugiel’s initial attempt, then reacting rapidly to block from George Porter on the follow-up, not once but twice.
Another good save followed five minutes later, the Harrogate gloveman parrying Porter’s blast after the visitors were once again carved wide open. The best of the lot came six minutes before the break.
Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe pulled back from the right for Bugiel, whose near-post strike already looked to have beaten Belshaw when he kicked out a leg, improbably diverting the ball to safety.
A couple more crucial interventions followed in the second period and I remember writing at the time that this was the best performance I’d ever witnessed live by a goalkeeper.
Nothing has changed since. It still very definitely is.
Warren Burrell also deserves a mention here having scored a brilliant hat-trick from centre-half to inspire his team to a 4-1 home success over Aldershot Town.
It’s incredibly rare for a defender to bag a treble, and in any other season he probably would have been a worthy winner of this title.
Moment of the season.
There have been countless firsts and so many late goals that it is again tough to pick out one single moment.
Muldoon netting the club’s maiden National League goal in the season-opener against Sutton United announced Town's arrival in English football’s fifth tier. Kelvin Langmead's close-range strike later in the same game that appeared as if it had decided matters also almost took the roof off.
The first victory at this level, at home to Barnet on a Tuesday night was memorable, as was going top of the table following a last-gasp Aaron Williams winner at Gateshead in early September.
Live TV cameras broadcasting a fixture from the CNG Stadium for the first time was also special, while the atmosphere at Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road, where more than 6,000 people were in attendance, was fantastic.
My particular favourite wasn’t an overly significant moment, but in terms of drama, suspense and sheer elation, it’s right up there - you just cannot beat a last-minute winner.
March‘s midweek clash with Bromley looked destined to end goalless until Town were awarded a penalty deep into stoppage-time and Muldoon calmly stepped up after a long wait and converted in front of the Kop, sparking jubilant scenes.
Signing of the season.
Muldoon leads the scoring charts with 17 goals, despite not having played as an out-and-out striker every week.
Goals win games and his efforts should not be underestimated, however centre-half Callum Howe has also registered nine times and proved an excellent addition at both ends of the field.
He has added height and physical presence and is a force to be reckoned with in the air.
His levels dropped for a spell following a very strong start, but he has finished the season in fine form, and the big centre-half just edges out Muldoon in this category.
Player of the season.
For me, there are five players who have performed consistently well for the majority of 2018/19.
Belshaw, Josh Falkingham, Howe, Langmead and Muldoon have, in my eyes, all played at a level just a touch higher than most of the rest of their team-mates.
There’s probably an argument for Burrell to be included in that group having featured in every single minute of every game until he was rested for the final-day defeat at Wrexham.
Leesley, Beck and George Thomson have also produced a number of top-drawer individual displays, though there have been peaks and troughs, while Leesley has had to endure a couple of spells on the sidelines.
Ryan Fallowfield just seemed to be getting better and better with every game at one stage and I remember thinking that he could well end up being player of the year, however I feel his form has tailed off since mid-March.
It is difficult to single out one of the five who I’ve shortlisted, and if I’m honest, I really don’t think that there is an obvious stand-out choice here.
I’ve changed my mind a couple of times, but I’m going for club captain Falkingham.
When Town have been at their best, he has been the man pulling the strings. He orchestrates things from the centre of the park, and when he’s on it, he makes the team tick.
His range of passing is exceptional. Some of the balls he’s threaded through the eye of a needle this term have been things of beauty.
There’s also an edge about his game that provides an extra dimension.
Falkingham has led by example in more ways than one, and is crucial to this team’s hopes of success in the future.