THE BEST things are worth the wait.
As Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver surveyed the glorious scene after his side were presented with the National League North play-off trophy amid splendid sunshine yesterday there was immense satisfaction at the end of a journey.
Harrogate’s holy grail of reaching the National League has been realised and Weaver can now plot a new mission in his tenth season in charge.
On the evidence of this season Harrogate will be a glowing addition to that landscape and it was fitting that their promotion coronation was done in style and with a hint of swagger.
Weaver said: “It feels top of the world after a day which has been absolutely perfect. The players responded to the crowd who have been a driving force all season.
“What a challenge it is going to be next season. I could not be more proud of the lads. This is just an absolute highlight for everyone involved with their careers.
“Now it will be a new chapter, that is for sure and a massive challenge. It is going to be exciting whenever I wake up to see who is in that league. I am just so excited about the challenge of something new.”
Wrexham, Leyton Orient and Chesterfield will be among the opponents who lie in wait for Harrogate in a historic first National League season and after the previous play-off successes of the likes of FC Halifax Town, Guiseley and Farsley Celtic, how Harrogate deserve their place in the non-league sun.
Home form has proved the bedrock of their 100-goal season and in their most important hour it would have constituted no surprise that forward Dominic Knowles stepped up to the plate again.
After scoring all five goals in their 5-0 win over Curzon Ashton on the final day of the regular season at the CNG Stadium and netting two dramatic strikes in the semi-final victory against Chorley, Knowles saved the best until last with a key first-half brace against FA Trophy finalists Brackley Town.
What a challenge it is going to be next season. I could not be more proud of the lads. This is just an absolute highlight for everyone involved with their careers.Simon Weaver
While 36-goal Saints striker Aaron Williams was denied by a fine reaction save from James Belshaw in the first half, Knowles made capital with a double.
His first arrived from the spot on 26 minutes after Alex Gudger was adjudged to have handled a goalbound shot from Joe Leesley and, despite missing a golden chance to make it 2-0, the goalpoacher was not to be denied five minutes before the break.
After Leesley’s free-kick was not cleared Knowles seized upon the loose ball in an instant to hook it into the net instinctively past Danny Lewis from close range and suddenly the National League was in full view for the home support in the 3,000-capacity crowd.
That strike took his tally to nine goals in three home matches and the way he assumed leadership, given that fellow striker Mark Beck was stretchered off early on and his replacement Jake Wright suffered the same fate before the interval, was admirable.
Elsewhere the others in yellow and black also chipped in with some fine contributions none more so than Josh Falkingham, who made a key goalline block to keep out Gudger’s header before Knowles’s relieving opener.
It called for an on-message professional second half from Harrogate and so it transpired before a late flourish.
One moment of early danger saw Lee Ndlovu sent clear, but his lob was weak and wayward and so Brackley’s challenge abated.
A brilliant team goal provided the icing for Harrogate 19 minutes from time.
The ball found its way to Ryan Fallowfield who powered forward before slipping an inviting low centre into the path of National League North player of the year Leesley, whose finish was stylish and unerring.
It was the prelude to chants of ‘Town are going up’ and an audacious long-range effort from Lloyd Kerry and an angled strike from Jack Emmitt, which shuddered against a post threatened to turn the game into a rout before the party began.
Harrogate Town: Belshaw; Fallowfield, McCombe, Burrell, Parker, Thomson, Emmett (Agnew 90), Falkingham, Leesley; Knowles, Beck (Wright 12 (Kerry 45)). Unused substitutes: Cracknell, Kitching.
Brackley Town: Lewis; Murombedzi, Dean, Gudger (Myles 84), Franklin; G Walker, A Walker (Lowe 58), Byrne, Armson, Ndlovu (Brown 66), Williams. Unused substitutes: Graham, Iaciofano.
Referee: L Doughty.