'˜Gate leave it late to break Kirkby's 51-game winning run
Noel Minikin touched down in stoppage-time to snatch a dramatic late victory for Harrogate RUFC at Kirkby Lonsdale, ending the Lancashire club's long winning run on home soil.
The hosts went into Saturday’s National Three North clash having won 51 consecutive matches at Raygarth, and looked set to extend that sequence as they took a 21-20 advantage past the 80-minute mark.
Dave Doherty’s Aces had other ideas, however, and they registered a fifth victory in seven outings when centre Minikin seized on a loose ball and carried it over the whitewash just moments before the final whistle.
With rain pouring down and strong winds howling, ‘Gate made a positive start to the match and were twice held up over the try-line during the opening exchanges.
Undeterred, they came again and lock Sam Brady was driven over, Luke White adding the extras with the boot for a 7-0 lead in the fifth minute.
From the re-start, the home team came straight back at their visitors and a spell of pressure led to a penalty being awarded and full-back Ryan Terry duly kicked it between the sticks to trim the gap.
Both sides then enjoyed periods of possession before Kirkby took the lead when fly-half Dave Barton’s clever chip over the ‘Gate defence was fumbled by a visiting player and Scott Armstrong was able to pick up and cross in the corner.
Home prop Cameron Rowse was sin-binned for a technical infringement with five minutes of the first period remaining, but despite their numerical advantage, Doherty’s troops failed to capitalise and actually fell further behind before the interval.
Another Barton chip created the hosts’ second try of the afternoon, winger Martyn Knapton claiming the ball in the air and then feeding Armstrong to go over out wide for 13-7.
A 35-metre penalty from Terry extended the home advantage to 16-7 shortly after the resumption before Harrogate began to threaten again following a series of forward rumbles from catch-and-drives.
Having initially been repelled by some stubbon home defence, ‘Gate were eventually awarded a penalty and White opted to kick the points, bringing his team to within a converted try at 16-10.
The gap was narrowed further when White landed another shot at the uprights, and the men from Rudding Lane recevied another boost when Barton was yellow-carded, leaving Kirkby a man short once again.
Just as had been the case in the first half, the home team’s 14 men actually rallied and Armstrong set up flanker Stuart Storey to power his way over the line from just outside the 22.
Terry’s conversion attempt came back of a post, but at 21-13 up with time running out, Kirkby looked to be well on their way to victory.
A home knock-on from the re-start handed Harrogate a scrum, however, and they were back in the game almost immediately, battering away at the hosts’ line before the ball eventually found its way into the hands of Olly Rosillo and the winger finished well.
White slotted a fine kick from close to the touchline to bring ‘Gate to within touching distance, but at 21-20 with 78 minutes on the clock it looked as if the Aces had left it too late.
With the game into stoppage-time, Kirkby still held the lead, but a period mayhem ensued as torrential rain continued to fall and winds gusted across the pitch.
The ball ricocheted around with neither side seemingly able to control it until Minikin seized possession and dotted down to win the game, White booting over the extra two points to seal a 27-21 triumph.
The success takes ‘Gate up to third in the National Three North standings ahead of this weekend’s home clash with mid-table Rossendale.