Harrogate Town continued in their struggle for form, losing 1-0 at home to a Salford City side that pushed into the playoffs as they made it a fourth game unbeaten in a row in the league.
Town were hopeful that they would be able to win their first home game in the league since a 1-0 victory against Barrow in October, with the team no doubt motivated by the near 500 fans that had arrived at Wetherby Road for the game. Harrogate would be without their skipper for the match, with Josh Falkingham having picked up an injury in their previous game. As such, Simon Weaver gave Ed Francis his first start for Town, after having signed earlier in the week. The side was otherwise unchanged from their last outing, an impressive 2-1 away win at Exeter City.
Richie Wellens fielded the same Salford side that earned a point away at top of the table Newport, with James Wilson playing in only his second game back from injury. Vaclav Hladky would be hoping to add a ninth clean sheet of the season, a number that would see the shot-stopper tied for the most in the league so far.
The match started brightly for the Sulphurites. A free-kick was won just beyond the half-way line after a couple of minutes of play, with the inswinger being met by the head of Aaron Martin in a tame attempt on goal that was comfortably saved by Hladky. Town were hopeful that this would be a promising sign for the game going forward, but their early spell of offense would not be enough to earn them an early goal.
In the 17th minute, Salford would play the ball out from the back until it found the feet of Brandon Thomas-Asante. Salford’s number 37 played a peach of a through ball, launching an inviting pass forward from just inside his own half for James Wilson who, after darting into the Town box, converted his strike into the bottom right corner of Belshaw’s goal.
Harrogate were seeking an immediate reply, with Muldoon’s effort to square the ball into the box being turned behind for a Town corner at the 20-minute mark, with the resulting corner leading to a high and wide mishit effort from Jack Muldoon. Salford would see a couple of Town efforts nearing the 30th minute that they defended well. Burrell would see himself carded in the 43rd minute for a foul on Thomas-Asante, with a free-kick being won on the right wing for Salford, followed by a free kick on the left-wing only moments later, with the attack eventually being punched away by James Belshaw.
Half time: Harrogate Town 0-1 Salford City.
Town went into the half time break a goal down at home. They had threatened on occasions, but overall showed a general lack of offensive conviction. Salford had been dangerous on the attack, but Town had shown a noticeable defensive resolve, with set pieces particularly being well defended. It was hardly a defensive error that led to the Salford goal, a Wilson finish from a truly brilliant through ball by Asante in the midfield, a goal in which the assister deserves all praise.
The opening minutes of the second half saw Salford return to the offensive front on which they had been so potent this season, but Ashley Hunter could only muster minimal power on his curling effort that was easily caught by Belshaw. A Jack Muldoon penalty shout was waved off by the referee on the 55th minute in the Harrogate attack, whilst Town’s defensive line was in constant debt to James Belshaw, who performed a string of impressive stops throughout the second half to keep the tie at one-nil. Harrogate saw their chances go begging, with Brendan Kiernan firing an effort from a corner over the bar from six yards out being a noticeably wasted chance. It was perhaps in the final minute of the game that Town saw their best chance go begging, a free header from Jake Lawlor that trickled past the Salford post.
Full time: Harrogate Town 0-1 Salford City.
The Sulphurites’ failure to capitalize on chances saw them succumb to a fourth defeat in five games in the League, with the team now being two points ahead of Scunthorpe in 18th who will overtake them if they win their game in hand. A 1-0 scoreline is a testament to Town’s last line of defence, James Belshaw, whose efforts prevented the game from being one of higher scoring. As for Salford, they saw their league unbeaten run stretch to four, with two draws and two wins being enough to push them above Walsall into the playoffs, whilst also holding a game in hand on the side now below them.
Town now have a break until Boxing Day, when they travel to Boundary Park to face Oldham Athletic, a side four points above Harrogate in 14th. Town will be desperate for a return to winning ways to further their effort to solidify their place as a Football League side. The Sulphurites go into Christmas placed 17th, with a nine-point gap separating them and Stevenage who occupy the higher spot of the relegation zone, a gap they will hope to widen as they power through into the new year.