The Sulphurites came away from Boundary Park with all three points after an impressive performance against a ten men Oldham side, with Town capped at only two goals due to an Ian Lawlor masterclass between the Athletic sticks.
Harrogate were unchanged in their starting eleven following a 1-0 defeat to Salford at home in their last match, although skipper Josh Falkingham was on the bench following his recovery from an injury that had kept him out of the last fixture for Town. Oldham made one change to the side that beat top of the league Newport 4-2 away in their last match, with Leeds loanee Alfie McCalmont starting in place of Ben Garrity, who dropped to the bench.
Town started the game brightly, a high press against the Oldham defence that was paired with a crisp and spacious passing pattern. The first of what would be many Harrogate chances came in the third minute, with Ian Lawlor making three saves in quick succession, including a noticeably impressive diving effort to prevent Jack Muldoon from scoring his tenth of the season. Muldoon would again be denied in the fifth minute, a low effort from a Fallowfield cross being stopped again by Lawlor, who’s early showing of form would prove to be consistent throughout the ninety minutes.
The next ten minutes could be fairly summarized as Harrogate pressure with Oldham doing their best to absorb it and defend it. Lawlor was yet to be beaten when in the 19th minute, McAleny would convert a penalty won by Oldham, a goal completely against the run of play that had all the potential to shift momentum and flip the tie on its head. Thankfully for Town fans, the high pressure that had engulfed their play in the first twenty minutes would continue, with Kiernan and Fallowfield being particularly influential in creating chances for their side, Fallowfield thundering down the right flank as he so often does whilst Kiernan was excelling in what seemed to be an attacking midfield role being Muldoon and Aaron Martin, a foreign position for the natural winger.
Thomson smashed a low volley inches wide of the post in the 27th minute, with Harrogate edging ever closer to that seemingly inevitable equaliser. Only a minute later, Kiernan would again prove his value in the Town attack when his ball fizzed across the box, agonisingly untouched and needing the softest of touches to nestle into the goal, with Jack Muldoon’s sliding effort being inches off connecting with the ball. Finally, Harrogate’s continued attacking football would pay dividends. From a Jack Muldoon layoff, George Thomson connected with a beautiful volley 22 yards out, almost identical to his early effort, only this time he made sure to hit the target and beat Ian Lawlor by doing so.
Oldham surprisingly hardly changed their system in the first half, something that had clearly been ineffective. They next came closest through Bobby Grant, who’s effort was blocked by Jake Lawlor. The resulting corner saw a clashing of heads between Warren Burrell and Brice Ntambwe, although thankfully both men were able to carry on after a few minutes of being seen to by medics. Oldham’s miseries were further worsened by Bobby Grant’s red card in the 43rd minute, a silly elbow to former Wrexham teammate Jake Lawlor seeing the Latics reduced to ten men in a tie that already didn’t favour them. No side could breach the other’s defence in the remainder of the half, with Ed Francis’ long-range effort for Town being the closest chance in the rest of the first half, a shot that was comfortably saved by Ian Lawlor in the 49th minute.
Half time: Oldham Athletic 1-1 Harrogate Town.
Town were clearly the superior side in the first half. The Sulphurites displayed an early high press that was only denied a goal through some top saves by Ian Lawlor. Such pressure would continue throughout the half to such an extent that it would see Town have seven shots on target compared to Oldham’s one which, ironically enough, was their goal. It would not be wrong to say that Harrogate did not deserve to go behind in the tie, but only 11 minutes later they would equalise the game through an impressive Thomson strike. The high press of Harrogate was starkly contrasted by Oldham’s game, who for the first half seemed somewhat oriented on counter-attacking, given how often Harrogate players were given space to advance the ball. A red card for an Oldham side who were playing as if their backs were against the wall would only hinder them further, with Harrogate expected to pounce on such an opportunity and pick up the three points.
The second half begins.
The first five minutes of the second half saw Oldham look more threatening in attack than they had done for the entirety of the first half, although they still struggled in producing a critical finish in front of goal. A Francis corner in the 52nd minute saw Aaron Martin head just wide and demonstrated a quick resumption to the Harrogate attack that had been so noticeably impressive in the first 45. Brendan Kiernan won a free kick for Harrogate in the 57th minute, being fouled by Carl Piergianni to the left of the box. Thomson hit the bar from the set-piece, going for goal with a strike that no doubt caught most on the pitch off guard.
As the half progressed, Kiernan seemed to be more on the left and Thomson more on the right, with Harrogate having shifted from a diamond system to a more conventional shape akin to a 4-4-2. Lawlor was once again called into action in the 69th minute when he was forced to stop Kirby’s rather poor attempt at goal, although an initial fumble nearly resulted in Aaron Matin prodding the ball past him. A corner in the 71st minute saw George Thomson take. The ball would eventually find its way back to the corner taker, who on the right side of the box rifled a weak footed attempt into the top left corner, besting Lawlor once more with another brilliant strike. Soon after this, skipper Josh Falkingham would make his way onto the pitch for Kirby, no doubt to consolidate Town’s lead. The next best attempt on goal was yet again by the Sulphurites, with George Thomson going for goal from a free kick in almost the exact same position as his last, although this one had to be blocked by an Oldham player as opposed to the crossbar.
Although understandably more defensive, Harrogate were still pressing Oldham well into the last knockings of the game, although the last ten minutes would see the Latics display more offensive comprehension than they had in the prior eighty. Long balls into the Harrogate final third would fail to break their back four, however, with Belshaw having to be more alert than he had needed to be at any point in the match. Aaron Martin saw his 92nd-minute effort on goal cleared once again by Ian Lawlor, who was better than his teammates by a considerable margin. Harrogate won a rather controversial free-kick on the edge of their own box in the 93rd minute, with there definitely being a fair shout for Oldham that it should have been them that were awarded the set-piece, be it free kick or penalty.
Full time: Oldham Athletic 1-2 Harrogate Town.
The overall team performance of Harrogate Town is what saw them overcome Oldham Athletic to win their second successive away game, however, it is worth noting the particular efforts of Brendan Kiernan and Ed Francis who were consistent in their offensive and defensive contributions respectively throughout the game. It too is, of course, worth giving praise to George Thomson, who’s two goals ensured three points to a side who deserved nothing less. Oldham seemed much slower than Harrogate for the majority of the match and were lucky to only be beaten by a one-goal margin. Were it not for the heroics of Ian Lawlor, it would not be wrong to assume this game could have been a much higher scoring contest. Harrogate dominated possession and had ten shots on target, with Oldham not mustering any other than their converted penalty.
The victory sees Harrogate rise to 16th in the table, one point behind their hosts and, more importantly, nine points clear of Southend in 23rd (albeit, Southend hold a game in hand). Harrogate will next host third-placed Carlisle, a tie that will no doubt prove challenging for Simon Weaver’s side, but one that they should surely feel more confident in following such a dominant performance at Boundary Park.