Harrogate Railway Athletic 3 Curzon Ashton 3

Saturday 7th April 2012
Harrogate Railway Athletic 3 Curzon Ashton 3
Evo-Stik League Northern Premier Division 1 North
At: Station View, Starbeck, Harrogate
Kick-off 3-00 pm
Admission: £7; Programme: £1-50 (40 pages)
Weather: cloudy, sunny spells
Attendance: 112
Duration: first-half: 49:02; second-half: 50:03

Where do I start blogging this action- and incident-packed game which had relevance at both ends of the Evo-Stik League Northern Premier Division 1 North? Ten-man Harrogate Railway, embroiled in a battle to avoid relegation, produced a rousing performance for their new management team and came with minutes of defeating second-placed Curzon Ashton, who equalised deep into stoppage time at the end. Earlier in the first-half, Chris McDonagh gave Curzon an early lead from the penalty spot but Railway bounced back with three goals in 15 minutes by Colin Hunter, Jon Maloney and Liam Gray to stun their promotion-chasing visitors. Curzon reduced the deficit before the half-time through Lee Blackshaw and, after Gray was sent-off early in the second half, scored a scrambled last-gasp equaliser.

An evening family event in the Leeds area to celebrate cousin Amy and Alan’s engagement provided the excuse to head to Railway’s Station View ground – one I’ve wanted to visit for quite a long while but their home games have never coincided with our annual Christmas relative-visiting trips to the area.

To me, the ground oozed character. After going through the turnstile, where a friendly man first sold me a programme and subsequently took my admission, money, the pitch ran widthways to the left. The first thing I noticed was the slope from touchline to touchline with the far side being at the top.

On halfway, at the top, stood a small stand behind the dugouts dedicated to the memory of Shaun Glennon (1954-2006), a former player, junior coach and committee man. Behind the goal at the far right end was a shallow stand, set back from the pitch perimeter barrier, which ran the length of the touchline. Half was covered standing and the rest seats with a small directors box in the middle. To my right behind the near touchline were various buildings including the canteen, changing rooms, PA room and club shop. Recently, an impressive new clubhouse, located just outside the ground, was opened and there are plans to redevelop the adjacent playing field to provide a 3G pitch amongst other new facilities.

A quick glance at the league table showed just how important this game was to both sides. After sacking their management team of Nigel Danby and Mick Norbury (ex-Stafford Rangers) at the end of last month, Railway (20th with 30 points from 37 games) moved out of the bottom two last Saturday after a 4-1 win at Salford City. Up at the top, second-placed Curzon Ashton (82 points from 37 games) trailed leaders AFC Fylde by two points, with both sides having played the same number of games.

Harrogate Railway (in red shirts, green shorts and red socks) got the game underway attacking the new clubhouse end in the first half and within a minute Liam Gray got forward and drove over the bar from a good position.

The visitors quickly bounced back from a “sloppy start” and were awarded a penalty when Sam Cook brought down Graham Kay from Sam Walker’s long throw into the area. Chris McDonagh stepped up to confidently hammer home from the spot, even though Railway goalkeeper George Brookes dived the right way.

In response to this early setback, one fan stood near me shouted “C’mon Rail, don’t panic,” and they certainly didn’t. In the 8th minute, Ben Parkes played a square pass from right to left straight to the feet of Colin Hunter who hit an unstoppable drive that flew into the top right corner from 20 yards out. “What a strike” and “goal of the season” were amongst the reactions to Hunter’s spectacular equaliser.

It got even better for the lively home side four minutes later when they took the lead. Ben Parkes fed Jon Maloney who fired home low from 15 yards out.

Maloney picked up a booking for a foul on Connor Hampson who was able to continue after treatment (photo right). During a spell of sunshine, Gray drove low through a crowded area and wide of the left-hand post after Hunter’s free-kick was partially cleared.

I was impressed with Railway’s energy and they scored a third goal in the 22nd minute. Gray’s shot slipped through the hands of Curzon goalkeeper Josh Ollerenshaw whose attempts to stop the ball crossing the line were in vein.

The home fans were delighted by their side’s “brilliant start”.

I was thoroughly enjoying the action from my vantage point at the top of the stop near to the home dugout. Chances kept on being created and Railway’s goalkeeper George Brookes produced a smart reaction save to beat away Kristian Dennis's glancing header photo right). However, Brookes, promoted from the Reserves, couldn’t keep out Lee Blackshaw’s far post diving header from Sam Walker’s deep left-wing cross. Just 29 minutes played and already five goals with Railway 3-2 up.

Just after the half-hour mark, Luke Durham, who started in the ‘17’ shirt, picked up a nasty cut about his eye and needed to change his shirt and shorts after lengthy treatment – his new number was ‘9’ which made me wonder why he hadn’t started in this shirt.

I headed for the canteen at half time and was pleased I did. Inside was a plaque marking the official opening of the floodlights on 11th March 1991 by Mrs K. Dinsdale and Mrs S. Pedal during a game against Sheffield United. Out for the second half, I opted for a spot on the touchline at the bottom of the slope in front of the club shop.

Durham emerged for the second half with a bandaged head and Railway were encouraged to go “straight at ’em”. Within a minute, Maloney was ‘fouled’ inside the area by Andrew Watson but the referee didn’t see it the way I did and waived play on.

Brookes again excelled with a one-hand diving save to keep out Graham Kay’s header from Matthew Kay’s free-kick. The young keeper soon parried another shot from Kristian Dennis as Curzon pressed for an equaliser.

The referee was at the centre of controversy in the 56th minute. Gray and Graham Kay both went in hard for a loose 50/50 ball midway inside the Railway half. Both players were hurt and the home side were stunned by a straight red card shown to Gray. Despite being down to ten men, Railway kept on the attack with a 4-4-1 formation, initially with Durham up front on his own before he was replaced by Phil Myles.

The home fans lifted their side, knowing how vital the win would be in their fight to avoid relegation. “Good football, Railway, keep it going,” shouted one fan. However, railway survived a scare in the 72nd minute. Walker played a free-kick forward into the area from halfway and Graham Kay headed against the bar. There was further danger when Walker’s corner wasn’t cleared and Watson saw a shot deflected wide in the ensuing scramble.

With time running out, Curzon threw virtually everyone forward in a desperate attempt salvage a point. Creditably for the visitors though cruel for the home side, Curzon grabbed an equaliser in the third minute of stoppage time. Jon Maloney swung a corner from the right which Brookes failed to hold and the ball was somehow forced home at the near post. I couldn’t tell who scored it and, in the reports I’ve seen, Michael Fish, Simon Woodford and Jordan Goodeve have all been credited with the goal. I’ve gone with Goodeve as he was named in the Curzon Ashton website report.

The drama didn’t end there.

Jack Fisher broke through the Curzon defence and got clear on goal. Myles also sprinted forward and though not interfering with play or even touching the ball, he was flagged offside – much to the amazement and fury of all in the ground connected with Railway. From the free kick, Fish found himself in space on the edge of the area and fired past Brookes, only to see the ball rebound off the bar.

The draw was no use to Curzon Aston with leaders AFC Fylde winning at Wakefield to extend their lead at the top to four points with four games to play.

Despite conceding the late equaliser, every point is vital to Railway, especially with second-bottom Wakefield’s defeat. With two going down, third-bottom Railway are two points clear of Wakefield with four games to play.

Harrogate Railway Athletic (red/green/red): 1. George Brookes, 2. Dan Thirkell, 3. Dave Ward, 4. Liam Gray (capt), 5. Jack Fisher, 6. Sam Cook, 7. Ben Parkes, 8. Simon Parkes, 17/9. Luke Durham, 10. Jon Maloney, 11. Colin Hunter. Subs: 12. Phil Myles (for Durham, 59), 14. Aaron Horton (for Hunter, 77), 15. Thea Moussa (not used), 16. Kevin Morris (not used).

Curzon Ashton (blue/blue/blue): 1. Josh Ollerenshaw, 2. Simon Woodford, 3. Connor Hampson, 4. Graham Kay (capt), 5. Andrew Watson, 6. Brian Summerskill, 7. Matthew Kay, 8. Sam Walker, 9. Chris McDonough, 10. Kristian Dennis, 11. Lee Blackshaw. Subs: 12. Matthew Purcell (for Hampson, 70), 14. Michael Fish (for Blackshaw, 87), 15. Jordan Goodeve (for Summerskill, 82), 16. Simon Lakeland (not used), 17. Lewis Nightingale (not used).

0-1 Chris McDonagh (4 pen)
1-1 Colin Hunter (8)
2-1 Jon Maloney (12)
3-1 Liam Gray (22)
3-2 Lee Blackshaw (29)
3-3 Jordan Goodeve (90+3)

Harrogate Railway: Jon Maloney (YC, 17), Dave Ward (YC, 42), Liam Gray (RC, 56)
Curzon Ashton: Simon Woodford (YC, 45+2), Chris McDonagh (YC, 67), Andrew Watson (YC, 82)