Triple Penalty Tribulation at Town!
Salford City conceded three converted penalties at the GGN Stadium as two precious points are dropped
SATURDAY 8th APRIL 2017
VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE NORTH
HARROGATE TOWN 3 SALFORD CITY 3
0-1 Sam Walker (20th min, pen)
0-2 John Johnston (73rd min)
1-2 Simon AINGE (83rd min, pen)
1-3 Nick Haughton (85th min)
2-3 Simon AINGE (86th min, pen)
3-3 Simon AINGE (90+3 mins, pen)
With four minutes to play it seemed as if Salford City would be heading home from the CGN Stadium with three deserved points. A Sam Walker penalty in the first half had been followed up by super strikes from John Johnston and Nick Haughton after the interval and everything seemed to be rosy for the Ammies and their band of travelling supporters. The footballing Gods, so benevolent last week, decided to even things up this time around and two Harrogate penalties later (in addition to the one they’d already converted) whittled those three points down to just one.
A beautiful spring day in North Yorkshire and Salford City arrived intent on earning their first victory over Harrogate Town in four attempts this season. There were two changes from the side who started against Alty last Saturday, with Jordan Hulme and Craig King in for Harry Panayiotou and Nick Haughton.
Salford took a while to find their stride on Harrogate’s synthetic surface and had a little bit of early defending to do. Town had a decent penalty shout turned away within a minute of the start and soon after that Liam Agnew failed to find the target from distance.
The Ammies looked a little uncertain at the back and in the 8th minute skipper Simon Grand’s foul on Jack Emmett earned Harrogate a free-kick. Joe Leesley was to have an impressive afternoon patrolling the flanks for the home side and his 24 yard right-of-centre free-kick dropped narrowly outside the angle of Jay Lynch’s left-hand post and the bar.
After a dozen minutes Leesley was at it again, passing inside from the left and forcing Billy Priestley to stretch in an effort to prod the ball away. Sam Walker looked to tidy up for Salford but Marcus Day nipped in and was only denied an effort on goal by the crowd of defenders who had gathered around him.
Two minutes later Day was chasing a ball over the top but Priestley got in front of him to slide a pass back for Jay Lynch to clear.
A somewhat uncomfortable opening fifteen for the visitors but keeper Lynch hadn’t been tested too severely and they were now beginning to string some passes together themselves. In the nineteenth minute Hulme pushed forward on the right then played a low ball inside, aiming for Mike Phenix. Salford’s top-scorer rolled away from Lewis Turner but as he made to move left was brought down by a challenge from Town keeper Chris Elliott. It looked a penalty and the referee agreed, with Elliott yellow-carded and Harrogate captain Danny Ellis following him into the book, presumably for dissent. The Ammies have a cool head to turn to for their penalties and although Elliott got a touch on the ball as he dived full-length to the left the pace and the accuracy of WALKER'S low finish was enough to give Salford the lead.
Against the run of play a little, but that goal settled Salford down and midway through the second half Phenix turned away from James King on the left before making his into the penalty area. Elliott advanced but Phenix will be disappointed that his right-footed effort from fifteen yards cleared the crossbar by a good few yards.
The Ammies were looking livelier now and had also tightened up at the back following that uneven patch early on. Leesley was still looking like Town’s best route to goal and in the twenty-seventh minute he picked up Michael Nottingham’s headed clearance just outside the left-hand angle of the penalty area. The subsequent show was a good one, hit low and firm but the effort squeezed just outside the far post for a goal-kick.
The game was opening up and just past the half-hour Phenix again got away from James King wide on the left before getting to the line, inside the area. An attempt to check back inside was stopped by what looked like a trip from Ellis but the referee waved away claims for a second Salford penalty of the afternoon. He would not prove so reticent during the second half...
Ten minutes before the break Hulme judged a dropping ball nicely, half-volleying in an effort from edge of the box and right of centre with Elliott going full-stretch to tip that effort around the far post.
The game had started with Harrogate pressing without creating clear cut chances and finished with Salford doing much the same thing. A great ball over the top from Grand looked like it might play Phenix in but the home defence dealt with the threat. Soon after Nottingham’s pass to the left sent Hulme on a run but his low ball into the middle went behind Phenix and the half-time whistle saw the Ammies going in one up – their first goal scored before half-time since Billy Priestley netted against Gloucester ten games ago.
HALF TIME: HARROGATE TOWN 0 SALFORD CITY 1
Harrogate made one chance during the interval, with James King – given a torrid time by Phenix during the first half – making way for Tom Platt.
Salford started the second half in positive and confident fashion, going close to a second goal in the fiftieth minute. Craig King and Hulme combined well to work John Johnston into space on the right but the wingers rising, angled effort flew outside Elliott’s left-hand upright.
The Ammies were playing some good football and won a free-kick, wide in the right. Walker’s left-footed delivery was a very decent one and Nottingham got up to put in a header that bounced off the top of the bar and out.
Nick Haughton came on for Phenix – who had grafted tirelessly along with Hulme – but it was Salford who had to defend next. A ball was dropped into the right-hand side of box and Simon Ainge chested down for Day to poke an effort towards goal. Keeper Lynch probably had it covered but Grand was there in any case to launch a clearance upfield.
For the Ammies another slick piece of approach play gave Craig King some space on the left and his cross into the centre dropped just over the head of Nottingham.
This was a good spell for Salford who were stretching Harrogate’s defence at one end and closing down their strikers efficiently at the other. In the 62nd minute Haughton left fly with a 35-yard stinger from right-of-centre and although Elliott was behind it all the way the ball squirmed out of his grip. Fortunately for Town their keeper recovered quickly to claim possession and despite a number of openings for the visitors they were still protecting a single goal advantage.
The Ammies had some more defending to do after that as Harrogate made a couple of changes and began to exert some pressure. There were one or two nervous moments but by and large the Salford defence dealt with every corner, free-kick and long ball that came their way. Another goal was needed to establish a little bit of a cushion and one arrived right on cue with seventeen minutes to play. There seemed little immediate peril for Harrogate as JOHNSTON picked up possession from O'Halloran's throw just outside the left-hand angle of the area then moved from left to right, parallel with the edge of the box. The former Crewe wide-man has just returned from a very successful loan spell with Nantwich Town and he drifted past a few opponents then checked before letting fly with an absolute rocket from thirty yards and well right of centre. The rising ball slammed into the base of the crossbar, inches inside the keeper’s right-hand post before dropping down and into the net with Elliott given no chance whatsoever.
A classy strike and with barely a quarter of an hour’s play left Salford looked set to record three very valuable points. They made a couple of changes in the aftermath of that goal with Craig King and Johnston making way for James Poole and Josh Hine.
The pattern of the match didn’t change much initially, with Town huffing and puffing in their attempts to find a way through Salford’s defence. They almost had a stroke of luck with ten minutes left as Leesley crossed from the right and Platt flicked with his foot to send the ball spinning into the air, off the bar and back into play. The Ammies managed to clear their lines and to many it seemed as if Harrogate’s last chance to pick up anything from the match might have just gone.
That wasn’t to be the case as the game – and certainly, the luck – began to inexorably move away from the visitors. In the eighty-first minute a Salford counter ended Hulme's pass to the right releasing substitute Hine into acres of space before cutting into the area. If this one goes in it’s game over but the shot appeared to have been scuffed a little and Elliott dropped to his right to make a reasonably comfortable save. That should have been three-nil but with just seven minutes left Ainge got away with a crude barge on the airborne Lynch inside the box and instead of the keeper gathering the ball it went loose and was punted out for a throw-in.It was delivered long from the left and Priestley went up to contest with Ellis. The ball bounced and the Salford defender appeared to make contact with the ball as Warren Burrell attempted to push it forward but the Town man went down and the referee pointed to the spot. It looked a bit harsh but Harrogate had been looking to even up the penalty score since Walker's first half conversion and this time the referee obliged.
Defender-turned-striker AINGE has been among the goals recently yet had played only a peripheral part during the proceedings so far today. That was about to change dramatically as he slammed a low spot-kick to Lynch’s right with the Salford keeper committed the other way and the home side were suddenly back in with a shout.
Salford needed to remain calm and respond positively to the setback and within another couple of minutes play they had done just that. With Town’s defence stretched by a promising counter substitute Poole stretched to prod a pass to the left and into the path of HAUGHTON. That the Fleetwood loanee is a “footballer” is beyond doubt and he showed what he is capable of here, ghosting into the area on a left-of-centre run before selling a Ellis a dummy that left the Harrogate defender sprawling inelegantly then delicately floating a finish from the penalty spot, over Elliott and into the net.
Another great finish from Salford and surely this one had finally decided the destination of the points? It seemed so, but the deities who control our national game decided otherwise and intervened once more within a minute of the restart. Town full-back Turner slipped away from Haughton as he drove into the box on the right and as the two players crossed paths there may, or may not have been some contact, with the officials deciding that the outcome should be a second penalty for Harrogate. The match highlights would later suggest a "canny" bit of play from Turner who got across his man and made sure he went down - you see them given, but again it was a far from clear cut decision.
Penalty it was however and AINGE was again called into action, this time powering a low effort to Lynch’s left. On this occasion the Salford keeper guessed right, getting down well to make a great parrying save, but when your luck is out….possession fell perfectly for Ainge who wasn’t to be denied a second time, ramming the ball into the unguarded net to set up a grandstand finish that few inside the stadium could have predicted.
Harrogate pressed forward, as you might expect and with fortune baring its teeth in their direction the Ammies were looking a little unsure of themselves. Nevertheless they appeared to be coping quite well – as they had all afternoon – with Harrogate’s attacks from open play.
A somewhat surreal ending to the game had one more trick to play as Town substitute Jon Paul Pittman chased a ball to the line on the left, just about keeping it in. Priestley was in close attendance but as the Harrogate striker moved inside the ball glanced off the inside of his foot and Pittman was able to slide a low cross into centre. Salford captain Grand slid to get a block in and the ball dropped under his body, making contact with an arm that was being used to maintain some sort of balance. It cannot be denied that there had been contact between arm and ball (although there seemed to be little or no intent) so AINGE stepped up to take his third penalty in twelve minutes. Few of those who were present in support of Salford City could have doubted the outcome, considering the astonishing swing of luck against their side and Ainge obliged, cracking a shot to Lynch’s right. Although the keeper went the right way again Ainge's effort had too much power for him to stop.
FULL TIME: HARROGATE TOWN 3 SALFORD CITY 3
What was limbering up to be a fairly accomplished away win for Salford City turned out to be something of a footballing nightmare. A point at Harrogate Town is by no means a shabby return but the circumstances that led to today’s final result will long haunt the memories of those Ammies present.
After emerging from a shaky start Salford buckled down to their task, scored some good goals, missed a few good chances and built what looked like – with 4 minutes left - a commanding lead. Keeper Lynch had only been seriously tested from the spot and the defence had stood firm when Harrogate applied pressure. The midfield four put in sterling work throughout, with Johnston looking fit and revitalised after his return from Nantwich. Upfront Phenix and Hulme put in a huge amount of effort and the substitutes played their part after being introduced. The Ammies deserved a win this afternoon but a very strange last dozen minutes turned the game on its head.
As for those penalties - from an inspection of the highlights Priestley looked very unlucky to concede a spot-kick, particularly after Ainge's foul on Lynch just beforehand. Haughton may have made contact with Turner for the second but the dive looked a little late to me and a referee who awarded those two was never going to ignore the ball making contact with Grand's arm. On a normal day one of those decisions - or at a push, two - might go against you but this was no normal day.
Those two points may turn out to be crucial but there’s only one way to respond – put this one behind you and go out next time to work even harder. Gainsborough on Good Friday is a massive game for the club and it’s there to be won.
1) Chris ELLIOTT
2) Lewis TURNER
3) Ben PARKER
4) Warren BURRELL
5) Danny ELLIS (c)
6) James KING
7) Jack EMMETT
8) Liam AGNEW
9) Simon AINGE
10) Marcus DAY
11) Joe LEESLEY
12) Joe COLBECK
14) Tom PLATT
15) Jon PAUL PITTMAN
16) Luke SHIELS
17) Peter CROOK (gk)
Booked: Elliott, Ellis, Ainge
1) Jay Lynch
2) Michael Nottingham
3) Steve O'HALLORAN
4) Scott Burton
5) Simon Grand (c)
6) Billy Priestley
7) John Johnston
8) Sam Walker
9) Mike Phenix
10) Jordan Hulme
11) Craig King
12) David Norris
14) Harry PANAYIOTOU
15) Nick Haughton (for PHENIX, 85th min)
16) James Poole (for KING, 74th min)
17) Josh Hine (for JOHNSTON, 79th min)
Booked: O'Halloran, Hulme
Referee: Mr. Will FINNIE
Assistants: Mr Graeme HOPPER & Mr. David JONES