THE cruel finger of fate pointed at Plainmoor on a depressing day in the FA Cup.
Harrogate Town can look forward to a place in Sunday’s after battling to a brave 1-0 win in miserable conditions inside TQ1, as the Gulls became the big upset in Round One.
Chibuzor Chilaka scored the only goal and United missed a succession of chances to rescue the game, but this story belongs to the side from the Blue Square North.
The importance placed on this fixture by the Yellow hierarchy was perfectly highlighted by manager Martin Ling naming the same side that defeated Morecambe 1-0 in League 2 a week ago. The one change came on the bench, where Ashley Yeoman replaced Kirtys MacKenzie.
Harrogate boss Simon Weaver was almost as loyal in his selection, just preferring Tom Platt to Adam Nowakowski from the team that beat Hyde 1-0 on Wednesday to set up this tie. Goalscoring hero from midweek, Dan Clayton, remained on the bench.
The opening five minutes quickly told United that the visitors had not travelled down from North Yorkshire to just enjoy the party, as Town passed the ball with confidence and almost breached the Yellow backline with a probing run from Danny Forrest.
A half-chance to perhaps settle any home nerves came from a corner by Nathan Craig, crowned United’s October Player of the Month before the game, but his delivery was a fraction too deep for the late run of Billy Bodin.
Harrogate immediately responded with a bustling run down the right from Chilaka and the big forward dug out a dipping shot with his left peg that needed careful watching from United goalkeeper Michael Poke.
Dreams of stardom then twinkled down to the left boot of Kevin Nicholson as he attempted a skidding free-kick from all of 40 yards, but young Town stopper Craig McGillivray watched the ball carefully into his arms.
The tranquil calm across Plainmoor was crudely ruined by Chilaka bundling home the opener on 20 minutes, although the final finish was superbly placed to beat the full-length dive from Poke. Prior to bashing the ball in off the far post, the Nigerian had shown terrific power to wrestle free from Aaron Downes and the Gulls were suddenly under big pressure.
A quick riposte almost arrived with Lee Mansell’s header forcing a decent save from McGillivray. The subsequent corner was whipped over with tremendous pace and Downes was unfortunate to see his downward header flash wide.
Despite the obvious disappointment of falling behind, United had awoken swiftly from their slumber and Bodin should have equalised with a header from Nicholson’s looping free-kick, but the effort was glanced wide.
The Gulls next turned to Craig for a searing run in the channel and his cutback for Rene Howe was moved on to Bodin, who shifted to his right before drifting a shot narrowly over the bar.
Bodin’s next chance was by far the best of the afternoon but the Welshman’s confidence will have taken a battering from a horrible miss just outside the six-yard box after a powerful run by Howe had created a glorious opening.
The FA Cup Gods were ignoring Yellow pleas and Luke Dean almost took advantage with a dipping shot that Poke did well to parry clear. Half-time arrived to grumbles of Yellow discontent, which was music to Harrogate ears.
A fast start to the second period was top of the agenda for United and Danny Stevens sought to deliver with a stinging shot deflected wide. Sadly, frustratingly, the momentum stopped there, as Harrogate continued to battle hard for every ball.
Even with 35 minutes still left on the clock, it was hard to blame the Yorkshiremen for looking to protect their lead and it was down to United to find the necessary quality in attacking areas. When they did, a Bodin pass found Howe for an accomplished finish but the assistant referee’s flag was up early.
Harrogate next turned to the fresh legs of Clayton for Forrest but the Gulls were turning the screw, and when Damon Lathrope shot inches over, Ling looked to his bench. Bodin and Stevens were replaced by Ryan Jarvis and Niall Thompson, with the formation switching to 4-4-2.
Unfortunately, the first involvement for Thompson was to sky the ball high into the Family Stand from just two yards out after Howe’s incisive ball across goal had McGillivray stranded.
Much to Thompson’s credit, he wasted no time wallowing in the spurned opportunity and it was his weaving run that earned another corner on 67 minutes, from which Craig’s inviting delivery failed to cross the line, despite Downes and Brian Saah throwing their considerable combined force at the ball.
Saah was also involved in United’s next foray, ignoring the driving rain to burst forward and feed Thompson, who floated over a cross for the big defender to attack but McGillivray’s save was comfortable.
From nowhere, Chilaka had a fantastic chance to seal Yellow fate but his radar failed to match first-half precision, as the shot was rifled over the bar. United returned to their siege but a swift Town break presented Clayton with an opening, and Poke could only beat away the shot with his fists.
The final roll of the Yellow dice was the introduction of Ashley Yeoman for Nicholson and soon after, the Gulls constructed a lovely down the right wing, culminating in Daniel Leadbitter whipping over a cross for Mansell, but Harrogate skipper Alan White saved the situation with a brave clearing header.
As the game entered it dying minutes, United toiled for one last chance to save their blushes but Harrogate held on for a famous win, and well done to them. For the Gulls, a day to forget.
Gulls (4-3-3): 1 Michael Poke; 12 Daniel Leadbitter, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson (23 Ashley Yeoman 79); 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 6 Damon Lathrope, 20 Nathan Craig; 15 Billy Bodin (29 Niall Thompson 60), 9 Rene Howe, 19 Danny Stevens (8 Ryan Jarvis 60). Substitutes (not used): 2 Joe Oastler, 13 Martin Rice (GK), 18 Craig Easton, 21 Thomas Cruise.
Harrogate (4-5-1): 1 Craig McGillivray; 2 Dwayne Samuels, 5 Alan White (capt), 6 Shane Killock, 3 Dave Merris; 9 Chibuzor Chilaka, 7 Luke Dean, 4 Adam Bolder, 8 Tom Platt, 11 Danny Forrest (12 Dan Clayton 57); 10 Paul Beesley (17 Jonny Allan 72). Substitutes (not used): 14 Adam Nowakowski, 15 Matt Bloomer, 16 Liam Hardy, 18 Jose Da Veiga, 19 Paul Bolland.
Referee: Wayne Barratt
Attendance: 1,817 (42 away).