Crook steals the show as Harrogate nick point

First published in Match Reports
Last updated
Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by , Deputy Sports Editor

The smiles on the faces of the Harrogate RA players and management as they left the pitch said it all.

Having succeeded in their mission to stifle Darlington, to defend in numbers and keep a clean sheet, their satisfaction was clear. In contrast, Quakers trudged away from Heritage Park muttering the f-word.

Frustrated was how they felt after an afternoon in which they enjoyed the vast majority of possession but were unable to break down a stubborn team that grew in confidence.

Had they scored one they may well have ended up getting five or six, but they didn't. It was one of those days. Chances came and went, while Harrogate keeper Peter Crook was in fine form to keep his team's first clean sheet away from home this season.

Harrogate became only the third team in Darlington's 27 league matches at Heritage Park to avoid defeat, Spennymoor Town and Bishop Auckland being the others,

"It was a frustrating day, a very frustrating day," reflected manager Martin Gray. "There was nothing wrong with the performance, we could have been winning 2-0 or 3-0 inside the first 20 minutes.

"But the longer it went on, the more they had something to hang on to. If we'd got an early goal - Stephen Thompson hit the post, their keeper made a good save from Andy Johnson - it would have been a different game because they would have had to change their formation.

"They played 4-5-1, as teams have done in the past, but credit to them, they hung on and got a point.

"It's just frustrating because we probably had 90 per cent of the possession and chances."

The Yorkshire side came into the encounter 15th in the table, having lost their previous four fixtures, and in the early stages defeat number five appeared certain.

Not just a defeat, but a hammering of the sort Quakers handed out occasionally last season.

The visitors hardly touched the ball, while Darlington were composed during prolonged periods of possession, switching play from one side to the other as they patiently worked openings.

Andy Johnson got a shot in that was parried by Crook before the keeper stopped efforts from Leon Scott and Thompson.

Crook was beaten when Thompson turned tightly in the penalty area, but the shot rebounded off the inside of the post.

Meanwhile, Quakers keeper Mark Bell could have made the most of the last of this year's sunshine and got a deckchair out as he rarely touched the ball in the first 40 minutes.

Only in the closing stages of the half, when Railway rallied, was he called into action, saving from Lawrence Hunter before Colin Hunter put a shot on to the roof of the net and Jonathan Maloney headed wide.

"We were happy at half-time, we just said to be patient and that it would come. But they had something to hold on to the closer they got to full-time," added Gray.

While Harrogate gained confidence, the half-time break meant Darlington lost momentum.

Soon after the restart Gray sent on David Dowson and Paul Robinson, for Johnson and Terry Galbraith, but Quakers were not as fluid and the chances thinned out.

Thompson switched wings with Moore to no avail and it was the visitors who had the best chance after Darlington debutant Curtis Edwards cheaply lost possession in midfield. Josh Barbutt ran at goal but dragged his shot wide.

Edwards, in central midfield, otherwise looked composed and showed a good range of passing.

He was one of two changes, the other seeing Jordan Robinson replace Alan White, who was needed by Harrogate Town, where he is also registered. The agreement between the clubs permits Town to select him when necessary.

Dowson scuffed a shot when Robinson pulled the ball back, Chris Hunter lifted one over the bar and Thompson appealed for a penalty. It was never likely to be given because it was just one of those days for Darlington.

It could even have been worse. Bell had to save a Michael Morris header to give Harrogate their first corner on 80 minutes, and from it Nathan Cartman hooked a chance over the bar.

Although disappointed, few can complain. Of the 53 league fixtures since the beginning of last season it was only the eighth time Quakers have not won and it only the third time they have not scored.

Gray added: "We had enough chances to win two or three games. The keeper made some great saves and he was clearly man of the match.

"Harrogate set up to make it difficult for us and they've left with a point, so they've done well.

"It's happened before and we've usually got something out of the game, but we've actually ended up losing before, never mind drawing.

"On the positive side, it's another clean sheet."

The result means Quakers failed to make the most of leaders Curzon Ashton being held to a draw, while Gray's men drop to fourth ahead of tomorrow's visit to second-bottom Ramsbottom United.

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