Fylde’s title fight goes to dramatic last day

Rowe (left) hat-trick hero
Rowe (left) hat-trick hero
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Harrogate Town 1, AFC Fylde 4

A Danny Rowe hat-trick ensured the Vanarama Conference North title race will go down to the last game as Fylde came from behind to win in style.

Leaders Barrow beat Tamworth by the same score to take their two-point advantage over the Coasters into the last day, though Fylde can still pip them to automatic promotion if they defeat Gloucester City at Kellamergh Park on Saturday and the Cumbrians fail to win at Lowestoft.

James Walshaw’s 17th-minute free-kick gave Harrogate the lead but goals in first-half stoppage by Danny Rowe and Danny Lloyd turned the tie on its head, Rowe going on to complete his hat-trick within 10 minutes of the restart.

After a quiet opening, the visitors had the first chance as Lloyd forced Peter Crook to tip the ball over his bar on seven minutes.

Seven minutes later, Josh Wilson’s dipping header just cleared the bar but then Walshaw gave his side a shock lead, curling a free-kick from the edge of the box into the corner of the net.

The Coasters rallied as Rowe’s cross just eluded Richie Baker six yards out, then Richie Allen’s shot on the turn was tipped over by Crook at full stretch.

Fylde had another scare on the half-hour, when Walshaw beat Ben Hinchliffe to a high ball six yards out but the Fylde keeper did enough to put the goalscorer off and win a goal-kick.

Lloyd then has two decent chances – the first saved by Crook, the second blocked by Leigh Franks.

Crook had to be at his best again on 38 minutes, when Baker’s superb volley from Allen’s knockdown looked bound for the top corner.

However, four minutes of stoppage-time saw the match turned around as Rowe converted Allen’s cross with a firm header.

Then the keeper spilled the ball and Lloyd was first to react to stab Fylde in front.

It was 3-1 within six minutes of the restart as Tom Hannigan was pushed to the ground near the bye-line and referee Paul Brown awarded a penalty, which Rowe duly hammered home.

Five minutes later, man of the match Rowe was celebrating his first hat-trick for the club, squirming through the defence to fire past Crook and claim the match ball.

There was no way back for Harrogate, though Walshaw turned a corner wide just after the hour, then saw a low shot gathered by Hinchliffe.

Fylde had chances for a fifth as Wilson struck narrowly wide and substitute Matt Blinkhorn had a curling effort saved by Crook, who also plucked Sumner’s free-kick out of the air.

Coasters manager Dave Challinor said: “A lot of people outside the club thought it would be all over today but we’ll just keep fighting and taking care of our business, though we can’t affect what happens elsewhere.

“We started sloppily and weren’t really at it for the first 20 minutes, but then we massively built the tempo and spent the rest of the first half in their half. The two goals gave us a foothold and in the second half we gave a really good dominant performance.”

The only worry for Challinor was a back injury to Allen, which forced the attacker out of the action early in the second half.

If the Coasters have to settle for second spot, they would face the fifth-placed club in a two-legged play-off semi-final.

Boston, Guiseley and Chorley will contest the play-offs, though could yet finish in any order.