Harrogate Town 0 AFC Fylde 1: Full report and reaction
AFC Fylde are well placed to reach the play-off final in Vanarama National North after edging the away leg of their semi-final at Harrogate Town.
Top scorer Danny Rowe did the damage in a fantastic match at the CNG Stadium where both sides created a host of opportunities.
Manager Dave Challinor named the same side that drew 2-2 with Worcester City on the final game of the regular season.
The hosts got off to an electric start and should have been ahead inside 20 seconds when Paul Clayton smashed a strike from point-blank range at the Fylde goal, but Matt Urwin pulled off potentially the save of the season to keep Harrogate at bay.
Fylde created a glorious chance of their own two minutes in when Matty Hughes headed Sam Finley’s right-wing cross back across goal and somehow goalkeeper Peter Crook clawed away James Hardy’s stooped header.
Harrogate top scorer Brendon Daniels looked to add to his impressive tally for the season when he met a cross at the back post but his cushioned header looped over the bar.
Daniels fired another attempt on Urwin’s goal on the 15 minute mark that was deflected on target by Josh Langley, but the goalkeeper was alive to the clear up the danger.
The hosts were knocking on the door and went closer still when Clayton rattled the crossbar with a bullet header from inside 10 yards.
The game began to settle down but sprang to life once more on 28 minutes when Lloyd Kerry connected sweetly with a volley from the edge of the area, but it arrowed narrowly wide. Hardy was enjoying another good game and should have opened the scoring on the half hour mark.
Richie Baker found the midfielder with a delightful cross from the left, but again Crook pulled off a sensational save to keep out the youngster’s header.
Rowe looked for a way through but was stifled out and his shot was deflected out for a corner.
Captain Tom Hannigan met the resultant corner at the near post but his header was frantically scrambled off the line.
The visitors were growing into the game and Rowe hit a thunderous free-kick that Crook gratefully gathered shortly before the break.
There was no change for either side at the break and the game restarted with a similar high tempo to the first half, Finley striking the side-netting with the opening chance of the half.
Harrogate hit back with a decent chance of their own when the ball broke kindly to Joe Colbeck on the edge of the box but his dragged his low effort wide of the far post.
The stubborn deadlock was finally broken on 53 minutes and it was a goal of individual brilliance.
Rowe outmuscled his man on the left, broke into the box, cut inside on to his right and fired a low drive past Crook at the near post.
The frontman had an opportunity to double his tally a few minutes later when Hughes’ ball over the top found Rowe racing through, but his final strike was comfortable for the goalkeeper.
Substitute Dion Charles cut inside from the right wing as Fylde looked for a second and fired a vicious left footed shot towards the Harrogate goal that flew agonisingly wide of the post.
The last ten minutes was becoming an increasingly tense affair as Harrogate pushed for a leveller.
Fylde were throwing bodies on the line and attacks were mainly being limited to the counter.
Harrogate almost found a late equaliser when Daniels whipped in a cross from the left and defender Danny Ellis struck the post after a scramble with the last meaningful effort of the match.
But Fylde held on to take their slender advantage into Sunday’s home leg.
League runners-up North Ferriby United have it all to do after losing 2-0 at Boston United in the other semi-final.
Manager Dave Challinor said: “We knew any kind of win away was important. It was a tight, nervy game but I thought we played really well.
“We had chances to score a few more but it’s great to go into the home leg with a win behind us, though we still have a lot of work to do.
“Harrogate should have scored after 20 seconds. We could have done two minutes later and that set the tone for the game. Both goalkeepers produced some great saves.
“Their lad made a couple of great saves from James Hardy in the first half.
“It was a tough team selection but we went with our gut decision and it has paid off.
“They gave us a couple of scares early on but we grew into the game. After a while we started it think a goal wasn’t coming and then Rowey pops up and does what he does best.
“We were outstanding defensively and that’s where our success has been built over the years.
“We haven’t managed to have a settled back four this season and the goalkeepers have both had spells in the team.
We are only halfway through the tie and the game is still on a knife-edge. We will be positive in the home leg and we go out there to win another game.
“We won’t be sitting back and we will need to be at our best because Harrogate will have the bit between their teeth.”
AFC Fylde: Urwin, C. Hughes, Hannigan, Langley, Crainey, Barnes, Baker, Finley (Dixon 90), M. Hughes (Lloyd 86), Hardy (Charles 73), Rowe; Not used: Hinchliffe, Blinkhorn.
Harrogate Town: Crook, Turner, Swain, Thirlwell, Ellis, Shiels, Colbeck (Burrell 69), Kerry, Clayton (Knowles 69), Thewlis (Emmett 55), Daniels; Not used: Platt, Stewart.