Harrogate Town 3 AFC Fylde 3: Match report and reaction
Harrogate and their hat-trick hero Simon Ainge were denied victory in West Yorkshire as substitute Matty Hughes' late equaliser saved Fylde.
Despite dropping points, the Coasters extended their lead at the top of Vanarama National North to 11 points with 10 games to play on a weekend when none of the top seven won.
Ainge, who had the ball in the net five times, opened the scoring before Danny Rowe equalised with the Coasters’ first penalty of the season.
Dan Bradley put the visitors into the driving seat shortly after the break but Ainge levelled a minute later.
He thought he had won it with his hat-trick goal only for Hughes to secure a point for Fylde four minutes from time.
Manager Dave Challinor made two changes to the side that beat Tamworth last time out, with David Morgan making his debut in place of Macauley Wilson and Dom Collins coming in for Steve Williams at centre-half.
The visitors started brightly in the sunshine at The CNG Stadium but it was Harrogate who had the ball in the net after just five minutes, when Ainge tapped home a loose ball. However, it was ruled out for a foul on goalkeeper Rhys Taylor.
But centre-half-turned-striker Ainge was not to be denied for long and on 12 minutes he was played through by Lloyd Kerry, and although he looked offside Ainge kept his composure to slide the ball past Taylor into the bottom left corner of the goal.
The hosts had the wind in their sails and Lewis Turner wasn’t far away with a header from Joe Leesley’s left-wing cross. Louie Swain tested Taylor with a low drive as the home side continued to dominate.
Ainge was proving a handful for the Coasters backline and skewed a strike narrowly wide after a lay-off from Liam Agnew on the edge of the area.
Fylde were presented with their first half-chance shortly after the 20-minute mark, when Bohan Dixon headed harmlessly over from Dan Jones’ long throw.
The match sprang to life on 25 minutes, when the Coasters were awarded that first league penalty when Brendon Daniels’ strike was handled.
Rowe stepped up and lashed the ball into the bottom right corner to level the scores with his 42nd goal of the season.
Harrogate replied with a chance of their own, when Swain was allowed too much time down the left and thundered a vicious effort a foot over the bar.
The hosts had the ball in the net for a third time when Agnew rolled home on the stroke of half-time, the assistant’s flag coming to Fylde’s rescue on this occasion.
Fylde had a glorious opportunity to take the lead shortly after the break, when another long throw from Jones caused havoc in the Harrogate box but Dixon’s eventual strike after a scramble was straight at keeper Peter Crook.
Joe Leesley was the first to test Taylor in the second period, when his improvised attempt on the hour mark would have found the far top corner had it not been for the quick thinking of the Fylde keeper.
Ben Parker flashed the ball across goal from the left as Harrogate enjoyed a spell of pressure.
However, the turnaround was complete on 62 minutes, when Rowe played a delightful pass between the two centre-halves for Bradley to take a touch before clipping the ball into the bottom left corner.
The celebrations were cut short less than three minutes later, when Harrogate grabbed the leveller.
A ball over the top found Ainge unmarked – with more than a hint of offside – and the forward coolly slotted home.
The match was turned on its head once again on 70 minutes. A corner from the right made its way to Ainge and he completed his hat-trick with a powerful header at the back post.
Substitute Sam Finley almost made an immediate impact for Fylde when his cross from the right picked out Rowe, but the striker’s touch was off and the ball drifted narrowly wide of the post.
Chances were few and far between as the match edged towards its conclusion, Kerry launching an ambitious volley from 30 yards that flew well over.
However, just when it looked like there was no way back for the visitors, substitute Hughes struck a vital leveller.
Rowe cut in from the left and his powerful strike was too hot for Crook to handle. Hughes gobbled up the leftovers at the back post with a composed finish.
Fylde boss Challinor said: “We got a point that I don’t think we deserved but we showed really good character.
“We’ve dug in and I said at half-time that a draw wouldn’t be a bad result regardless of what other teams did.
“When you come in after the game and see the other results, it becomes a massive point for us.
“We conceded poor goals from our perspective. The one time we’ve got ourselves in front we’ve not controlled that lead for long enough.
“They then scored two goals to put us behind and I suppose then you’re looking for one chance at that late stage of the game.
“Fortunately that one chance came to us. The keeper’s made a decent save and thankfully Hughesey has managed to put it in.
“If you could have ended the game then, I definitely would have because we were a little bit walking wounded.
“We had thrown a lot of forward players on to the pitch and thrown caution to the wind.
“We showed a massive amount of character out there. We didn’t hold on for a point at Curzon, when we were poor by our standards, but we did here.”
DANIEL AGNEW AND CHRISTOPHER COUGHLIN
Fylde: Taylor, C. Hughes (Blinkhorn 84), Maguire, Collins, Jones, Bond, Morgan, Bradley, Dixon (M. Hughes 76), Daniels (Finley 70), Rowe; Not used: Wilson, Baker.
Harrogate: Crook, Turner, Parker, Thanoj, Shiels, Burrell, Agnew, Kerry, Ainge, Swain (Pittman 54), Leesley; not used: Emmett, Platt, Day, Elliott.
Ref: Kevin Mulraine