Worcester city 2 - 2 harrogate town
JP Pittman’s 91st-minute goal ensured Harrogate Town came away from Worcester City with a hard-fought point after a tough opening day contest.
Town were behind for the majority of the afternoon, first when a controversial penalty awarded for handball allowed Lee Hughes to give Worcester an early lead.
The visitors hit back just nine minutes later when Luke Shiels's finish deflected off Simon Ainge and in, only for Hughes to restore the one goal advantage almost straight from the restart with a near post header.
Simon Weaver introduced Pittman from the bench late in the second half in the hope of levelling, and his decision paid dividends when the striker scrambled home a 91" minute equaliser to claim a share of the points.
The Harrogate Manager opted for a flat midfield four with Joe Colbeck and Joe Leesley on either flank, while Ainge Captained the side from the back.
Leesley had shown signs of being a threat early on, after his low shot was blocked by the legs of Andy Gallanagh, following Dominic Knowles’ knock down. Carl Heeley’s men had also posed a threat with Hughes shooting into the arms of Peter Crook, but it was the referee they had to thank for the opportunity of an early lead.
The Blues were then given a controversial penalty just 11 minutes in, when Lewis Turner was penalised for handling Hughes’ cross, despite the right back being only a few feet from the Worcester man. Referee Declan Bourne pointed to the spot and 40-year-old Hughes made no mistake in finding the bottom right corner.
It took Town just nine minutes to claw themselves back on level terms though, when Leesley’s deep free kick was dropped by Ethan Ross at the feet of Shiels, who’s first time shot hit Ainge and ended up in the back of the net via the post.
Knowles came close to turning the tie around when first, after 26 minutes, only a last ditch Graham Hutchinson block stopped the forward’s shot, then three minutes later Town’s number ten met Colbeck’s lofted cross, but couldn’t test the ‘keeper.
Knowles’ strike partner Jordan Robertson was also amongst the first half chances when Andi Thanoj picked out the former Southampton man behind the Worcester defence, only for his first time strike to sail over.
Just three minutes after the restart, Hughes gave Worcester the lead for the second time of the afternoon, heading past Crook from close range at the near post.
Knowles looked for an immediate response for Weaver’s men, but could only find the arms of Ross after turning sharply in the box. Worcester continued to threaten though, and could have had a second if Tom Sharpe’s free header from a corner had not been straight at Crook.
In almost an exact copy of the equaliser, Shiels nearly claimed his second of the afternoon when Ross again spilled a corner at the defender’s feet, but was this time able to smother the finish.
Town were throwing men forward in search of a way back into the game, and thought they had found it in the 56th minute when Leesley cut back on his left foot and beat the ‘keeper only for his strike to be cleared off the line.
With 25 minutes left to play, Weaver looked to his bench for a way back into the game, introducing Jack Emmett, Chib Chilaka and Pittman for Knowles, Robertson and Colbeck.
It was Lloyd Kerry who was next to create an opening though, driving forward and seeing his low shot deflected behind.
With Town desperately seeking a leveller, Worcester had space to break into, and were prevented going 3-1 up by Crook who stood his ground to deny substitute Colby Bishop’s one on one opportunity.
Kerry again went close with four minutes remaining, trying to pick out the top corner after Leesley’s corner was scrambled away, but narrowly missing.
With four minutes of added time signalled by the fourth official, Pittman pounced after Leesley’s free kick had been missed by Ross, and scrambled in his first Town goal in the most dramatic circumstances
Harrogate Town: Crook, Turner, Ainge, Shiels, Parker, Leesley, Thanoj, Kerry, Colbeck (Emmett 70), Robertson (Chilaka 65), Knowles (Pittman 71)
Subs not used: Ellis, Burrell
Goals: Shiels 21, Pittman 90+1
Booked: Turner, Ainge
Worcester City: Ross, Gallinagh, Keane, Hutchinson, Sharpe, Fitzpatrick (Batchelor 77), Murphy, English, Hughes (Bishop 75), Nelson-Addy, Steele
Subs not used : Draper, Chilekwa, Jackman
Goals: Hughes (p) 12, 48
Referee: D Bourne