Harrogate Town 6-3 Alfreton Town
Harrogate Town got their 2017 home campaign off to winning start with a 6-3 victory over Alfreton Town, thanks to a four goal haul from Simon Ainge.
The hosts fell behind early through Mark Shelton’s finish, but were back on level terms within minutes as Warren Burrell converted JP Pittman’s pull back.
Ainge then twice converted Joe Leesley’s corners in quick succession, before a Leesley free kick put Town in a commanding position at the interval.
Town’s Captain completed his hat-trick after 55 minutes and added a fourth either side of Paul Clayton’s header and Craig Westcarr’s penalty in a memorable second half.
Simon Weaver made four changes from New Years’ Day’s 1-1 draw at Stockport County with Ben Parker, Tom Platt, Ainge and Andi Thanoj returning to the starting line-up.
Alfreton Boss Nicky Law made one enforced change from his side’s last outing with Fabian Spiess replacing recalled Doncaster Rovers goalkeeper Ross Etheridge.
Law’s side took the lead eight minutes in when a mix up between Peter Crook and Platt on the edge of the area allowed Shelton to roll into an empty net.
It took just nine minutes for the hosts to find an equaliser though, as JP Pittman pulled back towards Burrell from the right wing, allowing the midfielder to finish on the slide.
Two minutes later the tie had swung completely in Town’s favour as Leesley’s corner was headed into the back of the net by Ainge.
Town’s Captain and stand in centre forward then repeated the trick three minutes later, again heading Leesley’s corner past a helpless Spiess.
After registering two assists, Leesley then got himself on the score-sheet in emphatic fashion, curling a free kick into the top right corner.
The Reds almost pulled one back six minutes before the break, only for Platt to throw his body in the way to block Shelton’s goal bound effort.
Town almost claimed a fifth before the half was done as Pittman’s drive was beaten away by Spiess, before Lloyd Kerry’s shot was blocked, and the follow up placed over.
Ainge had a chance to claim his hat-trick six minutes after the restart when beating the offside trap to go one on one with Spiess, though the German stopper got enough contact to see the finish roll wide.
It wasn’t much longer before Town’s Captain claimed his hat-trick though, as the defender turned striker capitalised on Pittman winning possession and smashed home.
Law had introduced Paul Clayton at the break, and the former Town striker marked his return to The CNG with a goal after 65 minutes glancing Paul Marshall’s cross past Crook.
Lewis Turner entered the action after 71 minutes and twice went close to getting his name on the score-sheet only to be denied by Spiess before shooting over on his right foot.
With eight minutes to go, Ainge was at it again, this time latching on to a short back pass and finishing low past the Alfreton ‘keeper.
The afternoon’s scoring was not finished though, as Crook brought down Clayton inside the Town box allowing Westcarr to step up and make the score 6-3.
Harrogate Town: Crook, Platt, Parker, Thanoj, Shiels (Swain 65), Ainge, Colbeck, Kerry, Pittman (Chilaka 77), Burrell, Leesley (Turner 71)
Subs not used: Day, Cadman
Goals: Burrell 17, Ainge 19, 22, 55, 82 Leesley 31
Booked: Ainge, Thanoj, Shiels
Alfreton: Spiess, Mantack (Nyoni 45), Heaton, Jordan, McGowan, Gascoigne, Monkhouse, Shelton, Marshall, Wilson (Clayton 45), Westcarr
Subs not used: Kennedy, Priestley, Hearn
Goals: Shelton 8, Clayton 65, Westcarr 89(p)
Referee: M Edwards