Darlington 2-3 Harrogate Town
A brace from Simon Ainge and clever finish by Lloyd Kerry helped Harrogate Town to an away win over Darlington after a memorable second half at Blackwell Meadows.
The hosts were reduced to ten men after just 18 minutes when Leon Scott saw red for a lunge on Lloyd Kerry, though Town were made to wait until five minutes after the restart for the breakthrough as Ainge converted Joe Colbeck’s cross.
The lead lasted just two minutes as Stephen Thompson pulled the ten men level, before Kerry restored Town’s lead with a neat finish just under fifteen minutes from time.
Ainge’s smashed home his second of the afternoon and looked to have sealed all three points, only for Liam Hardy’s 87th minute to set up a grandstand finish, though Town’s defence remained compact to make it five away trips unbeaten in the National League North.
Simon Weaver made one enforced change from last weekend’s draw at Altrincham as Chris Elliott made his first league start of 2017 in place of the injured Peter Crook.
The contest started slowly with both sides taking time to adjust to the fiercely windy conditions as Kerry’s early effort sailed wide of the target.
With just eighteen minutes gone Darlington were reduced to ten men after Scott lunged in high on Kerry and left Referee Paul Newhouse with no choice but to brandish the red card.
Town then created the first real chance of the contest as Colbeck headed Warren Burrell’s floated cross over the bar from just a few yards out.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, The Quakers nearly took the lead mid-way through the first half when Thompson rattled the upright from 25 yards.
The hosts soon sacrificed Nathan Cartman for Terry Galbraith to help deal with being a man down, and the decision seemed to have worked as Town’s chances were limited for the rest of the half.
The closest Simon Weaver’s men came to forcing a breakthrough was when Gary Brown sliced Joe Leesley’s cross over his own cross-bar minutes before the interval.
The breakthrough arrived for Town just four minutes after the restart as Colbeck outmuscled his marker and squared across the face of goal where Ainge was waiting to tap home.
The lead lasted just two minutes though, as the lively Thompson raced behind the Town defence and finished well past the onrushing Elliott.
Town responded well to being pegged back as Leesley and Ainge produced efforts on goal, though a committed Andi Thanoj block was required to deny Thompson’s strike reaching Elliott’s goal at the other end.
With just under fifteen minutes to play,Louie Swain showed great strength to hold up the ball on the edge of the box and play in the onrushing Kerry, who carried possession into the box and fired past Edward Wilczynski.
The visitors added a third goal, and all but sealed the three points, just six minutes later when Leesley’s free kick fell to the feet of Ainge, who smashed into the roof of the net.
The hosts were not yet beaten though as substitute Hardy converted at the back post after Mark Beck had flicked on Gary Brown’s long throw.
Despite throwing men forward to find a late equaliser, a combination of solid defending and resolute goalkeeping by Elliott helped Town claim a win that sees them move to within five points of the play-off positions.
Harrogate Town: Elliott, Turner, Parker, Burrell, Shiels, Ellis (Thanoj 59), Colbeck (Emmett 72), Kerry, Ainge, Swain, Leesley
Subs not used: Platt, Agnew, Day
Goals: Ainge 49, 82 Kerry 76
Darlington: Wilczynski, Falkingham, Ferguson, Turnbull (Hunter 61), Burgess, Brown, Syers, Scott, Beck, Cartman (Galbraith 30), Thompson (Hardy 71)
Subs not used: Bell, Gillies
Goals: Thompson 51, Hardy 87
Sent off: Scott
Referee: P Newhouse