Harrogate Railway’s superb 12-game unbeaten run at Station View came to a shuddering halt after title favourites Darlington 1883 walked away with a 5-1 victory.
Harrogate’s Evo Stik Division One North play-offs hopes remain alive, but the task is even harder as a few teams around them have multiple matches in hand.
All the pre-match talk was about Nathan Cartman making his first return to Harrogate since his move to the North East last month.
Whilst Railway successfully nullified the threat of their former talisman, they were unable to cope with his colleagues at various points of the second half – especially Galbraith, who grabbed a hat-trick.
The sides were well-matched for half-an-hour of the first half. Former Harrogate Town striker Graeme Armstrong hit the post at Railway’s end, the closest Darlington came to scoring before the opening goal.
Railway had their own brief forays forward. Wing wizard Rob Youhill passed a late fitness test after missing the last two games and he forced a superb low save from Peter Jameson.
Darlington started to turn the screw and Railway cracked under the pressure. Galbraith was allowed to waltz past two defenders and pull the ball back for Nelson Mota to drill it into the right-hand bottom corner from edge of the penalty area.
Darlington were threatened once more when a last ditch block denied on-loan Railway striker Jerry Yates at the end of the first half, but the visitors soon took complete control.
Martin Gray’s side upped their tempo and ensured there was no way back for Harrogate. Galbraith opened his account for the day straight after the interval with a blast from 20-yards.
Railway’s defence parted as Armstrong then burst through and applied a simple low finish as goalkeeper Tom Goodwin came off his line.
Just like the reverse game in October when Darlington ran out 7-1 winners, the visitors looked capable of scoring every time they went forward.
Substitute Leon Scott brought the long ball down for fourth goal and cut the Railway defence open with a short pass which allowed Galbraith to slot home again with ease.
Another positive for Railway can take is that due to captain Jason Mycoe’s dogged perseverance, the 2013/14 Division One North player of the year Stephen Thompson was kept quiet until the last few minutes.
Mycoe stuck to his job of stalking danger man Thompson everywhere he went and the winger only managed to elude him for Galbraith’s third goal.
A quick one-two with Armstrong and Thompson was able to show his speed to get into the six-yard-box and cross the ball to the back-post for Galbraith to score into the empty net.
There was something for Railway to cheer about right at the death as Fatlum Ibrahimi scored the goal of the day with a 25-yard thunderbolt.
The Darlington defence backed off and the midfielder found the top corner.
Harrogate Railway manager Billy Miller:
“Certainly the league is their’s to lose.
“If they put a decent run together and win the league then I think they will go up as worthy champions.
“Once as they got the second they put us under the cosh, but we’ll take the positives from the game.
“We have a young and small squad and we’re competing at this level and keeping ourselves in and amongst the top ten, that’s for certain.
“If we reflect on the game we probably didn’t get up enough to support the front two as much as we could have done, but to be fair Darlington pinned us in quite well.
“It was difficult because when we did get it into the front runners, it was very hard for the midfield to get up with them.”
Harrogate Railway midfielder Dan Thirkell:
“We had a mad 15 minutes where they scored one and put the pressure right on us and hit back with another couple very quickly.
“I don’t think we recovered from the first one and it ended up at five.”
Harrogate Railway: Goodwin, Armstrong, Manning (Hunter 57), Heath, Morgan (Coates 71), Thirkell, Mycoe (captain), Ibrahimi, Farquharson, Yates, Youhill (Kidd 80). Subs unused: Kidd, Hickey, Ashforth.
Darlington 1883: Jameson, Cartwright, Watson, Brown (captain), Hatch, Portas (Cocks 81), Mota (Scott 68), Galbraith, Armstrong, Cartman (Dowson 62), Thompson. Sub unused: Bell.
Referee: Andy Smith (Castleford)
Ref Rating: 10/10
Man of the match: Terry Galbraith