Harrogate Town on point in National League opener

On a historic day for Harrogate Town, 1378 fans attended the CNG Stadium as the team played its first ever game at the pinnacle of the non-league pyramid. Reaching the Vanarama National League has been a long journey, so there was plenty to celebrate, even though visiting Sutton United managed to snatch a draw at the death.

The club founded in 1914 has waited a long time for this moment, but despite playing some lovely football and creating a host of chances in the first half, Harrogate were out of luck when it came to finding the back of the net. George Thomson, Jack Emmet and Dom Knowles all came close, with the latter fizzing a good effort just wide of the mark.

The forwards were putting in a good shift, but one of the most interesting chances of the half came when centre-back Liam Kitching set forth on an unlikely forward surge, leaving two Sutton rivals in his wake as he burst through with sights set on goal, only to be denied by an important save by the visiting keeper.

Showing maturity beyond his age, Harrogate-born Kitching is yet to celebrate his 19th birthday and has re-joined Town on loan from Leeds United, who are amongst the Championship betting favourites for promotion following the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa as manager. No doubt he’ll be keeping a close eye on performance reports for the youngster.

Nevertheless, it was Sutton United who punished the home side for their missed opportunities. Following a set-piece, Charlie Clough put the visitors ahead in the 39th minute, rising highest inside the area with a powerful headed finish. The south London side looked to take advantage and almost doubled their lead before the interval.

Sutton United were buoyed by their goal and looked the most likely to score again in the opening period of the second half, but they too would end up ruing missed opportunities. On the hour mark after a good spell of pressure, Jack Muldoon notched Harrogate’s first ever goal at this level with a simple finish inside the area.

Although back on level terms, Harrogate couldn’t capitalise during a spell where neither side could break the deadlock, defences at both ends resolute and with few opportunities for the forwards to sniff out. However, with 85 minutes on the clock patience was rewarded when Town edged ahead after a scramble inside the Sutton area, Kelvin Langmead the opportunist with a calmly placed finish.

Just as it looked as though Harrogate might be celebrating a winning start to life in the fifth tier of English football, deep into stoppage time the home side suffered a cruel blow. A handball was apparently spotted inside the area and the referee awarded a penalty to the visitors. Sutton didn’t waste that opportunity, as defender Jamie Collins grabbed the equaliser from the spot.

“The performance warranted a victory,” Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver suggested in his post-match analysis, believing “the chances created were probably more in our favour.” However, he was pleased by how the team had turned the match around after falling behind in the first half, praising the “fantastic atmosphere inside the stadium” which helped drive the players on.

Looking ahead, Weaver insisted, “We’re a good footballing team and we’ve got to keep believing in ourselves,” confident that his team is capable of looking beyond just a fight to stay in the division. If the first impressions from their opening game are anything to go by, Harrogate Town will be one of the most entertaining sides to watch in the Vanarama National League this season.

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