Saints held to draw by Harrogate

Stefan Moore heads home Brackley's first goal. Picture by Jake McNulty
Stefan Moore heads home Brackley's first goal. Picture by Jake McNulty

Conference North play-off rivals Brackley Town and Harrogate were forced to share the points after an entertaining 2-2 draw at St James Park on Saturday afternoon.

The visitors twice led - first through a stunning Adam Nowakowski strike and then Dominic Rowe’s fine finish - but were both times pegged back by Brackley as Stefan Moore and Brett Solkhon earned Saints a point in an incident-packed encounter that also saw Jon Brady sent to the stands for an angry outburst directed towards the linesman.

Harrogate went into the game on the back of three successive wins and their confidence was visible from the off, taking only 90 seconds to go ahead when Brackley struggled to clear their lines and the ball rolled invitingly to Nowakowski who, 30 yards from goal, unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top corner, giving Billy Turley no chance.

The Saints riposte was almost immediate, though, and they drew level on eight minutes when Steve Diggin got away on the right and swung in an inviting cross that was brilliantly headed home by the prolific Moore.

Brackley continued to pose problems down the Harrogate left as Diggin again got free but he twice flashed an effort across goal with no Brackley player able to get a touch.

Ryan Austin then saw his header from Glenn Walker’s corner cleared off the line by Dwayne Samuels, before the visitors went straight up the other end and Ashley Worsfold got beyond the home defence, went round Billy Turley but was unable to turn the ball in from a tight angle.

In an end-to-end contest that swung one way and then the other, a third goal before half-time seemed certain and so it proved when, moments after Walker forced a fine save from visiting goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray, Harrogate restored their lead as substitute Rowe squeezed a low shot into the corner after Saints failed to clear a corner.

The goal allowed Harrogate to regain the upper hand, with Worsfold heading over from six yards, and although Brackley ended the half on top, the visitors maintained their slender advantage into the break.

Saints started the second half with greater urgency, pressing for the equaliser, but Harrogate retained a strong goal threat on the break and it was the visitors who should have scored the crucial fourth goal but Nowakowski skied over eight yards out after Saints again failed to clear a set-piece.

And that missed was the turning point of the match as seconds later MacGillivray made a mess of Diggin’s cross and spilled the ball into Solkhon’s pass and the midfielder hammered home from three yards to bring the scores level.

Saints, now sensing victory, almost turned the game on its head within minutes when a terrific move down the right set Walker free and the winger cut inside but his scuffed shot was well saved by MacGillivray at his near post.

Diggin was next to test the Harrogate ‘keeper as Brackley appeared the more likely team to snatch victory, but Harrogate’s defence stood firm in the face of a series of corners and extended period of attacking Saints pressure.

The visitors showed glimpses of intent but laregly appeared content with a point, while Saints frantically pushed forward, but had to settle for the point as neither team found a winner.

Brackley: Turley, Clerima, Langdon (Nisevic 69), Sharpe, Austin (c), Bridges, Solkhon, Walker, Diggin, Mulligan (Mills 62), Moore.

Subs not used: Towers, Reid, Sherratt.

Harrogate: Macgillivary, Samuels, Merris, Nelthorpe, Heath, Killock (c), Mallory (Brown 74), Nowakowski, Hall, Worsfold (Ironside 74), Clayton (Rowe 24).

Subs not used: Bolder, Franks.

Referee: Guy Stretton

Attendance: 293