Edgeley Park endured its first league goal-less draw in over a year, as the Hatters had to settle for a share of the spoils with Harrogate.
With the two sides level on points, and separated only by a two-goal difference in County’s favour, before kick-off, the table would have suggested a tight encounter. And so it proved to be in terms of the result, although the Hatters, who had hitherto scored in every one of their League Two fixtures, twice struck their North Yorkshire guests’ crossbar, as well as forcing a goal-line clearance, in the first half.
County took to the field on a sunny mid-September afternoon, showing just one change from the midweek starting line-up against Crawley, as Ryan Johnson replaced Joe Lewis in the back four. Lewis was named among the substitutes on a bench that also included Connor Jennings, who had scored, from the penalty spot, the only goal of the League Cup-tie at Harrogate during the first half of August
The Queen’s passing was marked in SK3 – as it had been in West Sussex four days earlier – by an impeccably-observed minute’s silence and a rousing rendition around the ground of the National Anthem, before the contest got under way, with Kyle Wootton, after two minutes, unleashing its first shot narrowly wide of the left post.
Half a dozen minutes later, the Hatters went closer still – and not once but thrice in the course of a goalmouth scramble, as Wootton saw a header saved by visiting goalkeeper Pete Jameson, acting captain Antoni Sarcevic nodded against the bar, and a low follow-up shot from James Brown was cleared off the line by Miles Welch-Hayes.
County lost the services of Callum Camps to a knee injury shortly afterwards – but the side’s momentum was maintained, as Wootton crossed from the right for Sarcevic to fire goal-wards, only to see his first-time effort kept out by Jameson.
The visitors’ first opportunity of note fell to Luke Armstrong – son of ‘Super’ County legend, Alun – with a quarter of an hour on the clock, although he flashed his shot well wide of the right post. But Armstrong Junior’s next effort was on target 10 minutes later, when his close-range header, from a Joe Mattock free-kick on the right, was gathered up on the line by Vit Jaros.
In between the two Armstrong attempts, Sarcevic blazed over when an Ollie Crankshaw shot had been deflected into the skipper’s path by Welch-Hayes. And, a few minutes following the half-hour, Crankshaw struck the bar with a delightful 25-yard chip after spotting Jameson off his line.
With five minutes of the half remaining, and after the first Harrogate corner of the afternoon had been partially cleared, Alex Pattison’s low cross from the right by-line found Armstrong, whose shot on the turn fizzed past the near upright to leave the deadlock unbroken at the interval.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Harrogate 0.
The visitors, upon the resumption, made a double-substitution that included the introduction of Stockport-born loanee from Huddersfield, Matty Daly. But it was Daly’s hometown club, rather than his current team, who fashioned the inaugural chance of the new half, when Camps’ replacement Ryan Croasdale, from the edge of the area, curled a shot just shy of the right post.
Will Collar then headed beyond the opposite upright, after latching on to a Sarcevic free-kick from the right. And Crankshaw, on the same flank, slid a ball across the goalmouth that agonisingly evaded the on-rushing Wootton.
With a minute of normal time remaining, Jaros did well to parry a shot from Pattison, who had cut in from the left after being played through by substitute Dior Angus. And in added time, Fraser Horsfall connected with a Chris Hussey free-kick to head over.
FULL-TIME: County 0, Harrogate 0.
Team (4-2-2-2): Jaros; Brown, Horsfall, R. Johnson, Hussey; Camps (Croasdale, 12), Wright (Jennings, 72); Collar, Sarcevic (Capt.) (Hippolyte, 88); Crankshaw, Wootton.
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Evans, Rydel, Lewis.
Man of the Match: Brown.
Attendance: 7,863 (171 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Ben Wright.