The Hatters’ second trip of the campaign to Harrogate saw them return across from the east side of the Pennines with three points, as well as preserving their hold on the final play-off place.
Having triumphed at Wetherby Road in the League Cup with a second-half Connor Jennings penalty six months earlier, the Hatters were this time on the right side of the scoreline at the break, following strikes by Myles Hippolyte and Tanto Olaofe. And despite an early second-half goal for the North Yorkshire hosts, Will Collar soon afterwards added a third to make the game safe.
County took to the field on a gloriously sunny North Yorkshire afternoon, showing just one change from the line-up that had started at Edgeley Park against Tranmere a week previously. Skipper Paddy Madden was ruled out through injury, providing Olaofe with the opportunity to make his first League Two start. Ryan Croasdale – as he had done in HG2 during early August – wore the captain’s armband in Madden’s absence.
Ben Hinchliffe’s selection, meanwhile, saw him register a piece of club history – turning out as he was on a 307th occasion, and breaking in the process the appearances record for a County goalkeeper held by Jack ‘Tiger’ Bowles, who had prowled between the sticks for the Hatters either side of the World War Two.
Croasdale struck the first shot of the afternoon, 25 yards out, with only a couple of minutes played. His low shot was on target, but turned past the left post by the home ‘keeper, Pete Jameson, at full stretch. Just ahead of the 10-minute mark, Jameson did likewise, albeit around the opposite stick, to keep out a Callum Camps free-kick from a similar distance.
Belgian winger Kazeem Olaigbe, on loan from Southampton, fashioned the hosts’ inaugural chance – as he cut in from the right and let rip with a shot that fizzed beyond the far post. And from their second corner of the day, delivered on the right by Danny Grant, Alex Pattison headed past the same upright.
The next foray saw the deadlock broken – and in County’s favour – thanks to Hippolyte, who, following a neat one-two with Kyle Wootton, drilled the ball past Jameson and into the bottom-right corner for his fourth goal of the season in all competitions.
With confidence naturally high, Hippolyte went close to doubling his and County’s tallies eight minutes later – and in audacious style, too, as, having spotted Jameson off his line, the goal-scorer half-volleyed an effort from just inside the Harrogate half that the ‘keeper scrambled back to save.
But the Hatters did not have to wait terribly long before extending their advantage. Eleven minutes ahead of half-time, Olaofe opened his account as a Hatter – stabbing home from close range, after Harrogate had failed to clear Hippolyte’s delivery from the left.
HALF-TIME: Harrogate 0, County 2 (Hippolyte, 19; Olaofe, 34).
Harrogate made a double-substitution upon the resumption, and began the new half with rather more attacking intent, before introducing a second pair of players from the bench 10 minutes later – although the first attempt of note following the re-start came from the Hatters, with Collar firing narrowly shy of the right post after being teed up by Hippolyte.
With their next advance, the hosts halved the arrears – as Olaigbe showed some trickery on the left, before squeezing his shot between Hinchliffe and just inside the near post. But any local joy was short-lived, as, 10 minutes later, Collar headed in a cross from the left by newly-arrived substitute Ryan Rydel to restore County’s two-goal cushion.
Hinchliffe fittingly saw out the final 13 minutes as captain on his landmark day, after Croasdale was replaced – whilst, at the other end, Rydel saw a low shot parried by Jameson, and both Camps and Collar fired efforts wide of the right post.
FULL-TIME: Harrogate 1 (Olaigbe, 63), County 3 (Hippolyte, 19; Olaofe, 34; Collar, 73).
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright, Byrne, Hussey; Knoyle (Lewis, 87), Camps, Croasdale (Capt.) (Stretton, 77), Collar, Hippolyte; Olaofe (Rydel, 71), Wootton.
Unused Subs: Jaros, Evans, Rowe, Grayson.
Booked: Olaofe, Croasdale.
Attendance: 2,404 (608 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.