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The force is with Stanley

Accrington Stanley 3 Harrogate Town 2

ACTION from Stanley's win over Harrogate Town last Saturday
ACTION from Stanley's win over Harrogate Town last Saturday

STANLEY chalked up the first of the eight wins from the 14 game run-in which manager John Coleman reckoned will see the runaway leaders make their Conference dream a reality.

But they were given a mighty scare in this Roses thriller by a Harrogate side buoyed by an FA Cup draw here at the Crown Ground earlier in the season followed by a replay revenge victory after Stanley had won 2-0 at Wetherby Road in an early league encounter.

Harrogate were good value for their 2-1 interval lead and might have even increased the margin had they finished better. But a rousing second-half onslaught showed just why very few sides leave The Crown with anything tangible to show for their efforts.

There were no signs of an upset of any kind when Stanley swept ahead as early as the sixth minute. Playmaker Mike Marsh volleyed a pass out of the centre circle to Lutel James on the left wing. James's cross was diverted goalwards by Paul Mullin and though goalkeeper Ashley Connor saved that effort, winger Russell Payne slid in to stab home the rebound.

It was a timely second goal of the season for Payne who actually opened Stanley's account for the campaign in the opening match back in August.

But the visitors were level 10 minutes later. Colin Hunter's pin-point free-kick from the left picked out Mick McNaughton and the big defender, who scored twice in that famous FA Cup replay win for Town, rose to power an unchallenged header home.

Connor saved magnificently from Andy Procter's 22-yard effort, skilfully fashioned by Payne, but there was work for Accrington keeper Jamie Speare when he had to turn a Mark Smith rasper round the post.

Town stunned Stanley with a well-taken second just after the half-hour. Len Curtis's ball in from the left was touched into Hunter's path by Paul Sykes and the Harrogate winger beat Speare comprehensively with a strike on the bounce from 22 yards.

Smith spurned a couple of good chances to increase the lead, shooting weakly at Speare after springing the offside trap then lobbing too high after outpacing the Reds' back-line.

Stanley had a flurry of efforts as the interval approached but there was a change in emphasis after as the Yorkshiremen sat back inviting the championship-chasers to pour forward. They were short of inspiration for a time though, although Payne raised the stakes on around the hour mark with a thrilling surge through the heart of defence which ended with a fine save, with his legs, by Connor.

Stanley's pressure paid off with 25 minutes left when big defender Jonathan Smith, still at the far post as a free-kick was cleared, headed Andy Gouck's chip back into the danger area goalwards. Connor saved bravely but Smith followed in to score at the third attempt after his initial follow-up struck the post.

Payne raced down the right and flashed a wonderful centre over which no-one could get a toe to.

But with 10 minutes remaining most of another four-figure crowd were celebrating. Payne and full-back Paul Howarth linked up cleverly down the right and Howarth's cross was expertly flicked in at the near-post by Mullin, whose celebrations were curtailed by a curmudgeonly referee's yellow card - absolute rubbish, and please don't write in telling me what the laws say.

Theere was a late scare when Steve Hollis' involuntary stab towards his keeper was ruled to be a back-pass. But Stanley, on song, are almost an irresistible force at home in particular and they were in no mood to surrender what they'd worked fo, defenders blocking the final Harrogate effort.


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist