26-12-05 Att.121

HARWOOD’S never-say-die attitude once again carried them through as high-flying Darwen were swept aside by the rampant Reds who completed their fifth win in a row. The visitors did in fact have a chance of rising to second spot had they secured all three points but once Yaqoob Khan had given the Robins a first half lifeline, there was only going to be one winner.
Sam Pope, home for the holiday period, was given a rare outing at left wing but before the home side had settled down, Darwen had taken the lead after just 20 seconds. A speculative long range shot from Almond slipped under the body of the normally reliable Bobby Harris to give Darwen a shock lead as Harwood conceded their first goal in over four hours play.
The Reds fought back and pounded the visitor’s goal but the defence held firm thanks in no small way to the excellent defending of centre half Matt Woods and superb handling of keeper Andrew Morris.
On 20 minutes another defensive blunder, this time by the normally faultless Ryan Fisher, resulted in number two for Darwen. As a cross from the right came in, Fisher lashed out to clear but only succeeded in diverting the ball into his own net.
The rest of the half was played out almost entirely in the Darwen half as the Robins threw caution to the wind. They got their reward when Yaqoob Khan burst through the middle, held off the defenders challenge and fired between the goalkeeper’s legs. Despite the constant Harwood pressure, Darwen held out until half time much to the relief of their travelling supporters.
The second period began as the first had ended with Harwood on the attack. The visitor’s goal led a charmed life as Eastham, Khan, O’Neil, Hill and Fisher all went close. At the other end, the Harwood defence needed to be alert as Almond and Zarac posed a threat on the break.
The inevitable equaliser came on 67 minutes when Theophanous was floored by two Darwen defenders as a right wing corner came across. After a few minutes treatment, the Cypriot rose to his feet but appeared to be in a daze and needed to leave the field.
Up stepped John Eastham, back to his best, to blast the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net, despite the gallant effort of Morris who got his fingernails to the ball. Throwing caution to the wind and smelling the sweet scent of victory, Hughes threw on big Gordon Watson to partner Eastham up front and moved the excellent Khan out to the left. The move proved to be a master stroke as in the final minute, a ball was played out to the edge of the box where Khan controlled, turned the defender inside out before delivering the perfect ball to the near post where Eastham darted in ahead of his marker to power a bullet header beyond the despairing dive of Morris. The Harwood supporters were now dancing on the terraces as their favourites recorded yet another victory and sent out a warning to the rest of the NWCL Division Two promotion chasers. Sadly for Darwen there was no time for a comeback and sadly for football, there were only 121 spectators present to see a tremendous advert for non-league soccer.
Great Harwood Town are now playing some of their best football in recent seasons but the town’s public remain apathetic to the club’s plight. Their few remaining supporters however, are reaping the rewards for their loyalty with performances of skill, fitness and dedication from their heroes in red and black.

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©2009 J Fenton