After a splendid 1-1 draw in the North East two days earlier, the Robins were confident of finishing the job at the Interlink. James Dean returned to the side and made an immediate impact with his forward runs but despite Harwood going close in the first minute, it was Guisborough who went into the lead with their first attack on 2 minutes. Slack defending had given the Clevelanders the opportunity and this was to be a characteristic of both defences throughout the game. With Dean linking up well with Ryan Fisher, Harwood dominated the midfield for the rest of the half and carved out chances at regular intervals. Most of them fell to John Eastham who tried everything in an effort to equalise. He shot l0w, high, straight at the keeper, tried to dribble round the keeper and belted it towards the top corner, but a combination of bad luck, bad finishing and superb goalkeeping kept him out. It was a major surprise that it took the home side until the 20 minute mark to equalise. Ed O’Neil, once again up supporting the attack, fired in a loose ball to open up the floodgates. The Guisborough defence was breached time and time again but held out for a further 10 minutes when Dean scored. The same player added the 3rd 5 minutes later and with the visitors rearguard in total disarray, it seemed just a question 0f how many. On their rare sorties forward, Guisborough also looked dangerous as the Robins defence did a fair imitation of their opponents. One up and under was fumbled by Harris enabling the forward to knock home the loose ball but the Robins were awarded a fortunate free kick for a foul on the keeper. Chances came every time the Reds crossed the half way line as the Priorymen’s defence gave a performance of ineptitude never seen before at the Interlink. Another Guisborough attack just before the break ended with the Reds defence going AWOL once again and an unmarked striker took full advantage. As the half time whistle blew, it was astonishing that the visitors were still in the game and even more astonishing that Harwood’s score was still in single figures.
The 2nd half began much more evenly but chances were still being created without too much interference from the defences. Ten minutes in, a long cross from the right wing found an unmarked forward at the far post and it was 3-3. After that it was anyone’s game but the better chances fell to Harwood. An unmarked Eastham headed over from 8 yards, Shots were cleared off the line, the keeper played like a man possessed and Anwar headed into the ground and over the bar from inside the 6-yard box with the last touch of the 90 minutes.
Extra-time saw more of the same with the visitor’s goal living a charmed life. Even so, they themselves made it a nerve racking last few minutes as they broke forward with purpose.
After 210 minutes the sides could not be separated despite the fact that Harwood should have scored at least 15 times during the last 120 of them. With Bobby Harris in goal the Robins were full of confidence knowing that he’s come up trumps in every shoot-out over the past few years. After 4 successful spot-kicks, Gordon Watson’s shot was saved giving Guisborough the first advantage. Up stepped the captain to blaze over the bar to restore parity. In went Harwood’s 4th before Harris saved, leaving Dean to fire home the winner and set up another trip to Cleveland to play Norton & Stockton Ancients.
Harwood arrived back in the Middlesbrough area just seven days after their last visit to meet another Northern League 2nd Division side.
The game kicked off in warm sunshine on a fabulous surface which was way above NWCL standards. A small crowd was in attendance with a smaller than usual following from East Lancs. After a quiet opening, Harwood stuck first when Mark Beard, partnering Eastham up front, fired home after turning a defender ten yards out. The home side failed to make any impression on the Harwood defence with the midfield battling back and protecting the back four. Norton’s danger man, John Outhwaite had to make do with winning headers near the half way line. Just once did the home side look like scoring when a snap shot hit the post and rebounded to Outhwaite but he completely missed his kick to let the Robins off the hook. Right on half time a cross from the Harwood right came right across the box to Sam Pope 12 yards out, and the young left winger hammered home into the bottom right hand corner. As Norton kicked off, the half time whistle blew and their body language told of their demoralisation.
The 2nd half was really too easy for Harwood who did just enough and kept it tight at the back. The first corner of the game didn’t come until over an hours play and then the home side’s delivery was poor. The excellent Ryan Fisher, this season’s outstanding player, finished the game off 15 minutes from time with a great shot into the corner and ten minutes later sub. Darren Rogers scored the goal of the game. Controlling the ball and turning his man in one slick movement, he curled it into the top right hand corner of the net from the left hand corner of the box. There was still time for Bobby Harris to earn his money with a superb last minute penalty save after Joel Burnside had brought down the Norton sub. in the corner of the area. Harris diving full length to his left to hold on to yet another saved spot-kick.

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©2009 J Fenton