FC Halifax Town’s defence of the West Riding County Cup was ended with a 2-1 defeat at Harrogate Town.
The Shaymen suffered their fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions in a lively encounter at Wetherby Road as Harrogate overturned Joe Ironside’s early opener with two second-half goals.
A potential semi-final against either Ossett Albion or Albion Sports might not have been the juciest carrot for the winner, but the two sides played with the same intensity as their previous meeting when a Conference North play-off place was in both their sights.
Town took the opportunity to use the warm-up as a impromptu training session, with pretty much every fit first-teamer taking part.
It was a strong Shaymen side that started the game too, especially considering the queue for the treatment table at the Shay.
Neil Aspin might have been tempted to wrap Ironside in cotton wool given the absence of Lee Gregory, but the loanee started for the third game in a row and notched his second goal for the club as the visitors started impressively.
Debutant Reece Gray spread the play to the lively John McReady, whose low cross was turned in by Ironside at the near post.
Gray was one of two to make their first appearances along with Tom Anderson, while Dan Gardner was bracketed among those with a point to prove with the likes of McReady.
Gardner produced a forgettable cameo in the defeat to Guiseley on Saturday, but instantly looked a class apart here with a delightful through ball to Ironside, who scuffed his shot.
Phil Senior, again given an outing between the sticks, reacted well to keep out Dominic Rowe’s strike before more good approach play McReady created another chance for Ironside but he rolled his shot tamely wide.
The chances continued to mount for the Shaymen as Gray slipped the ball to Paul Marshall, who fired way wide when well placed.
Gray, who Neil Aspin said would have featured against Guiseley but for suspension, showed more than enough to suggest he could offer Town a skillful option in the final third.
Harrogate looked vulnerable at the back every time Halifax attacked, and weren’t helped by their propensity of playing the ball out from the back, Barcelona-style, which was soon pounced upon every time by a wave of pressure from the visitors.
Town’s inexperienced back-four stood up well to the hosts’ sporadic threat, with Sam Patterson especially relishing his battle with Rowe with a series of perfectly-timed tackles.
The full-back was required to make some crucial clearances at the start of the second-half as Harrogate looked a far more potent outfit and began to ask Halifax’s youthful defence some serious questions.
The hosts had been the dominant force since the restart and their pressure paid dividends after an hour when substitute Cleveland Taylor’s pull-back was easily coverted by Ashley Worsfold.
Kevin Holsgrove then wasted a glorious one-one-one chance to put Town back in front almost immediately from a lightning quick counter-attack but Craig MacGillivray denied him.
That miss proved costly when substitute Chris Hall’s close-range header capped a sustained spell of Harrogate pressure and completed the turnaround.
Harrogate: MacGilivray, Bloomer, Nelthorpe, Bolder, Franks, Nowakowski, Hardy, Abbott, Worsfold (Hall 78), Woods, Rowe (Taylor 41). Subs not used: Samuels, Merris, Crook.
Scorer: Worsfold (60), Hall (81)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 3
Halifax: Senior, Patterson, Anderson, Bradley, Love, McReady (Chappell 78), Worthington, Marshall, Gardner, Gray (Wilson 46), Ironside (Holsgrove 58).
Scorer: Ironside (8)
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 7
Town man of the match: Sam Patterson