Harrogate Town 4 Boston United 2: Fightback comes to nothing as Pilgrims slump again

Ben Milnes.
Ben Milnes.

It’s time to face facts. And it’s time for Boston United to start looking over their shoulder.

Tonight’s 4-2 defeat at Harrogate Town has left the Pilgrims looking more like a side slipping swiftly into the Blue Square Bet North relegation battle than a club able to play out the rest of the campaign with one eye on next season.

Following Saturday’s defeat at Solihull Moors, boss Graham Drury said it was time to quit using the word transition and time for this side to begin grinding out results.

But quite frankly, at the CNG stadium, Boston were second best yet again.

Yes, there was spirit in the second half as they fought back from 2-0 down to briefly pull level.

But the away side fell foul of a shockingly-poor opening 45 minutes.

United have won just twice in their past 12 matches, and they have failed to win on the road in that period.

After this evening’s round of league contests, Boston sit 13 points clear of the drop zone.

But the bad news is, those teams below (with the exception of Histon) have games in hand and you just can’t predict where United’s next point will come from.

The Pilgrims got off to the worst possible start, going a goal down in the seventh minute.

Tom Platt had the simplest of tap-ins from within the six yard box, with Boston keeper Dan Haystead still reeling after a collision with Dominic Knowles.

The pair were both flat-out on the ground when Adam Bolder’s wayward shot flew out to the right wing.

And before Haystead could get back in his goal, Michael Woods’ low cross was being converted.

The United keeper was incensed and received a yellow card for remonstrating with referee Neil Sharp.

It appeared that Harrogate had a very direct game plan as Woods clashed into Haystead very late after he had taken a routine catch in his box.

But those attempts to unsettle the stopper certainly worked, and it was 2-0 within 16 minutes.

Yes, Michael Woods’ 25-yard lob was inch perfect, but questions should be asked of Haystead’s positioning as he strayed off his line.

The hosts - who beat Boston more convincingly than the 2-1 scoreline suggested back in January - should have made it 3-0 before the 20-minute mark.

However, Adam Bolder’s drive just missed the target and Ben Milnes was on hand to clear off the line following a melee in the penalty area.

The visitors finished the first half failing to have a shot on target, although Marc Newsham struck a shot over the bar and had the ball taken off his head after he got the better of Harrogate keeper Craig MacGillivray.

But then something happened and, after the interval, the Pilgrims looked a completely different side.

United were more positive after the break, with Newsham having a volley blocked.

Keiran Walker then saw a strike parried before Jason Field - on his return to the club - hit the rebound over.

But pressure paid off as United pulled one back in the 51st minute, Ben Milnes firing in from a tight angle after the hosts failed to clear their lines following a corner.

And then, the Pilgrims pulled level.

With 62 minutes on the clock, Field made a bullish run down the left wing and put in a teasing cross.

Newsham was the grateful recipient, heading home goal number 26 of the season.

But the lead was short-lived as Dominic Knowles put Town back in front from the penalty spot.

In the 68th minute, he sent Dan Haystead the wrong way after Nathan Stainfield had tugged back Adam Nowakowski.

Undeterred, Walker saw a header saved by MacGillivray as United looked to pull level again.

But Harrogate had the final say, Lee Elam firing home in the 90th minute.

As Boston pushed forward, Town broke, Knowles holding play up well before picking out the unmarked substitute, who found the net from 12 yards.

And once again, Boston could not turn possession into points.

Next up are home matches against Vauxhall Motors and Gloucester City.

Can the Pilgrims turn the tide? They need to.

HARROGATE: MacGillivray, Samuels, Merris, Bolder (Bolland 82), Bloomer, Killock, Platt, Nowakowski, Knowles, Woods (Elam 85), Forrest (Chilaka 75) ; Subs (not used): Youhill, Radcliffe.

UNITED: Haystead, Walker, Mayo (Smith 84), Foster, Lister, Stainfield, Ross, Milnes, Weir-Daley (Ward 89), Newsham, Field (Fairclough 66); Subs (not used): Marshall, Lawlor.

Att: 281.

Ref: Neil Sharp.