Salford City travel to Harrogate Town on Wednesday evening in the Vanarama National League, with the game being shown LIVE on BT Sport (KO 19:45).
The two sides who won promotion from the National League North last season meet for the second time under the lights at The CNG Stadium with similar ambitions of finishing in the play-offs.
It’s a testament to the strength of the division below that both sides are competing so high up the table, and this match takes on added significance as the league prepares to enter it’s final month. In the proverbial ‘six-pointer’, Harrogate could pull level on points with Salford with a win, while The Ammies could open up a six-point lead over Town.
One thing that is hopefully guaranteed, for the cameras, is goals. Simon Weaver’s side are the top scorers with 71 goals, passing the 70-goal mark on Saturday, while Graham Alexander’s Ammies are second top scorers with 64. At the other end, Harrogate have conceded 48 to Salford’s 38, but The Ammies haven’t conceded in five games in March, and Harrogate have kept three clean sheets in six.
Like Salford, Harrogate took a few games to find their feet in The National League after winning the play-offs last season. Three draws in a row were put to an end with a 2-0 win against Barnet and Town went unbeaten for a total of 11 games before Leyton Orient won 3-0 at The CNG Stadium towards the end of September.
Town recovered and, barring a five-match winless run around Christmas, have consistently picked up results to earn a place in the play-offs although there is a bit more work to do to consolidate that.
In the FA Trophy, Town were beaten 4-2 by semi-finalists Stockport County in the last-16, and their FA Cup campaign was ended in the Fourth Qualifying Round by Wrexham, who won a replay 2-0 at The Racecourse.
However the exciting times continue for Harrogate, and as fans will see there are ongoing improvement works at The CNG Stadium which when completed will bring it up to a 5,000 capacity ground. The club also submitted plans recently to either lay a grass pitch on their 3G surface, or to replace it completely in preparation for a tilt at the Football League.
Harrogate were unbeaten in five before last Tuesday’s defeat away at Barnet, and they were heading for a second defeat in a row on Saturday when they were 2-0 down at Barrow. However second half goals from Jack Muldoon and Callum Howe secured a point at Holker Street.
At home Harrogate are unbeaten in three, winning their last two games 1-0 against Bromley and Maidenhead United.
One to Watch – Josh Falkingham
The central midfielder is absolutely key to Harrogate and their attacking style of play as he is the lynchpin from which they can expand. A more defensive-minded player, Falkingham breaks up play efficiently and is more often than not available to shift possession between sides and through thirds.
He started his career with hometown club Leeds United before a move north of the border to St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League. Further spells followed at Arbroath and Dunfermline Athletic, who he captained to the Scottish Championship. In 2016 the midfielder returned to England with Darlington before moving to Town in 2017 and captaining them to promotion last season. He was included in the Team of the Year, and is also the club’s Under-21 manager.
This fixture has become a regular in the last couple of seasons since our rise to the National League North and above. Our first season in 2016-17 yielded four meetings between the clubs after we were paired in the FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round, which Town won via a replay. In the league that season we drew 0-0 at home, but the visit to Yorkshire was a more entertaining affair that included brilliant strikes from John Johnston and Nick Haughton in the second half, but we conceded three penalties in the final 10 minutes, the last of which Simon Ainge scored on the rebound to steal a 3-3 draw in stoppage time.
Last season our unbeaten league record against Town was maintained with 2-1 wins home and away. First was a trip to The CNG Stadium in September, when Harrogate were top. Mike Phenix and Lois Maynard scored either side of a Joe Leesley penalty in a crucial week that saw us topple both Harrogate and then Brackley. The return fixture at The Peninsula Stadium in January also ended 2-1; Phenix was again on the scoresheet and Tom Walker scored his first Salford goal before Dom Knowles pulled one back for Town.
It’s become something of a spectacular fixture since that 0-0 draw, and earlier this season we were twice behind to Harrogate, but Danny Whitehead and Adam Rooney cancelled out Muldoon and Liam Kitching’s goals before Rory Gaffney scored a fantastically-worked set piece routine that won the game 3-2.