Bright Start By Harborough Town Was Not Enough To Stave Off Dominant Rugby Town
11th September 2018
Harborough Town took a break from League obligations on this fine Tuesday evening to partake in the United Counties League Cup Preliminary Round, with Rugby Town, of the same division. Being unable to bring that dominant 2nd half performance of 2 weeks ago into their game on Saturday at Wellingborough, Harborough looked to use this match as a springboard to find their stride once more. However, Rugby Town, who sit princely at 5th in the league with 3 wins and a loss, would prove an extremely tough test for this youthful Harborough side.
The opening 10 minutes of this fixture were supremely dictated by Harborough Town, and it looked as if it could have been a comfortable game. A promising through ball by Tony Bartlett found the run of Jordan Lever, who managed to beat the offside trap, but a heavy touch took him too wide to shoot and Lever’s attempted cross was uncharacteristically poor. Moments later, Lever was again the man to spell danger for Rugby when a bobbling ball landed at his feet on the edge of the Rugby box; he made some space and fired a powerful effort which could only be palmed into the path of an advancing Daniel Forbes, whose half volley was powered over the bar. Bartlett, who finished off a fantastic run of play on Saturday, looked to be in the action again after Aaron Preston showed his strength and held up the ball well before laying off Bartlett who looked to curl one into the top left corner, but his effort was well wide. On 10 minutes, it all clicked; Lever latched onto a loose Rugby pass, before drilling a low ball across the face of the goal. Dom Perkins scrambled on the line looking to clear, but Preston held his own, won the battle and tapped home. Akin to Saturday, Harborough could not hold onto their lead. Just minutes later, a free kick to the left of the Harborough box was floated in and Loyiso Recci rose highest, heading downwards, to which Glen Giles superbly turned away; but Danico Johnson was on hand to tap in from just yards out. Rugby’s second followed shortly, after Johnson picked up a neat through ball before taking it round Perry Johnson and clinically slotting past Giles. A Harborough response seemed imminent, and 10 minutes later Preston expertly knocked on a long ball into the path of Lever, but his powerful effort was just wide. On the 35th minute, it seemed as if Harborough had levelled after Preston smashed home an excellent early cross from Bartlett; however, it was not to be as the linesman had called Preston’s run offside. Sadly, that seemed to be the order of the half for Harborough, who just couldn’t quite get it all to click together when it mattered most; but, at this stage, they were definitely still in this fixture.
Rugby looked dangerous straight out of the blocks as the game restarted. Minutes in, a free kick was capably dipped over the wall only to scrape the post on its way wide. Bartlett and Lever linked well again, and Lever found some room to shoot, attempting to place it in the top right, but his effort was just wide. Poor defending by Harborough looked to gift Rugby their 3rd, when a cross was not cleared properly and instead handed to Simeon Tulloch, however, his low effort was dragged wide. Tulloch was in the centre of it all again, after some great interplay between him and Johnson threaded through Romario Martin who calmly slotted his effort under Giles for Rugby’s 3rd of the night. Martin looked as if he too was going to get a 2nd, when he slithered his way past multiple Harborough defenders before watching his cross-cum-shot roll just wide of the far post. With 15 minutes to go, Harborough stepped it up a notch and some brilliant play down the left saw a cross roll all the way through into the path of a surging Bartlett, but his first-time effort was scuffed and did not threaten the Rugby goal. Alex Morris, who looked lively after coming off the bench, timed his run perfectly as Callum Milne slipped a ball between the 2 Rugby centre-halves, but some good tracking saw Morris pressured and his composure was lost just as he pulled the trigger, firing straight into the hands of Matt Hill. With 5 minutes to go, Johnson got his hattrick; a poor decision to give the ball to Giles from a throw in was met with ferocious Johnson pressure, who stole the ball away from Giles and passed the ball into an open net to round off the night.
Much like Saturday, Harborough will despair at the thought of not being able to hold onto their lead when they had it. They have the quality and the skill, Jordan Lever and Tony Bartlett proving that today, to be able to dominate games; but it is letting leads slip through their fingers that is damaging their attempts so far. It can also be fair to say that Ben Williams is being sorely missed at the heart of a defence who have struggled with the long ball approach both Wellingborough and Rugby have thrown at them. Rugby were no easy opponent though, Johnson scoring his 3rd hat trick of this season already proving that, and this was one of the highest-intensities and aggressive matches Harborough have had to deal with to date. Hopefully, they can only learn from this and go in to Saturday’s FA Vase fixture ready for anything.