Manse Lane, Knaresborough. 14/4/17.
Northern Counties East League, Division One. Easter Groundhop 2017.
Three in a day! To be honest, as we were watching the potential winners of Division One, I was searching for a late kick-off to make it four. I had briefly chatted with Chris and Laurence who organised the Groundhop, they said that you need stamina to complete the marathons and three games in a day has proven just right – we could play the 0-0 rule, in which case the Garforth game didn’t actually count!
The event had been organised almost to perfection, but I suppose Chris and Laurence can’t control dour nil-nils. 353 had been at Harrogate, to put that into perspective, Railway had hit three figures only on a handful of occasions with attendances usually between 40 and 80, the previous home match saw just 65 people witness a 1-0 victory over Clipstone. Knaresborough was no different, 427 were there to witness Pontefract come from behind to keep their promotion push on track, piling pressure on AFC Emley and Hall Road to match their three points. the 427 was around four times their average attendance and it was fantastic to see how the club coped with the extra fanatics.
As with Harrogate, a set of gates welcomes you to Manse Lane – I love gates at grounds! They probably aren’t up to Railway standards but they still make me weak at the knees. We flash our pass at the bloke at the turnstile and fight our way into the clubhouse, gazing out of the window I really hope that ex Leeds winger Seb Carole is starting for Boro, a scan of the players leaves us fearing the worst. Luckily my crutches are a signal for ‘this bloke needs a seat’ so we get to sit for the half an hour or so before kick off. There are so many familiar faces in the ground, the Hop really has a community feel about it, Anders strolls by with his Union Flag man-bag and we exchange ‘nods’.
As we are ‘never neutral’, it will be the Colls who are our team for the afternoon. After looking absolutely nailed on for the title, Ponte have managed to get embroiled in a three-way slog for promotion with Emley and Hall Road Rangers. The division has kept people guessing and it is one of the most exciting climaxes football has ever seen. Penistone were runaway leaders before Christmas, then Emley looked unstoppable, a Pewits wobble and 10 game winning run saw Colls in the driving seat but from absolutely nowhere it appears that Hall Road will seal top spot – that’s if they win their remaining three games. Colls need the points today and face a tough game against seventh placed Knaresborough who are certainly no mugs.
We made our way over to the travelling fanatics and our knowledge of the Colls ensured we blended in with the hardcore. Nerves were fraught on the touchline, this anxiety seemed to be reflected on the pitch as well with the players looking uneasy. This was compounded with a goal from Dom Wilson putting the hosts into an unexpected lead. Boro held on and saw the half out going into the break 1-0 up.
Pontefract got the second half underway and produced the best attacking display I have seen in a long time. The twenty minutes between 50 and 70 were breathtaking, to a man the Colls stepped up and were at Boro relentlessly. Every time they broke forward they looked like scoring and hit the net five times in that period. The front three of Jackson Turner and Dunn turned their nervy first half performance into an angry and savage attack, controlling their emotions and producing a display that was worthy of promotion. Jack Greenough was sensational down the right while captain Andy Seed led by example. The turnaround was started on 50 minutes – an 18 yard belter by Glyn Cotton after good work in the box by Mikey Dunn. Five minutes later Luke Jeffs struck a cross-cum-shot from 30 yards that floated over Ben Ledger in the Boro net. The three minutes between 67 and 70 saw three Colls goals. Firstly, a Greenough free kick deflected in off Ally Wilson. Next, Kane Reece went on a mesmerising run through the entire Boro team before blacing perfectly in the bottom corner. It was high-five a minute later when Reece got his second, scoring from just inside the Boro half.
1-5 and a real statement of intent, after a nervy start the result was never in doubt. Over to Hall Road Rangers for the right to reply!