VERDICT: Plenty to be proud about as Harborough Town exit the FA Vase

The Bees' record-breaking run in the competition ended in heartbreaking fashion in front of a huge crowd

By Jon Dunham
Sunday, 16th January 2022, 7:00 am
Josh Walsh is mobbed by his Harborough Town team-mates after his free-kick put them in front against North Shields

It may not have ended how they wanted but there was plenty for Harborough Town to be proud about on their big day in the Buildbase FA Vase.

The record books had already been rewritten with this run to the last 32 being the best in the Bees’ history but new milestones were reached at the Harborough Town Community Ground.

An incredible record home attendance of 1,014 packed into the ground, including a healthy turnout from the north–east who were backing visitors and 2015 Vase winners North Shields.

And it was the visitors who were celebrating at the end as they held their nerve to emerge as 5-3 winners in a penalty shoot-out after the two teams had shared a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes.

That scoreline was fair on the balance of play.

There was plenty of endeavour from both sides but, in general, they cancelled each other out with clear-cut chances being at a premium for the most part.

The dreams of Harborough boss Mitch Austin and his players were well and truly alive when they opened the scoring in the first half.

Dodzi Agbenu won a free-kick 25 yards from goal and Josh Walsh stepped up to curl the ball into the bottom corner to give the Bees the advantage.

They were in the lead for just 90 seconds, however, as North Shields hit back with Daniel Wilson finding some space in the area before beating Elliott Taylor with a low shot.

Both Paul Malone and Sam Preston had headers cleared off the line in crazy few seconds before the break but, in the second half, it was very much a stalemate.

And so, to penalties. There had been seven near-perfect spot-kicks to give North Shields a 4-3 advantage when Rhys Hoenes stepped up and saw his penalty saved by Oliver Marshall.

That presented Gary Ormston with the chance to win it and he confidently put his penalty away to spark wild scenes of celebration from the North Shields players, staff and fans.

It was, of course, a hammer blow to Austin and his players but there was little dwelling in the aftermath as the Bees boss focused on the numerous positives the day brought with it.

It was a good performance, it was a big crowd, very vocal and we are disappointed not to be through but penalties are hard lines,” Austin said.

“But if they are favourites for the competition then I feel we have done ourselves justice to be stated as one of the best teams at Step 5 in the country.

“They are a dangerous side and they score a lot of goals. They are very fluid in how they play, they are confident in keeping possession so we had to be brave defensively and disciplined.

“I thought we did ourselves proud against a top team. You saw their celebrations at the end and we would have been the same. We have nothing but respect for them.

“But all I said was that whether we went through or not, we had to go out fighting and we did that. Everybody who left the ground will say the same thing: ‘they didn’t deserve to lose’. But one of us had to, that’s football.

“I have nothing but pride and we have to kick on from here.”

Harborough: Taylor, Cooper, Styles, Malone, Williams, Preston, Walsh, Henson (sub F Robinson, 69 mins), Agbenu (sub Hollis, 78 mins), Ireland (sub White, 84 mins), Hoenes. Subs not used: Bartlett, Fowler, Kahan, Maher.

North Shields: Marshall, Cartwright, McDonald, Ormston, Myers, Walker, D Robinson, Forster (sub Carr, 64 mins), Wilson, Cunningham (sub Hird, 75 mins), Smith (sub Norvell, 82 mins). Subs not used: Leonard, Dopson, Turner, Purvis.

Goals: Walsh (29 mins, 1-0), Wilson (31 mins, 1-1).

Harborough Mail man-of-the-match: Josh Walsh - there were some impressive displays from those in yellow and black, not least the defensive trio of captain Ben Williams, Paul Malone and Sam Preston. But Walsh was a real livewire in the attacking third. There were plenty of driving runs while his set plays caused plenty of issues for the visitors. He had a moment to remember when his curling free-kick gave Harborough the lead and he also stepped up to score in the shoot-out. An impressive display.

Attendance: 1,014.