A stunning goal of the highest calibre just three minutes from time by Harlow Town’s rising teenager star Danny Green earned the mid-table Ryman League Premier Division side a sensational 3-2 victory over St Albans City at Barrows Farm on Tuesday night to set up a home FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round tie with Crowborough Athletic.
Saints boss Steve Castle offered no excuses in a brutally honest post match interview. Castle acknowledged that Harlow were the better side on the night and were fully deserving of their triumph. He was less charitable towards his failing City side and refused to comment as to whether the present squad is good enough to turn City’s fortunes around.
This was a match of 90 minutes of wildly fluctuating fortunes but ultimately produced a just outcome. Harlow were a goal up inside 37 seconds through former Saint Jamie Richards. A cruel Scott Cousins own goal on 14 minutes had the Essex clubs supporters in ecstasy and early in the second half a succession of chances went begging as Harlow threatened to tighten the screw.
Then, out of the blue, Cousins reduced the deficit with a deflected free kick on 75 minutes and three minutes later Gary Cohen pulled the sides level with a thrilling solo effort. But just when it seemed as though Harlow heads had dropped Green, who gave glimpses of his potential in the first meeting at the weekend, scored a goal fit to grace any stadium in the world, let alone Harlow’s compact and impressive corner of Essex.
City made two changes from Saturday’s encounter at Clarence Park with Lee Protheroe and James Quilter replaced by Cousins and Ben Bowditch. Quilter was relegated to the bench while Protheroe’s troublesome groin injury flared up once more to rule him out.
Harlow were unchanged and any thoughts of them being concerned that they had missed their chance to cause an upset on Saturday were banished on 37 seconds when Green crossed from wide on the Harlow left towards the near post where Richards supplied a deft header that surprised Paul Bastock as it glided over his head and brushed the underside of the crossbar en route to the back of the net.
City looked to have a good opportunity to pull level on 11 minutes when Paul Hakim raced clear following a good ball from, Luke Thurlbourne. Hakim fell dramatically on the edge of the penalty area as Danny Chapman gave chase but referee Lee Venamore waved away City penalty appeals, as he did again later in the half when Ben Martin screamed in vain for a spot kick when his point blank header struck Jordan Fowler.
Harlow, with just one home win from five league games at Barrows Farm this season, stretched their advantage on 14 minutes. Alex Bailey impeded Richards and from Leon Lalite’s well struck inswinging right-footed free kick Cousins could do nothing but watch the ball bounce into the goal after thudding into his midriff.
Looking for a quick response City wasted a good opening when Rod Hicks drilled the ball way over the top when well placed. Hicks then turned provider with a deep cross that Hakim knocked back inside to Clarke whose diving header was well saved by the sprawling James Hassell.
Richards, who played nine times for City five years ago, was proving a thorn in the Saints side and after shrugging Thurlbourne off the ball on 22 minutes forced Bastock to save to his right with a fine effort from 30 yards.
Hicks had one last chance to secure his place on the pitch when set up by Bowditch but saw his shot charged down and was duly replaced by Cohen on 35 minutes as Castle looked to speed to bring his side back from the brink of ignominy.
A minute later and Hakim’s loss of confidence was evident after Clarke, taking a pass from Hunt, clipped a perfect ball through the middle of the defence for Hakim to latch onto. But as City’s leading goal scorer dithered waiting for the perfect moment to strike, he had the ball whisked from his toes by Beckett Hollenbach as the former City player marked his 200th game for the Hawks with a crucial intervention.
Five minutes from the break City once again demonstrated why they are having so many problems in scoring this season when Clarke blazed high and wide from eight yards following excellent approach involving Cohen and Hakim, whose low cross looked odds on to set up a City goal.
Harlow could have been excused for looking to sit on their lead after the interval and for a couple of minutes St Albans did appear to have the bit between their teeth and attacked forcibly. Even so, goalkeeper Hassell was barely tested.
While City attacked with the lack of conviction that has epitomised their play this season, Harlow showed just how to penetrate a defence, although poor finishing kept the tie alive. Lalite, the most influential player on the pitch, clipped a good ball over the City defence on 49 minutes that Rhys Henry latched onto and cleverly lifted over the stranded Bastock but also a yard wide of the goal.
And seconds later Lalite, one of four players with over 200 Harlow appearances behind him, tackled Hunt and slid a wonderful ball across the penalty area that Henry just beat the diving Bastock to but could not direct his shot on target.
Castle’s exasperation at Hakim’s erratic finishing culminated in the striker being replaced on 56 minutes by James Quilter. The muscular Quilter actually went to the middle of the defence with Bailey pushed forward.
City’s only real threat in front of goal was coming from Cohen who put a header over the top and battled his way into the box before a solid tackle by Chapman saw the ball bounce safely through to Hassell.
Bastock made an excellent save to his left after Henry reacted first to a bouncing ball and hammered in a shot that threatened to put the result beyond all doubt. At the opposite end of the now slippery but quite magnificent pitch, Hassell was called upon to make a rare save of note to deal with a firm drive by Clarke, but with the ball driven straight at him there was little chance of the former Stevenage keeper spilling the ball.
Harlow appeared to throw City a lifeline on 64 minutes when Lalite was inexplicably withdrawn at a time when the right-sided midfielder was dominating and dictating the play. But the possibility of life getting any easier for City in Lalite’s absence vanished when substitute Lee Akers curled an exquisite low ball towards the penalty spot that only failed to produce a goal for Henry due to Bastock’s swiftness in moving from his line to block the teenagers first time shot.
Just when it seemed that Harlow had the game in the bag City, on 75 minutes, grabbed a fortuitous goal with Cousins first strike since December 2004. Standing 25 yards out and slightly to the right of the goal, Cousins attempted to curl the ball towards Hassell’s right hand post but with a generous deflection off Fowler the keeper was flat-footed and City were rejuvenated.
Three minutes later it looked as though Harlow’s dream was over as Cohen scored an astonishing goal. Seizing possession out on the right touchline, Cohen darted away from two defenders and caused massed panic in the home back line as he approached the edge of the penalty area.
The chance appeared to have gone as the former Grimsby player stumbled but Cohen quickly regained his composure and with a clever left-footed snapshot from the edge of the box scored his second goal for the club as a bemused Hassell stood rooted to his goalline.
Now, at last, City took the game to their hosts and such had been the shift in fortunes there appeared no way back for the Hawks. But as extra time loomed there was one last and memorable twist that extended City’s dire run in the competition to just a solitary win in their last eight FA Cup outings.
Green received a short pass from Henry some 35 yards from goal and there looked to be few options open as a mass of white shirts stood between him and glory. With the exuberance of youth, Green ran powerfully between two City players and suddenly a path was emerging.
Another quick shimmy and he was at the edge of the penalty area, more importantly he had space to shoot and that he did with unerring accuracy as his right boot drove a thunderous effort high to Bastock’s left and just inside the upright for his first, and what will surely be best, goal of the season.
Harlow’s progress, though, was still not secure as in the third minute of added time James Fisher crossed from the City right with the retreating Chapman heading the ball against the outside of his near post.