Knowles bags a brace as Harrogate end Saints’ play-off dream

Brackley Town's Jimmy Armson and Adam Walker look on as Harrogate Town players celebrate Dominic Knowles' second goal of the game.  Photo: Tony Johnson
Brackley Town's Jimmy Armson and Adam Walker look on as Harrogate Town players celebrate Dominic Knowles' second goal of the game. Photo: Tony Johnson

Brackley Town’s hopes of making it into the top division of the Vanarama National League are over for another season.

Harrogate Town thumped Saints 3-0 in Sunday’s Vanarama National League play-off final. A first half brace from Dominic Knowles and a second half goal from the league’s player of the season Joe Leesley sunk Saints at the CNG Stadium.

Knowles took his goals tally to an incredible nine in three home games at Wetherby Road, the first from the penalty spot and the second from close range. And a fine team goal ended with Leesley clinically netting from close range midway through the second half.

George Thomson saw a low shot fly just wide early on but it was Saints who displayed the early conviction with Town rocked by the early departure of big striker Mark Beck after coming off second best in a challenge with Gareth Dean.

Town captain Josh Falkingham did well to get in the way of a goalbound shot from Shane Byrne and then made an even more telling intervention, clearing a point-blank header from Alex Gudger off the line following a corner.

But an eventful first-half saw Harrogate make the breakthrough, courtesy of a 26th minute penalty from in-form Knowles. Referee Leigh Doughty pointed to the spot after Gudger was adjudged to have blocked Leesley’s goalbound strike with his arm and Knowles sent keeper Danny Lewis the wrong way from the ensuing spot-kick.

Moments later, the predatory striker spurned a golden chance when he fired wide after profiting from a defensive misdemeanour and racing clear.

But Knowles shrugged that off to showcase his clinical streak and double Town’s tally five minutes before the break. A free-kick from Leesley was not cleared and Knowles reacted quickest to hook the ball home from close range.

While Knowles extended his recent purple patch, his opposite number Aaron Williams did not fare so well. The prolific 36-goal striker was denied by a fine reaction save from keeper James Belshaw shortly after Harrogate’s opener and then glanced a header inches wide just before the hosts’ second.

Harrogate suffered a second blow just before the break when substitute Jake Wright went off with an injury after also colliding with Dean.

Saints had a great chance to reduce the arrears after the restart when Lee Ndlovu raced clear but, with only keeper Belshaw to beat, he inexplicably lobbed the ball over the bar.

At the other end, Harrogate almost grabbed a third with Leesley’s left-wing cross picking out Thomson at the far post but his angled shot was blocked by Lewis.

A goalmouth scramble saw Jimmy Armson just fail to convert as the visitors desperately sought a lifeline to get back into proceedings. Pressure was sustained from the Saints but they could not find a way through.

And a team goal made the game safe with Leesley finishing off an excellent low cross from Ryan Fallowfield in the 71st minute. Lloyd Kerry when close with an audacious lob and Joe Emmett struck the post after racing away but three goals proved enough for Harrogate as Saints were left to focus on their forthcoming Buildbase FA Trophy final with Bromley.