Cambridge United wait for promotion goes on after defeat at Harrogate Town in pulsating match
Kevin Lokko's late goal earned Harrogate Town a 5-4 win in a breathtaking match to deny Cambridge United's promotion charge in Sky Bet League Two.
The U's headed to Yorkshire needing a point to all but guarantee promotion but in a pulsating, end-to-end game. where there was hardly any time to breath, the U's came up short for a second week in a row.
Brendan Kiernan hit a first-half hat-trick as Harrogate raced into 3-0 then 4-2 leads, but two goals from Paul Mullin helped United peg it back to 4-4. However, Lokko's 84th minute goal sent the U's to defeat.
It was probably the craziest first half of the season.
United made a bright start, with Luke Hannant having an effort saved by Harrogate keeper Joe Cracknell and Joe Ironside hitting the outside of the post.
But in their first attack of the game, the hosts took the lead.
A quick attack down the right saw a low cross turned home at the front post by Kiernan.
It was 2-0 four minutes later. A great back heel by Kiernan set Ryan Farrowfield away down the right and his low cross was met by an unmarked Mark Beck to side foot home.
There was a let-off for the visitors in the 16th minute, when William Hondermarck scuffed a shot wide from a central position.
But it did get even worse for United in the 20th minute.
A long ball saw Kiernan latch on to Greg Taylor’s poor back header to try to go round keeper Callum Burton, who brought the Harrogate striker down in the area.
Kiernan picked himself up to dispatch the penalty to make it 3-0.
Every time a team attacked, it looked like they may score.
The deficit was reduced by United in the 26th minute, when Kyle Knoyle crossed from the right and Ironside won two headers, the second being into the path of Wes Hoolahan to find the bottom corner of the net.
Digby then tested Cracknell from 25 yards, and then United had their second in the 29th minute.
Hoolahan spotted the space on the left, and Ironside took a touch to move it on one more to Hannant, who found the back of the net.
But just as there seemed hope for United, they were hit again.
Another quick break saw Kiernan pick out George Thomson in space. His shot from just inside the box was saved by Burton, but Kiernan was on hand to poke home the rebound to complete his hat-trick.
Taylor made a fantastic sliding intervention to deny Kiernan again, in the 34th minute, and the striker then had a curling chance just wide.
But the final effort of the half fell to Knoyle, who forced the keeper to save at his near post.
United made a double substitution at half time, bringing on Jubril Okedina and Harrison Dunk, and you could sense they were going to throw everything at Harrogate.
Mullin put an opportunity narrowly wide in the 48th minute, but made no mistake 11 minutes later, converting Hoolahan’s cross from close range to reduce the deficit to one goal.
Mullin was finding some great positions and was being picked out by his team-mates, shooting wide across the face of goal in the 68th minute.
But the frenetic speed of the game did not cease, and there was a big save from Burton a minute later.
Ed Francis was slotted away in a channel but the United keeper stood big at his front post to deny the Harrogate man.
United were back on level terms for the first time since the ninth minute, in the 73rd minute.
Hoolahan, who was having an outstanding game, was fouled in the box by Harrogate defender Jay WIlliams, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Mullin stepped up and fired the penalty low to the keeper’s right for his 31st league goal of the campaign.
At 4-4, you still did not know which way the game was going to go.
Burton made a vital push out from a dangerous Fallowfield cross and the game went straight up the other end where, from a free kick, Taylor had a header saved by Cracknell.
Burton had to be alert again in the 84th minute to save from Thomson at the back post, but United were still made to pay.
They did not deal well enough with the corner and Lokko placed a good shot into the bottom corner from just inside the area.
United had fought so hard to get back in the game, but were now trailing again and Mullin tried to rectify that straight away, having a shot blocked in the area.
Ironside had a header go wide in the last play of the game, but there were not able to get back on level terms, and the defeat means that United go into their final match of the season at home to Grimsby Town on May 8 still needing a point to ensure promotion.
Harrogate Town: Cracknell, Fallowfield, Smith, Thomson, Hondermarck, Beck, Kiernan, Francis, Lokko, Williams, Roberts.
Substitutes: Burrell (Roberts, 67). Not used: Belshaw, Falkingham, Muldoon, McPake, Andrews.
Cambridge United: Burton, Knoyle, Taylor, Drysdale, Iredale, Hannant, Digby, Boateng, Hoolahan, Ironside, Mullin.
Substitutes: Dunk (Iredale, 45), Okedina (Drysdale, 45), May (Boateng, 84), Tracey (Digby, 88). Not used: O’Neil, McKenzie-Lyle, Alese.
Referee: Ollie Yates.
Booking: Cambridge United - Burton (foul, 20); Harrogate - Williams (foul, 73), Burrell (foul, 76).