Torquay United will face Conference North side Harrogate Town in the first round of the FA Cup on Saturday after the North Yorkshire club finally emerged victorious from a qualifying round clash with Hyde FC.
With 87 minutes played at Hyde’s Ewen Fields ground on 20 October, Harrogate had looked to be heading out of the competition. Former Everton striker Phil Jevons had given the hosts the lead early on, but Harrogate scrambled an equaliser late on through substitute Leon Osbourne to secure a replay on home turf.
Although a lethal combination of bad weather and an over-used Wetherby Road caused the replay to be postponed and moved to Station View (home of neighbours Harrogate Railway Athletic), when the sides finally met again yesterday Harrogate prevailed… just. Although Hyde’s pre-match preparations were severely hampered by heavy traffic that meant their coach arrived so late that kick-off had to be delayed by 15 minutes, Harrogate showed admirable determination to match their opponents for the duration of normal time.
180 minutes had failed to separate the two sides, but when Harrogate’s winner came deep into extra time, it was again from the boot of a substitute – this time 19-year-old defender Dan Clayton emerged as his team’s hero.
The victory sets Harrogate up for a long trip to Plainmoor, home of League Two Torquay United, in a replica of the 2005 first-round draw. That year, Harrogate deservedly earned a 1-1 draw in the Westcountry before again matching their professional counterparts at home – only to be cruelly beaten on penalties. That first-round replay remains the furthest Harrogate have ever progressed in the FA Cup.
Although Simon Weaver’s men will be hoping to avenge that loss and surpass their club record, they will face a strong Torquay side that is now sitting in the League Two play-off places after recovering from an indifferent start to the campaign. The Gulls are still unbeaten at home in the league and have won their last four games at Plainmoor – even recovering a 3-0 deficit to beat Aldershot 4-3 and pipping league leaders Gillingham 2-1.
Exits at the first hurdle of both the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – to Leicester City and Yeovil Town respectively – leave this fixture as United’s last chance of cup success; Martin Ling’s side will doubtless be looking to continue a fine record in the FA Cup that has seen them reach the third round in five of the last seven seasons.
However, Ling has also admitted that he sees the competition as a chance to boost the club’s coffers – with the January transfer window looming, Torquay need all the cash they can get to fund mid-season signings, and the £18,000 reward for beating Harrogate is a good start. Former Premier League midfielder Ling told BBC Sport: “It’s about money. It’s cruel to say that, because of the glory of the Cup, but it may mean me signing a player or having the the wages to sign a player that can help us go up [to League One]. That’s what the FA Cup’s about to me.”
United’s midfield has been particularly decimated by injury this season, with Ian Morris, Lloyd Macklin and Saul Halpin all currently suffering lengthy spells on the sidelines, while holding midfielders Damon Lathrope and Craig Easton have only recently returned to action after limping out of early games against Cheltenham and Chesterfield respectively. Though Ling resisted a late foray into the loan market earlier this month, the temptation to reinforce may prove too great if funds are made available through a decent cup run.