A Matt Smith brace against Harrogate Town helped Salford City bounce back from a mid-week defeat, reigniting their push for promotion.
In what was a spirited away performance, the 213 travelling Harrogate fans will be disappointed that their side didn’t leave with at least a point. The Sulphurites kept out their opposition for 70 minutes, but couldn’t quite hang on or find a goal themselves.
Salford came into this fixture on the back of a 1-0 loss at Port Vale — their first defeat in 12 matches, breaking an impressive run of form.
Manager Gary Bowyer responded with three changes this weekend to “freshen up the side”, awarding winger Luke Bolton his first Salford start.
Meanwhile, Harrogate Town were forced into just the one change from their midweek 2-1 defeat to Colchester, after goalscorer Jack Muldoon picked up a knock in that game.
Rain had been forecast, and the ominous grey clouds looked likely to threaten the day’s play. But as the fans began to filter into the stadium, blue skies began to emerge on what would turn out to be a bright, albeit cold, Saturday afternoon.
Straight from kick-off, it was clear that Harrogate had come into this game with real defensive discipline. Leading from the back was Town captain, Warren Burrell, making some significant early challenges.
At the other end, the visitors should have scored. A well-weighted through ball found its way to Harrogate striker Luke Armstrong, who clipped his shot just wide under pressure. An early wake-up call for Salford.
From this point, the home side slowly began to find their footing in the game. Cruyff turns and body feints exuded composure when playing from the back. Cheap fouls were won through bursts of pace from Ibou Touray and Ryan Watson. Neat passages of play started to show their opposition just why the Ammies are the ones in and around the play-off spots.
But throughout the first half, Salford could not find a break-through in front of goal. The intensity slowly dropped off, and fans began to grow audibly frustrated by passages of sideways passing.
After what must have been a rousing team talk, the players were back out firing for the second half, with no changes made. However, it still seemed unlikely that Salford would find the goal they needed.
Harrogate were the first team to go close. Winger George Thomson flashed a shot just wide, taking the slightest of deflections off the Ammies centre-back, Corrie Ndaba.
But then, in the 70th minute, a breakthrough for Salford.
A long ball into the Harrogate box should have been dealt with by the Town keeper, Mark Oxley, but Ryan Watson was just able to nick the ball away and take it towards the corner flag. A quick turn and a looped cross teed up Smith on the edge of the six yard box – a convincing header to break the deadlock.
A traditional finish for the striker, but his second goal was anything but traditional.
Oxley, the Harrogate goalkeeper, had been injured in the build-up to Smith’s opener, resulting in their substitute keeper coming on. But before Joe Cracknell had even fastened his velcro glove straps, Salford were once again on the attack.
A cross whipped in by Brandon Thomas-Asante, cushioned by the chest of Watson, found its way to an in-form Smith. What followed was an acrobatic turn and smashed volley off the left post – a strike certainly in contention for goal of the month. Smith had his brace, while the win was secured for the Ammies.
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Two quick second half goals from Matt Smith get Salford back to winning ways.
— Salford City FC (@SalfordCityFC) April 9, 2022
Salford City manager Gary Bowyer was full of praise for his number 19, stating that Smith had been immense both on and off the pitch.
Bowyer said: “The respect that he has in the dressing room and how he behaves with the younger players – he’s a fantastic bloke and he’s passing on his experience, but at the same time he’s producing on the pitch as well.
“Two wonderful goals, different types of goals, but wonderful goals.”
Having seen out this hard-fought win, Salford City now find themselves just one point outside the play-offs. But manager Bowyer doesn’t want his team to get too carried away by this situation.
He said: “It’s just the next game for us, [the play-offs] are exciting to be in and around and you’d rather have something to play for.
“We’re chasing to win the next game, and that’s what we’ll do.”
That next game is an important one, against sixth placed Bristol Rovers on Friday. Salford fans will be hoping that they can leapfrog their way into the play-off spots with a win.