A LIAM Hardy hat-trick secured victory for Harrogate Railway Athletic against a lacklustre Clitheroe despite a brave second-half fightback by Paul Moore’s side at Station View on Saturday.
Goals from Hardy and Jon Maloney had given the hosts a commanding interval lead only for Jack Higgins and substitute Chris Mason to drag the Blues level.
Harrogate had the last laugh as Hardy completed his treble with two strikes in the final 10 minutes to consign Clitheroe to their second defeat in as many weeks.
Moore made three changes to last week’s team at Cammell Laird, with Rob Bodie returning and Scott Bakkor and Chris Dykes brought into the starting line-up.
The away side endured a poor first half and fell behind after 14 minutes when a slack ball out of defence allowed Nathan Cartman to send Hardy clear to slot home.
Clitheroe were making little impact in the attacking third, their best chance falling to Danny Mahoney who forced Sam Dobbs into an early save after robbing Damian Hopkins out wide.
And aside from Chris Smalley’s effort drifting wide of the far post midway through the half after neat footwork in the box, this was as much as the Blues mustered.
The visitors were not at the races and Alex Hallam failed to capitalise on more poor defending as he dragged wide on 38 minutes with only Hakan Burton to beat.
Harrogate did not have long to wait for their second which arrived shortly before the break as Maloney looped a header over Burton from a lofted Colin Hunter free kick.
Clitheroe started the second period with a more positive demeanour and were brighter throughout, halving the arrears on the hour mark.
Higgins powered a header from a Simon Nangle free kick past Dobbs, who went on to play an important role for the hosts in the final quarter of the game.
The former Wakefield stopper superbly denied Higgins a second before Mason’s header drew Clitheroe level with 13 minutes remaining.
The game though had become stretched and the Blues’ joy was short-lived as they were on terms for less than three minutes.
Rail regained the lead with 10 minutes left on the clock when Rob Youhill flashed a ball from the right across the six-yard box which was tapped home by Hardy.
Clitheroe came mighty close to restoring parity only for Smalley to see his bullet header from another Nangle corner magnificently repelled by Dobbs.
As the game neared its end, Clitheroe’s attacks were unrelenting with the ball fizzing around the penalty area on a number of occasions although a further equaliser was not forthcoming.
By this stage, the Blues had three out-and-out strikers – Mark Buchan, Marcus Calvert and Mason - on the pitch, with Mahoney playing slightly deeper.
However, such emphasis on attack inevitably left their backline exposed to the counter-attack.
Burton made an excellent point blank save to deny Hardy, although the frontman had the final say as more indifferent defending dogged the Blues.
Deep into injury time, a poor back-pass sold Burton short and left Hardy with the simple task of finding an unguarded net.
Back-to-back league defeats is new territory for Clitheroe this season, with Moore and Dave Hughes having the task of raising spirits ahead of Saturday’s home match with Garforth Town.
Clitheroe: Burton, Smalley, James, Bodie, Higgins (c), Pearson, Nangle, Woods (Buchan 59), Mahoney, Bakkor (Mason 65), Dykes (Calvert 74). Subs not used: Bell, Smith. Attendance: 100