Concord Rangers: 0
Harrogate Town: 1
QUIZ TIME at Wembley Stadium! Harrogate Town became the first Football League team to lift the Buildbase FA Trophy.
In a sign of the times, the 2019-20 final was played out behind closed doors nearly a year after it would have been in normal seasons and eight months after the semi-finals.
Captain Josh Falkingham delivered the crucial blow to break the hearts of National League South Concord Rangers, who defended valiantly throughout.
Beachboys keeper Chris Haigh was rightly awarded the man of the match for a series of fine saves that kept Danny Scopes’ team in the game and dreaming they could snatch something at the other end.
But, in truth, Harrogate deserved their victory – a second at Wembley having won the National League promotion final here in August.
At the final whistle, Scopes gathered his dejected players in a huddle in the centre of the pitch. No doubt he would have been telling them just how proud he was of their efforts in testing circumstances.
Concord were playing their first competitive game since mid-February while Harrogate came into the final on the back of a thrilling 5-4 win over Cambridge United.
Manager Simon Weaver named seven players from the squad that won at Wembley against Notts County to secure promotion into the Football League for the first time in their history.
A few weeks later they beat the Magpies again and booked their unique piece of history by becoming the first EFL club to reach an FA Trophy final.
League status has been secured for another year with much of Weaver’s squad the same. Most have done their fair share of hard yards outside of the EFL too and were desperate to lift Non-League’s prestigious cup.
But the fact they arrived in their stride ahead of this one, while National League South Concord Rangers had a standing start with just training games, showed the size of the Non-Leaguers task.
It was the League Two side who had the first opening of the game when defender Will Smith was found in space, but his close range volley was into the hands of Haigh.
Veteran striker Jon Stead then sent a curling shot wide of the post and the Beachboys breathed a bigger sigh of relief on 25 minutes when Jack Muldoon couldn’t get enough power behind his effort from six yards with Haigh sticking out his leg to divert away.
Concord were appealing for a penalty just after the hour mark when Lamar Reynolds went down in the box under pressure from Smith but referee Peter Bankes was unmoved.
Haigh has been one of the stars of Concord’s Trophy run with some vital penalty saves including in a penalty shoot-out against Leamington and in the quarter-final tie against Royston Town.
And it was the former Heybridge Swifts stopper’s right leg that kept the game level when he reacted brilliantly to keep out Stead’s low shot that took a deflection on its way through.
Harrogate were looking the more threatening but Concord boss Scopes will have been pleased with his side’s endeavour to keep the scores level at the break.
But Weaver’s men kept coming when the game resumed, Josh McPake’s deflected shot dropping wide of the goal with Haigh committed the other way.
In the build-up, Scopes spoke of his wish that Concord show the spirit that has made the club what it is.
It’s 13 years since Scopes was manager when they won the Essex Senior League with now Portsmouth boss Danny Cowley as his assistant.
They became joint-managers after that, winning promotion to Step 3 before Scopes stepped aside to concentrate on his son’s football sides while Cowley, and brother Nicky, took the Beachboys to Step 2. Scopes stayed around the club, however, and returned to the dug-out as boss in 2019.
While Harrogate were enjoying the better chances, Concord’s determination to defend with everything they had was exactly what Scopes had called for, repelling a succession of corners and scrambling loose balls clear.
Just eight minutes into the second half they had a golden chance to snatch the lead only for Jack Cawley to turn the ball over from point-blank range. The Cowley brothers, watching their old team for BT Sport, had their hands on their heads.
They would have been applauding on 66 minutes when the outstanding Haigh again made a flying save to keep Harrogate out, pushing George Thomson’s scissor-kick behind after defender Cawley stood strong in the face of Falkingham’s drive.
There was nothing he could have done when Brendan Kiernan was all alone in the box – the former Hampton & Richmond man was off-target with the header. It was a let off that didn’t last long when Harrogate took the lead on 76 minutes.
Jack Muldoon went on a marauding run from the left, drove inside and hit a low shot that came back off Haigh’s post into the path of skipper Falkingham who slammed into the empty net.
Concord Rangers: (3-5-2): Haigh; Roast (Martin 83), Sterling, Cawley; Pollock, Blanchfield (Wall, 79), Blackman, Simper; Reynolds, Charles (Babalola 59)
Subs not used: McFadden, Wilks, Search, Hernandez,
Harrogate Town: (4-4-2): Cracknell; Burrell, Smith, Hall, Jones (Fallowfield 61); Thomson, Falkingham, Kerry, McPake (Kiernan 67); Muldoon, Stead (Beck 61)
Subs not used: Belshaw, Francis, Lokko, Williams
Star Man: Chris Haigh (Concord Rangers)
Shots on: 0/8
Shots off: 2/6
Fouls conceded: 8/9
Yellow cards: 0/1
Red cards: 0/0