Harrogate Town will be members of the English Football League for the first time in their history as they dismantled Notts County at Wembley.
Story of the match
Almost a year to do the day that the Vanarama National League started, it came to a close at a desolate Wembley Stadium as Harrogate Town and Notts County battled it out for a place in the English Football League.
The sides arrived at Wembley as even as they could come, separated by only three points before the regular season was suspended, with the same goals scored and similar defensive records, as well as mirroring form.
Following their respective semi-final victories last week, Harrogate Town and Notts County also made no changes to their matchday squads, with both sides lining up in familiar 4-4-2 formations.
The first half, however, was anything other than even.
Notts County started the game in frantic fashion and nearly gifted the opening goal to Harrogate Town inside two minutes as Aaron Martin charged down a clearance from Ben Turner and saw his deflection drift just wide of the right post.
Three minutes later and Harrogate Town were ahead.
After dominating early possession, Harrogate Town took the lead inside five minutes as Ryan Fallowfield crossed into the front-post, finding a marauding George Thomson coming across a brazen Turner to slide the ball passed a helpless Sam Slocombe in the Notts County goal.
The goal merely signalled the start of a Yorkshire onslaught on the Notts County goal as Martin slide the ball inches wide from 14 yards with only eight minutes gone before Jack Muldoon had his head in his hands in the 12th minute after latching on to a Josh Falkingham free-kick to strike wide from eight yards.
Notts County had their first sight of goal in the 15th minute as Michael Doyle looked to get on the end of a cross from Callum Roberts on the edge of the box. The ball looked destined to nestle in the Harrogate net but a brilliant lunging block from Ryan Fallowfield deflected the effort wide for a corner.
The chance did not, however, change the momentum.
Harrogate poured forward again and extended their lead in the 28th minutes.
After Joel Bagan picked up the first yellow card of the game for a foul on Fallowfield, Thomson fired in a pin-point free-kick into the back post from 18 yards. An unmarked Connor Hall was on hand to divert the ball into the net from three yards to give Harrogate Town a deserved 2-0 lead.
Town should have extended their lead only two minutes later as Jack Diamond found himself one-on-one with Slocombe after a delightful through-ball from Falkingham. Diamond, however, rushed the chance and saw his effort drift wide.
In the 40th minute, Harrogate Town thought they had their third as Warren Burrell flicked a looping ball into the path of Martin, three yards out. On the turn, the forward struck the ball passed an onrushing Slocombe but could only find the post, with the ball deflecting harmlessly wide.
Harrogate had time for one more chance before the half-time whistle as Thomson fired in a threatening free-kick from the edge of the box in added time but Brindley was alert to the danger and flicked the ball over from under his own crossbar.
Notts County came out all guns blazing in the second half and were immediately rewarded.
After winning an innocuous free-kick on the edge of the Harrogate box, Callum Roberts curled the ball expertly into the bottom left corner of James Belshaw’s net to give Neal Ardley’s side some much-needed hope.
Notts County continued their redemption and twice went close to equalising through Roberts from 20 yards then substitute Enzio Boldewijn, but Harrogate were resolute in defence and Notts County could find no way through.
The next goal would prove decisive and it was Harrogate who extended their lead to take the game away from Notts County.
Five minutes after Muldoon and Thomson had gone close for Town, it was a piece of magic from substitute and former Magpie Jon Stead that provided the added quality Harrogate needed.
Surrounded by three opponents in midfield, Stead spun his way out of trouble to release Muldoon in the 70th minute. Mirroring the opening goal of the game, Muldoon picked out Jack Diamond running across Brindley at the front-post and diverted the ball into the far corner.
Notts County threw everything at Harrogate Town in the latter stages as they looked for a way back into the game but Belshaw and Town stood proud and strong.
In added time, Stead nearly put the cherry on top of the victory as he struck the post in the 95th minute but nothing could dampen this historic day for Harrogate Town, who will make their very first appearance in the English Football League next season, only three years after turning professional.
For Notts County, next season will be only their second outside of the Football League in their history but with Neal Ardley at the helm, the Magpies can look to the future with hope.
Takeaways from the match
George Thomson makes the difference
The Harrogate Town midfielder came away with a goal and assist but significantly enhanced prestige following a creative performance at Wembley.
Fan favourite George Thomson joined Harrogate in 2017 and has since made over 100 appearances in the yellow and black.
Thomson joined Town after a productive season at FC United of Manchester that yielded 20 goals.
Thomson managed a total of 32 goals in 72 matches during an 18-month spell at The Red Rebels, who he had joined from full-time Chester.
Before his career as a professional footballer began, Thomson studied sports science at Loughborough University, graduating seven years ago with a 2:1.
The playmaker was part of the university football team and played part-time at non-league level.
Today’s performance resembled someone from a far more established footballing pedigree as he created chance after chance and fizzed in crosses, terrorising the Notts County defence with his vision and accuracy.
History is made
The Yorkshire side will be in the English Football League next season for the first time in their history.
Boss Simon Weaver took over in 2009 and has overseen a tremendous turnaround in the club's fortunes.
They've now got under six weeks to tear up their artificial pitch and put down a grass one and get ready to play League Two football at the beginning of October.
After the game, the Football League’s new longest-serving manager was in a rightfully gleeful mood,
“It’s unbelievable to actually hear those words (Promotion to the Football League)… it’s been some journey, hopefully this isn’t the end of it but we’ve had to go through loads to get here… hopefully people are learned more about Harrogate Town today.”
The celebratory mood was best captured by captain, Josh Falkingham after the game,
“We will be off to Betty's Team Room for a hangover cure on Monday.”
For Notts County, however, it is back to the drawing board.
Neal Ardley expressed his pride in the post-match conference for how his side responded after the first half but asserted that his side,
“Will come back stronger ... to make sure we don’t feel this pain next season.”
Whilst Notts County are no strangers to suffering, they have come a long way in the last 18 months.
From players not being paid to excessive debts and a transfer embargo, Notts County have been dragged through the mire, but to finish the season at Wembley Stadium may be the proudest non-league achievement of the season and whilst it didn’t end in promotion, the Magpies can be optimistic about their future.