Play-off pain as Harlow come up short at Witham
By Ray Dyer
THERE was heartbreak for Harlow Town as they suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Witham Town in their play-off final this afternoon.
It was a polar opposite of the performance against Heybridge Swifts which secured victory in the semi-final.
It means that Witham move up to the Ryman premier division, while Harlow face another season in division one north.
Witham had certainly done their homework on the Hawks, nullifying the threat of James Smith and Junior Dadson down the flanks, while 52-goal Harlow striker Alex Read was left bloodied and battered in the first 10 minutes as the hosts’ strong defence undid the visitors in front of 898 people.
Harlow had done the double over Witham in the league, being the only team to beat the mid-Essex side at home in the league season.
But Witham stepped up when it mattered and overcame the heartache of losing the title on the last day of the season to come good when it really mattered.
Unfortunately for Harlow too many of their key players just did not turn up.
Harlow boss Danny Chapman kept faith with the same side that beat Heybridge 3-0 in the play-off semi-final last Tuesday.
This meant skipper and centre-half Darren Blewitt (knee injury) was passed fit, surviving on a diet of strong painkillers to get through matches.
There were few chances in the opening period as nerves played a key part, as expected.
Witham had the first real chance when Tom Wraight’s left-wing cross went to the far post and Lee Townrow was desperately unlucky not to get on the end of it on 13 minutes.
Harlow’s first real chance came on 20 minutes. James Smith’s corner invoked pandemonium in the Witham penalty area and as the home defence failed to clear Read ended up heading onto the roof of the net from close range.
But a mistake at the other end minutes later from normally reliable Josh Urquhart let in Joe Sweeney. He took the ball into the box but his shot from the left side flew wide of the far post.
But Witham took the lead when a ball from the left found the unmarked Seb Murfit on the egde of the box and he hammered a shot into the roof of the net, giving Hawks keeper Danny Knowles no chance.
Witham made it 2-0 on 33 minutes. Kris Newby’s excellent ball from the right saw keeper Knowles hesitate and eventually stay in his six-yard box and this gave Lee Townrow the chance to out-pace the Harlow defence and fire into the top right corner.
A minute later Witham went close to a third when Sweeney’s header was almost screwed into his own net by Hawks left-back Layne Eadie.
Harlow went into the break 2-0 down and had much to do after a first half which they failed to turn up.
The hosts had a lucky escape when Witham skipper Paul King’s awful late foul on Josh Urquhart ended with a yellow card when the visiting fans were demanding a red.
The visitors went close when a Smith corner again caused problems for the home defence, but Blewitt, clearly feeling the strain of his knee injury, failed to connect with this from close range.
A goal at this stage would have given the Hawks some hope for the second half.
Harlow came out for the second half looking stronger and were unlucky when Junior Dadson’s great drive into the box from the right wing ended with a neat ball across to Leon Antoine, eight yards out from goal.
But the ball hit his right foot and deflected completely the wrong direction from the goal.
The hosts came desperately close to a third when Wraight’s piledriver from 25 yards was met by a brilliant low block from Knowles on 54 minutes.
The ball fell clear to Sweeney but he was offside.
After a few half chances in the second period, a possible game changer came when King’s foul on Smith saw the referee produce a second yellow and send off the Witham skipper.
From the ensuing free-kick, Blewitt’s header was pushed around a post by the scrambling Witham keeper Martyn Guest.
With nine minutes left Harlow sub George Smith’s centre was met by his brother but Guest produced a spectacular diving save, and that was about it for Harlow as they failed to take advantage of the extra man.
There was just four minutes left when Witham broke and sub Shami Pedulu turned and beat his man before rifling a fine strike from just over 20 yards and into the top right corner, past the despairing dive of Knowles.
Guest made another late save from James Smith in injury-time, but Harlow were well beaten and face another season in division one north.
Thanks to the Harlow Star for the match report