AFC Telford 2
HARRIERS’ play-off dreams lie in tatters as they failed to buck the losing trend at Telford on Tuesday night.
With nine games of the season left, Steve Burr’s youthful side are still mathematically in with a shout of securing a top-five finish in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
But to overhaul the seven points which separate themselves and fifth-placed York would need a comeback of such epic proportions it would match Elvis’ triumphant 1968 return to the limelight.
The Aggborough outfit probably need to win at least seven of their remaining games to give themselves a chance and at the moment it’s hard to see them doing that.
In fact, after slipping to a third consecutive defeat in the Conference, it’s difficult to see how Harriers can turn this losing juggernaut around and make sure a season which promised so much doesn’t completely fizzle out.
And they’ve no one else to blame but themselves.
They had plenty of possession but offered very little in either box.
To lose one or two games like that can be put down to bad luck but to replicate such tepid performances over six weeks suggest the team’s defensive problems run deeper.
Since the loss of Tom Sharpe to injury, Harriers’ back-four has been prone to damaging lapses in concentration, but in truth all of the players let the manager and fans down on Tuesday night.
After defeats to Barrow and Fleetwood, Telford was targeted as a must-win game to breath new life into their play-off bid but instead, they were caught napping in the third minute at a Jonathan Brown corner.
As Harriers’ players stood like statues in the box, Phil Trainer took advantage to power home a head at the far post to knock the wind out of the away team’s sails.
For the rest of the half, Burr’s troops dominated possession but lacked any guile to test Bucks keeper Ryan Young, apart from one off-target header by Tom Marshall.
At the other end, Tony Breeden had to be alert, diving to his left to get a hand to Brown’s well-struck free-kick as it snaked through the wall and arrowed towards the bottom corner.
The one player who shone throughout for Harriers was 19-year-old rookie hitman Anthony Malbon, who made a mockery of his rise up four levels of the non-league pyramid, to produce a sparkling display as he linked up menacingly with veteran Steve Guinan.
It was no surprise he got Harriers back into the game in the 52nd minute. Nick Wright drove down the flank and delivered a cross and the 20-year-od rose superbly to head home and get the hundreds of away fans off their feet.
Reinvigorated by the strike, Harriers came agonsingly close to taking the lead.
Guinan met Malbon’s cross with venom but his header ricocheted off the underside of the box and Callum Gittings’ fierce follow-up fizzed over.
The momentum seemed to be with the visitors but their renewed belief evaporated after more sloppy defending from only Telford’s second corner of the night.
Harriers failed to clear the danger and Richard Davies’ hopeful pot-shot took a massive deflection off Telford defensive rock Chris Blackburn and looped into the back of the net.
Deflated Harriers could do very little to get back into the game and despite swarming in numbers late on, they could not find a late goal.
To make matters worse, experienced midfielder Lee Hendrie had to be restrained by stewards at the end, as he vented his frustrations on a section of home fans in Telford’s main stand.
Burr said: “We huffed and puffed and I thought the winning goal summed up how things are with us because I thought we were on top. You give people jobs to do at corners for and against and they’re not doing them at the moment.
“We’re not getting the rub of the green at the moment but that’s something you have to make happen yourselves.
“A bit of confidence has gone when you’re not winning but we’re disappointed when you give people jobs to do and they’re not carrying them out and it’s costing us.”
Harriers: Breeden 7, Vaughan 7, Marshall 6, Jones 6, Demetriou 6, Byrne 4 (Bradley 46), Gittings 5 (Rowe 82); Storer 5, Wright 5, Guinan 6 (Hendrie 74), MALBON 8. Subs not used: Lyness, Williams.
Telford: Young, Salmon, Newton, Trainer, Perry, Preston, Blackburn, Jackson, Davies, Brown (Cain 87), Sharp (Brooke 74). Subs not used Clough, Smith, Robinson.
Referee: Darren Handley. Attendance: 2,192