In the first round of the West Riding County Cup, a flawless Ilkley Town AFC put six past NCEL side Harrogate Railway Athletic FC. The Baht’atters were clinical offensively, with goals from Ben Clarkson, Shaban Mehmeti, Tom Smith, Alfie Dean and a brace for Kevin Gonzalez, whilst a penalty save and clean sheet contributed to an equally impressive defensive performance, writes Matthew Lambe.
Prior to the game, both sides occupied a playoff position in their respective leagues – Town are 2nd in the Northern Counties West League, whilst Railway lie 3rd in the Northern Counties East League, setting up a thrilling encounter.
In the first minute, the hosts came close to taking the lead, when Nathan Hunt played through Gonzalez but his powerful effort rippled the side netting.
Sam Dexter’s side took the lead from the spot in the early stages; Clarkson was brought down inside the box, and the talisman made no mistake in despatching the penalty – sending the keeper the wrong way.
Around the half hour mark, Gonzalez bagged his second goal in as many games with a towering header. George Gomersall floated a corner towards the far post, where Gonzalez rose above the defence and headed beyond the keeper.
The visitors had a massive chance to half the deficit after their forward was fouled in the box by goalkeeper Charlie Bell. However, Bell made amends in stunning fashion as he dived the right way and saved the spot kick. Moments later, the visitors were through on goal again, only to be denied by a well-timed goalline clearance from James Nightingale.
Ten minutes into the second half, Gonzalez scored his second header of the game to put his side three goals up. Goalkeeper Bell is awarded the assist, as his long ball flew over Railway’s defence, only taking one bounce before Gonzalez headed over the onrushing keeper.
Ilkley were in full control, but continued to attack and inflict further injury onto Harrogate. Following a string of passes inside the box, Mehmeti added a fourth after finding the far corner with a driven effort.
Looking for a consolation goal, Athletic launched long balls forward for their pacy striker to chase; however, it proved fruitless as each attempt was intercepted by the centre back partnership of Matt Swift and Josh Parker.
With injury time looming, Dean added his name to the scoresheet with a fine solo run. He weaved past several defenders before slotting into the bottom corner via the post. Only two minutes later, the Baht’atters put a sixth past the North Yorkshire outfit, after Smith’s strike rocketed into the top corner following a mazy run by Mehmeti.
This concluded the match, ensuring Sam Dexter’s side progress to the second round of the County Cup after a commanding victory.
Looking to the future, Town’s efforts return to the league with successive away games, travelling to AFC Blackpool on 29th October before making the long trip up north - beyond the Lake District - to face Cleator Moor on 5th November.