Harrogate 2-4 Chester - North Hockey One
Harrogate were left ruing missed chances in the crucial moments after making a losing start to 2016 at home to Chester at Granby Park on Saturday.
The second-placed visitors claimed all three points in a topsy turvy game which ended 4-2 .
Harrogate went into the match in fifth spot in North Hockey Division One knowing a victory would cut the gap to the top four teams, including their opponents.
In a match of swinging fortunes, it was promotion chasing Chester that drew first blood, dispatching a short corner drag flick into the roof of the net.
Harrogate reacted well, with Luke Lambert and Harry Henderson combining well before the former had a snap-shot saved.
Ayala and Joe Horne conjured up a moment of magic to draw Harrogate level with a slick short corner routine, finished off by the latter.
And the same combination put Harrogate ahead as Horne grabbed his second of the match.
Harrogate were then punished after surrendering possession needlessly on the edge of their ‘D’.
A Chester forward picked the pocket of a Harrogate defender before planting the ball onto an onrushing midfielder’s foot.
Chester’s drag flicker took full advantage, finding the back of the net.
At 2-2, Harrogate were left once again to rue profligacy in front of goal. Andy Clemmerson sent Ayala clear but the Argentinian failed to get his shot away.
Moments later, Chester retook the lead after some slack defending enabled a Chester defender to race into the ‘D’ before finding the corner with an accurate shot. With Harrogate pressing for an equaliser and little time left on the clock, the away side wrapped up victory with a simple back post finish.
Despite the defeat, Harrogate captain Will Rogers was proud of his squad for providing an entertaining fixture.
He said: “We knew it would be a tough game and both teams arguably did enough to win the match.
“There was a certain amount of rustiness and it may have been a different outcome had we taken one of our chances at 2-2.
“We were unlucky not to get something out of the game but credit to Chester.
“I never like to lose but I thought both teams played some good hockey.”
This Saturday, Harrogate face a trip to ninth-placed Neston South Wirral.
Meanwhile, Harrogate Ladies climbed the table in North Division One after a battling 2-2 draw at Lymm Ladies on Sunday.
‘Gate only had 11 players for their trip to Cheshire but returned with a point against a side four places below them in the table.
The win moved ‘Gate above Brooklands Poynton Ladies into the top three, trailing leaders Didsbury Greys and Wakefield.
The Ladies 2nd team picked up a 3-1 win in their Yorkshire Hockey League tie at Dewsbury.
Meanwhile, Boston Spa’s men’s first team lost 7-0 at Huddersfield Dragons in the Yorkshire Premier Division.
Boston have lost their last three matches and lie fourth from bottom in ninth.
In the same league, Harrogate’s men’s second team drew 1-1 at bottom of the table York University.
High flying pair Thirsk and City of York 4 played out a 1-1 draw in Yorkshire Two as both maintained five-game unbeaten runs.