Harrogate Town crashed to a first home defeat of the season against an organised and powerful Nuneaton Town side 3-0 at the CNG Stadium.
Aaron Williams silenced the home faithful with a neat finish off the post after just seven minutes.
Harrogate had the better possession of the first period but former West Ham United striker Marlon Harewood altered Simon Weaver’s half-time team talk with a header on the stroke of half-time.
Town came close to narrowing the gap in the second half but were let down by a lack of potency up front.
And Nuneaton ensured a return to the Midlands with all three points when Elliott Whitehouse’s shot from distance cruelly deflected off Luke Shiels into the Town net.
The visitors could have made for an embarrassing scoreline late on but Peter Crook got down low to deny Jack Dyer when the substitute was through one on one.
Weaver maintained the same Harrogate team which had beaten AFC Telford 4-0 and drawn 3-3 against Yorkshire rivals North Ferriby United on Tuesday night.
That meant Town were once again without injured duo Paul Thirlwell and Danny Ellis, while local lads Louie Swain and Jack Emmett remained on the bench.
Town made an encouraging start with Dominic Knowles heading Joe Colbeck’s ball over the bar before working himself a second chance and lashing the ball wide.
But Nuneaton responded with the opening goal on seven minutes. Harewood held off the presence of the Town defence to set up Williams, who swept home his sixth of the season with impeccable accuracy. Crook was left standing as the ball cannoned in off the base of the right-hand post.
Andy McWilliams quickly taken free-kick almost caught the Nuneaton defence napping, but Colbeck couldn’t alter his body shape to divert the ball home at the near post.
Colbeck was again involved as Town fashioned a fourth good half chance midway through the first half. The winger charged with purpose down the right but his cross was lashed over by Knowles.
Nuneaton’s forward-line were finding space to work around the power of Harewood and right-back James Clifton tested the palms of Peter Crook with a vicious strike from the edge of the box. From the follow-up, Harewood, who helped West Ham to the FA Cup final ten seasons ago, bundled into the box and teed up Elliot Whitehouse to fire over.
Town pressed for an equaliser but were left cursing their luck on numerous occasions in a succession of near missed. Tom Platt had crossed wires with Brendan Daniels at the back post of a Colbeck cross, while Paul Clayton lacked composure when one on one with Nuneaton stopper Jordan Smith and took the ball too wide as the chance disappeared.
Colbeck has been a shining light on the right-flank in Town’s fixtures in September, and he continued to beat left-back James Reid with purpose. But once again, another of his crosses turned out unproductive as Cecil Nyoni’s prod goalwards was saved.
Nuneaton attacked in flashes, but unlike Town, the former Conference outfit were potent. On the stroke of the break, Harewood gave the visitors a second with a simple header from a corner. The striker pealed away from Dave McGurk’s attention at the back post, and powerfully nodded home James Reid’s deep delivery, leaving Crook no chance.
Weaver sent his men out early from the dressing room, but with the boss’ word ringing in their ears, they still found an organised away defence hard to break down.
Nuneaton continued to offer a threat on the counter and Harewood’s clever back heel sent Williams racing through on the left, but the winger was unable to add to his six goals this season as he side-footed wide of the far post.
Town huffed and puffed and maintained pressure in the visitors’ half with five successive corners, the last of which was excellently tipped away by keeper Jordan Smith.
Jordan Thewlis and Lloyd Kerry were thrown on by Weaver to spark a response, but instead, Nuneaton fashioned the next opportunity when Harewood was set free. The former Premier League man bounded towards goal, but his effort skewed wide to the ironic cheers of the home support.
The third goal arrived in hideous fashion for Town. Elliott Whitehouse slammed a shot goalwards from 30 yards and it cannoned off Luke Shiels’ head to leave Crook watching it trickle in off his right-hand post from the other side of the goal.
The goal perhaps summed up Town’s luck, which continued to go against them as Jack Emmett, brought on for the ineffectual Brendan Daniels, saw two opportunities go begging, Smith saving his prod across goal, before a half-volley ended up in the stand behind the goal.
Sheils also did not have the rub of the green from a powerful strike goalwards as the ball spooned kindly for Smith to gather.
Knowles followed with a curling free-kick that sailed narrowly wide, and his header from Lloyd Kerry’s deep cross was dug out low by a sprawling Smith.
The away men almost made the scoreline embarrassing with the final action when Dyer raced through but Crook prevented down to his right.