Mike Aspinall admitted Harrogate had probably thrown away third place in National Two North after falling to a 30-27 defeat to Luctonians on Saturday.
Defensive errors cost Harrogate a chance of glory when borrowing Otley’s Cross Green ground against the Herefordshire relegation fighters.
The defeat took Gate four points behind Sedgley Park in the race for third spot, needing a turnaround of fortunes on the final of the season on Saturday.
Aspinall said: “Third is still potentially there, but maybe we let it go at the weekend.”
Aspinall’s men travel to former powerhouse Stourbridge for their final league game of the campaign,
Despite falling behind in the points race, Aspinall said a fourth-placed finish would still reflect a positive return in the club’s final year at Claro Road.
He said: “We probably let ourselves down at the weekend but we have to move on quickly and nail a win at Stourbridge, which would be the first time in a while. I would be very happy to finish fourth. Third was a very stretching goal and to get as close to that was fourth would be brilliant. Either way we can only look back on a good season.”
With the club leaving Claro Road last month and the new facility on Rudding Lane not yet fit for purpose, Harrogate needed the help of fierce rivals Otley to be able to host their final ‘home’ game of the campaign.
In a lively contest, Harrogate scored four tries. But without Andy Boyde (illness) and Willem Enslin (away), ‘Gate were under-strength in their pack, and it turned into a below par afternoon as Luctonians eased their relegation worries with a bonus point win.
Callum Irvine’s penalty kicked Harrogate into an early lead but Lucs hit back when Sam Boxhall drove over.
The Harrogate attacks continued and an Irvine chip kick was seized on by Kerry Wood whose try restored the home lead. But Dench was then yellow carded and Geraint Langdon’s penalty evened the score.
Luctonians took a lead into the break when Frank Kelly squeezed over in the corner and they extended it with a converted try early in the second half.
Jake Brady then stole a Lucs line-out to set up Harrogate driving mauls and his brother Sam was on hand to burst through and score under the posts.
Lewis Minikin and Irvine then linked well to create another Brady try out wide.
Luctonians were spurred on to more attacks but the Harrogate defence held out till they were penalised in front of goal. Langdon’s kick bounced back into play but Harrogate knocked on and, when they went offside again, Langdon made no mistake with his second attempt.
Lucts then went eight points clear when an ill judged kick was charged down and Norris followed up to score a converted try. Harrogate attacked concertedly for the rest of the game and late on the ball went through several pairs of hands and Bottomley crashed over.
Still more Harrogate attacks had the Lucs’ supporters’ hearts in their mouths but their defence held out.
Mike Aspinall added: “You have to take your hats off to Luctonians. They are a very motivated side which you would expect in their situation fighting for survival.
“It’s hard to duplicate that industry. I was hoping we would match that but unfortunately we didn’t.
“Over the 80 minutes they probably wanted it more than we did, which was slightly disappointing.
“We didn’t have a very good defensive performance and it was probably as poor as we have been all season. We scored four tries and that’s more than enough to win a game of rugby. Unfortunately we gave them too many chances.”