GARY Burnett, making his first start in a home league game for Skelmersdale, really couldn’t have made a better beginning to his career at the West Lancashire College Stadium, scoring two and making another as United comfortably saw off their Yorkshire opposition to maintain their 100% start to the season.
It was clear from the kick-off that there was a weight of expectation on Skelmersdale and they went close in the tenth minute. Burnett and Warren Bellew combining wide on the left to put the ball onto Antony Hickey’s head, however, a defender deflected the goalbound ball wide.
Later shots by Mark Jackson and Burnett were saved by Harrogate keeper Sam Dobbs, but a storm was ready to break on the visitors and it turned the game.
In the 34th minute Bellew exchanged passes with Louis Corrigan down the left, Bellew lifted the ball to the far post and Hickey thumped a downward header inside the far post. Skelmersdale had moved into top gear.
Two minutes later the Harrogate offside trap was sprung. Kenny Strickland slotted the ball through the middle, Burnett ran onto the pass, rounded Dobbs and tapped the ball into the net.
The charge continued. Strickland and Lewis Field moved down the right-hand side, leaving the left-back in their wake, Field swung the ball low into the penalty area, Burnett got to the ball before keeper Dobbs, but found a reaction save by Dobbs kept him out.
When the half-time whistle went the feeling was “This is easy.” Skelmersdale has stepped up the tempo for about ten minutes and had established a two goal lead and it could have been more.
When the second-half kicked off it didn’t take Skelmersdale long to bag the important third goal.
In the 51st minute, the ball went diagonally across the pitch to Burnett on the right side of the penalty area, showing the intelligence of a player with far more experience, Burnett saw both Jackson and Strickland entering the box at pace, he rolled the ball into their path and Strickland side-footed the ball safely into the far corner of the net to make it 3-0.
Burnett and Hickey went close soon afterwards. However, realistically, there was no way Harrogate who had barely threatened all afternoon were going pull three goals back, Skelmersdale keeper Sam Ashton will not have many quieter afternoons.
Finally a fourth Skelmersdale goal arrived, Josh Hine out battled Dave Ward in the right hand corner before crossing deep into the box, Burnett popped up to guide home his second, confirming himself the T. E. Evans Man of the Match and to earn himself the praise of the Stormy Corner regulars.
In his programme notes before the game, Skelmersdale manager Tommy Lawson reminded everybody how important it was for his side to win the Harrogate game.
Over the next nine days Skelmersdale face a big test of their winning start to the season and the players know it.
Tuesday sees them travel to Mossley, followed by home games against Curzon Ashton on Saturday and New Mills next Tuesday.
United did enough to safely overcome Harrogate, at the same time making it clear that they have held plenty back for the challenge of the week ahead.
l Skelmersdale United: Ashton, Field, Corrigan, Hardwick (c), McIntosh, Strickland, Hickey, Woolcott, Jackson (Hine, 65), Burnett (Wright, 80), Bellew (Morning, 73) Subs (not used) Burke, Saleh
l Harrogate Railway Athletic: Dobbs, Wood, White (Ward, 65), Hopkins, Lawlor, Maloney (c), McGuire, Thirkell, Cartman, Akeroyd (Hull, 59), Hunter (Hallem, 55)
l Referee: Brian McGill (Milnrow)
l Attendance: 185