A visit to Harrogate Town, the team occupying second place in the Vanarama National League North and one of the pace-setters for the duration of the season, was always going to represent a significant challenge for Southport.

With less than four minutes played, a tough task became all the more difficult as the Sandgrounders fell behind, and while the visitors had their chances to have found a route back, they ultimately came up short.

Kevin Davies accentuated the positives. The manager was pleased with the response of his players to a disappointing performance against Nuneaton Town in their previous game and, with Jason Gilchrist and Elliot Osborne going close to finding the target, the afternoon may well have taken a different course.

Yet this was a fourth straight defeat for Southport. Harrogate added their second just before the hour, scoring their goals at key times which allowed them to see out the game with a measure of authority.

With games against Salford City and Brackley Town, the teams sitting first and third in the league table respectively, still to play before the end of next week, there are difficult tests to come for the Sandgrounders as the end of the season approaches.

Conceding early goals is a habit that Southport seem unable to shake off. Even during their run of eight wins from ten games, Davies had highlighted the tendency to start slowly, and Mark Beck’s early goal here was the third time they have conceded in the opening ten minutes during their current run of four losses.

The chances for Gilchrist and Osborne came in the 20 minutes either side of half-time. Firstly, Adam Dawson made up good ground on the right wing before delivering a cross which goalkeeper James Belshaw attempted to punch but failed to clear.

With Belshaw stranded, the ball dropped inside the area to Gilchrist, but his goal-bound effort was diverted wide by James Fallowfield.

Fallowfield, the Harrogate right-back, created both of the home team’s goals, but his block from Gilchrist’s shot was just as meaningful a contribution.

Dawson was again the creator from wide on the right to set up a header for Gilchrist which drew a flying save from Belshaw with half-time approaching.

Later on, a long-range shot from Osborne narrowly cleared the Harrogate crossbar after an encouraging move which included a good run and pass from Jordan Richards but those misses denied Southport the chance to make a contest of it.

Within 60 seconds of Osborne’s chance, George Thomson had extended Harrogate’s lead and there was to be no way back for the visitors.

Ahead of kick-off it was confirmed that striker Jack Sampson would miss the rest of the season with the knee injury he sustained last month.

The Sandgrounders have tried various combinations in an attempt to find a solution to Sampson’s absence in recent games. This time they reverted to the 4-2-3-1 formation used during their successful run until March but without Sampson’s presence they again struggled to find a focal point to the attack.

As well as the timings of the goals conceded, the disappointment for Southport was that they both came in a similar vein as Franklin was allowed the chance to advance down the Harrogate right before playing a low ball into the box which the Sandgrounders failed to deal with.

Beck put the home team on their way, turning home a shot at the near post, and Thomson drilled in the second after arriving in the area to run onto Fallowfield’s cut-back.

In terms of clear chances, Harrogate created little else of note but their lead gave them control, leaving Davies with a number of positives but sadly no points.

Southport (4-2-3-1): Halstead, Richards, Marx, Howson, Kelly (Whittle 85), Morgan, Lynch, Osborne, Dawson (Hannah 72), Charles, Gilchrist.
Subs not used: Worsnop, Priestley, Smith.

Harrogate Town (4-4-2): Belshaw, Fallowfield, McCombe, Burrell, Parker, Thomson, Emmett, Falkingham, Leesley (Agnew 82), Knowles (Thewlis 79), Beck.
Subs not used: Swain, Cracknell, Kennedy.

Attendance: 1,326

Referee: David Underwood

Report by Alan Jones