Harrogate Town navigated their way through possibly the strangest game of football in recent memory on Saturday, beating Boston United 4-0 at the CNG Stadium.
Boston ended the match with just seven men on the field, but with sub Stefan Galinski hobbling to the touchline for hamstring treatment with six minutes to go, the game would have been abandoned if he had stayed off.
A deliberate ploy by a side who had two men redcarded in the first 16 minutes, used all their subs and then lost two players to injury? Who knows.
Mercifully though, Galinski gallantly returned to the field and referee Mark Ackerman sensibly drew an end to proceedings bang on 90 minutes.
“It was a very strange afternoon indeed,” said Town chief Simon Weaver.
“What you can’t do in those sorts of circumstance is give up. We’ve been in the same position as Boston have before, and you just have to keep going, stay positive and finish the job.
“They couldn’t really have any complaint with the red cards, but then people started going down injured, saying their hamstring’s gone, and you just start thinking ‘what’s going on?’
“At times like that you just have to stay professional. It’s a bit of a shame for football.
“Were they trying to get it abandoned? I’ll leave that for others to comment.”
It wasn’t certainly wasn’t how this match was expected to play out. Two teams both pushing for the play-offs, both banging in goals should have set up a peach of an encounter.
Simon Weaver had pinpointed the threat of United strike pairing Ricky Miller and Mark Newsham in midweek, whose prolific scoring has propelled the Pilgrims into the top five.
Meanwhile in Chris Hall and Ashley Worsfold, Town had their own arsenal, while Joe Ironside started on the bench for his first game at the CNG Stadium.
But the contest expected to bring goals by the bucketload got off to an utterly bizarre start, albeit fortuitous for Town.
Boston received a hammer blow in the third minute when centre half Carl Piergianni was shown the red card after scything down Worsfold just outside the box, having been put through by Craig Nelthorpe
Winger Ryan Semple was taken off and replaced by Galinski, as Nelthorpe dumped the resulting free kick straight into the wall.
But Miller showed just how dangerous Boston were still going to be even down to 10 as after lashing into the box from the right, Miller then raced round to fire in the rebound, forcing Craig MacGillivray to tip over the bar.
Then came a second hammer blow for the visitors just 13 minutes later.
With Worsfold bearing down towards goal again, in a moment of madness, keeper Lewis King raced out of his area and in a desperate attempt to save put his hand up to the ball.
Referee Mark Ackerman had no choice but to show him the red card.
Replacement keeper Sam Vince was brought on and leading scorer Newsham sacrificed, while Dan Clayton’s free kick apeared almost incidental in what semed a crazy 16 minutes.
Town needed to act on this unlikely advantage fast, and running in from the left, Worsfold forced Vince into a diving save with a rifled shot.
Steve Mallory lashed in the resulting corner, and after the ball was headed back across the face of goal by Adam Nowakowski, that man Hall headed in the opening goal on 21 minutes.
Hall could have had another two minutes later after latching on to a Clayton cross, the clearance of which Rene Steer knocked to his feet, but blasted over the bar from six yards instead.
A foul on Nowakowski handed Clayton a free kick from out wide on the right, defender Matt Heath just failing to nod in at the far post.
Town were enjoying plenty of the ball but Boston had packed their defence.
While they might have been down to nine men, eight were now playing at the back, with only the predatory Miller upfront.
Gradually, Town were being pushed back, and Boston were now in an excellent position to restore parity.
Miller’s tricky play put Liam Agnew into space, and a clumsy Nelthorpe tackle gifted him a free kick.
Agnew’s set piece was off target but from a Boston corner, fortunately MacGillivray was alert to the danger of Galinski, pouching his turn and shot.
Town carried their slender lead into the break, and Weaver kept faith with his starting 11 for the second stanza.
In under two minutes, Hall repaid that faith with a second goal, running into to head in Mallory’s cross from the right.
And it could have been three as Mallory lashed in once again, but Vince just got in the way of Worsfold.
Town’s third arrived shortly after in the 56th minute, when a Clayton corner reached the head of Killock, who made no mistake from close range.
Things were going from bad to worse for Boston, as after a crunching tackle McGhee hobbled to the touchline. Boston by now had used all three subs - having brought Ben Milnes on for Ian Ross - so would have to continue with eight men.
Weaver then took off Worsfold and Clayton for Dom Rowe and Joe Ironside, as Town prepared for a fresh assault on their visitors.
To the Pilgrims’ credit, Miller was still pushing, rifling a terrific centre having run into the box from deep.
But Boston were then reduced to seven, as left back Steer limped off to the touchlines.
Was this merely bad luck, or was there more to it? Another injury and the game would have to be abandoned.
Town seemed alert to this danger, and began passing the ball around like a training exercise.
The only decent chance fell to Ironside, but Vince scrambled just in time to save.
But he couldn’t keep out a beautiful 25-yard strike from Rowe in the 80th minute, which after the diminutive winger found himself in space, dipped low and clean into the net.
Mallory made way for Jahmal Smith in the 81st, as Town continued the steady approach.
But with five minutes remaining, Galinski went down like he’d been shot and the trainer was called back on.
Several tense minutes ensued. Would the game be abandoned?
Galinski was pointing to his hamstring but nobody in the Town dugout looked convinced.
Eventually, amid jeers and catcalls from an understandably irritable home crowd, he hobbled back on and play restarted, but the relief was palpable when the final whistle blew bang on 90 minutes.
Sadly, a bad day for Boston was made worse by the behaviour of some supporters, who treated the Town team to a forceful ‘pat’ on the head as they walked into the dressing room.
One of those left Adam Nowakowski with a cut above his eye, and it’s likely Town will pursue this matter next week.
Harrogate Town: Craig MacGillivray, Dwayne Samuels, Dave Merris, Craig Nelthorpe, Matt Heath, Shane Killock, Steve Mallory (Jahmal Smith 81), Adam Nowakowski, Chris Hall, Ashley Worsfold (Dominic Rowe 65)), Dan Clayton (Joe Ironside 65); Anton Brown, Matthew Bloomer.
Boston Utd: Lewis King, Conor Marshall, Renee Steer, Liam Agnew, Scott Garner, Carl Piergianni, Ian Ross (Ben Milnes 54), Jamie McGhee, Ricky Miller, Mark Newsham (Sam Vince 17), Ryan Semple (Steffan Galinski 4); Not used Spencer Daley, Ben Fairclough.