Sport reporter Ed White examines Harrogate Town’s prospects for 2013-14 ahead of kick-off
Football is a ruthless sport. And Harrogate Town boss Simon Weaver hasn’t shied away from showing a hard-hearted side since the curtain fell on last season.
You only need to look at Bradford Park Avenue’s squad to view the squad dissection.
The ageing Lee Elam, the tireless Paul Bolland, the injury-prone Danny Forrest and the hero Chib Chilaka were all shipped, and all now reside at rivals Avenue.
By no means has Weaver lost the likeable character - he visited each released player allowing them to show him the door not visa-versa - but after failing to reach the play-offs last season, there is a steel in his eyes suggesting failure cannot happen twice.
Chilaka’s exit was the most shocking but perhaps unsurprising.
The bustling centre-forward, scorer of the goal that knocked out League Two side Torquay in the FA Cup first round, had lost his sparkle in yellow and black. He looked lost tunnelling down the wing at the end of the season. And he’d fallen behind various new faces in the pecking order.
When one of those players, striker Dominic Knowles left Town to train at Burton Albion in March the side’s play-off ambitions soon drifted away.
Weaver accepted Knowles’ exit left Town short up top.
He has since enforced his attack with targetman Chris Hall, free-scoring Ashley Worsfold and experienced hitman Tommy Wright.
Hall looks the type of player to flourish leading the line.
But is his signing, and that of bulky central midfielder Anton Brown, Weaver’s admission his side have been too soft?
In Michael Woods, Adam Bolder and Brown, Town have a dynamic yet destructive trio capable of dominating games. Town’s eight new faces, with Sam Jones likely to make it nine before the season start, have added bite, brawn, and more than anything, balance.
There was a time last season when it was asked, when would Town be signing their next central midfielder?
But in Craig Nelthope, Worsfold, Dominic Rowe and Cleveland Taylor, Weaver now has options across the park.
Weaver has gambled on journeyman winger Nelthorpe, who at 26 is playing for his 15th club.
The fiery winger has shown an exciting left-foot, but his boiling temperament will have to be kept in the CNG Stadium’s ice baths.
The winger missed out on a move to Harrogate last summer before signing for Gainsborough Trinity.
And he is keen to delight the Town faithful having finally arrived.
“I played Town last year and they looked a good footballing side,” he said.
“When the gaffer text me saying do you want to come, I didn’t have to think about it.”
The return to fitness of Liam Hardy is also a plus. The 25-year-old adds vital depth to the strikeforce and, after three years struggling with injures, he’s just happy to be back playing.
“I’ve come back and put on a few stone in the gym. I feel like I’m doing well,” he said.
“I expect us to be challenging to win it and go up. We have signed some really strong players.”
The CNG’s pitch is critical to Town’s campaign.
Last year’s ‘away days’ and beach-based games crushed the play-off bid, with Weaver’s insistence to play attractive football battered and bruised.
The fixture backlog saw Town playing catch-up, with fixtures every two days.
Summer work has finally seen a return of lush grass perfect for fluent passing.
Defensively though, Weaver has opted for little change to the set up that shipped 50 goals in 42 matches last term.
Beyond first choice centre back pairing Franks and captain Shane Killock, Town are left with utility man Matt Bloomer and hot headed veteran Alan White.
Adam Nowakowski could also step in, as he has in pre-season, but Weaver needs a secure base if he is to bag more clean sheets this term. Fortunately, goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray has stayed.
Despite Chester and FC Halifax Town’s rising to the Conference, Stockport County, Barrow, AFC Telford and free-spending North Ferriby United’s arrival have strengthened the league.
But Town should hold no fears.
The relegated trio could find it tough to rejuvenate a struggling squad.
Guiseley have lost prolific hitman James Walshaw to league rivals Altrincham, who in turn have let hotshot Duncan Whatmore move onto Premier League side Sunderland.
Beaten play-off finalists Brackley Town have maintained a similar outlook and are again hopeful of a promotion charge.
No doubt a surprise package will leap out of the hat too, but with the money having been invested,
Weaver can ill-afford falling short of the play-offs again.
The ruthlessness off the field must transpire onto it.
Town boss Simon Weaver is anticipating a fruitful season at the CNG Stadium.
He said: “I’m expecting us to be really competitive. I have a right to believe that.
“The first month will be hard. If we can come through unscathed and put in some good displays we have a chance of being in the business end of things. That’s what we want.
“I’m not an outlandish guy who is going to say we should be top three all the way.
“I fully believe in the players’ capabilities and I think we could have a good season and a memorable one.
“All the new signings are exciting me at the moment. I’m delighted they have come in and strut their stuff.
“They have a believe that they can take us on to another level, which I get a buzz from.
“I expect anyone who finishes above Telford, Altrincham and Brackley to win it.
“Barrow will be competitive and Guiseley are always a good team.
“But for me, it’s between Telford and Altrincham.”