Clean-sheets are key if Harrogate Town are to challenge again - James Belshaw

James Belshaw is confident that Harrogate Town can challenge for promotion from the National League once again, but only if they can keep more clean-sheets than they did last term.

Tuesday, 30th July 2019, 1:48 pm
Harrogate Town goalkeeper James Belshaw. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Simon Weaver’s side managed 14 shut-outs in 2018/19, but went 20 games without one between October and February, finishing the campaign having conceded 57 goals in 46 league outings.

Town were however the highest scorers in English football’s fifth tier, and thus Belshaw believes that if they can tighten up a touch, then another top-six finish shouldn’t be beyond them.

"If I can keep between 15 and 18 clean-sheets then we will be right up there,” Harrogate’s number one said.

“In 2018/19 we kept 14 and I always set myself a target at the start of the season, the same as strikers do for goals. The aim this time around is to improve on last year’s record.

“That was our first-ever season at this level and while I think that most people outside of our group probably think we over-achieved, we backed ourselves to challenge for the top seven then, just as we do now.

“If I can hit that target for clean-sheets, then I’m confident that we’ll do well. The boys are confident. We’ve had a good summer and added some good players.”

Belshaw will likely be playing behind a much-changed back-four when Solihull Moors visit the CNG Stadium on Saturday afternoon for Town’s opening fixture of the new campaign.

Callum Howe and Kelvin Langmead have departed the club, while loanees Liam Kitching and Jack Senior returned to their parent clubs at the end of last term.

Connor Hall, Will Smith and George Smith have all been brought in and will likely start at the weekend, with Belshaw conceding that it does take time for a new defensive unit to gel.

“It always takes time for the new lads to get to know each other and for me, as a goalkeeper, to learn their strengths and weaknesses and how they do things,” the 28-year-old stopper added.

“The communication and bond between a 'keeper and his defenders is probably the most important anywhere on the pitch and you don’t get it straight away.

“It can take a few games, but pre-season has been very positive. We are still learning about each other but Connor, Will and George have come in and done very well.

“They have all settled in quickly and that’s a good sign. I’m confident that they’ll do well for us.

“You’re always going to miss a centre-half of Callum Howe’s quality, he was a big part of our success last season in both boxes and so good in the air, but nobody is irreplacable.

“In terms of defending balls into our box, Connor is actually taller than Callum and I’m confident that Will is going to win his fair share of headers.

“I think we are all set to go on and have a positive season.”