From the Terraces: Bolder substitutions sparked back-to-back Harrogate Town victories
Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton's latest weekly fan column.
It’s now been exactly a year since the coronavirus pandemic caused the postponement of all football matches prior to the first national lockdown, writes Dave Worton.
Way back then, in the mists of time, we were hoping for a return to some form of normality pretty quickly, but the road out of the pandemic is proving to be a long and arduous one, a bit like the road to Barrow.
In normal times, this column should have seen myself and my daughter Molly making that journey again this week, and it’s a trip we’ve enjoyed immensely over the last couple of seasons.
Yet, if it sometimes seems as if we’re stuck in an endless loop, especially during the third ‘lockdown’, at least we can watch football matches this time round, even if it does mean spending around £500 over the course of the season to watch them via the streaming service.
This week, however, I discovered that even the unpredictable football viewing had turned into what seemed like an endless loop; not that you’ll find any complaints from me on that score.
Town’s victories over the bottom two clubs, Grimsby and Barrow, made it three wins in a row, and four wins in five, all by the margin of 1-0. Furthermore, both matches were scrappy affairs, seemingly heading to a goalless conclusion, before Harrogate made a late moment of quality pay.
Some things do change, however. If there has been one area of criticism of Simon Weaver over the years, not from me it firmly has to be said, it has been his apparent reluctance to make substitutions early enough in matches.
The peculiar circumstances of this season, where Town are playing two matches a week during a pandemic, has created the need to have a squad that can be relied on.
Now, with nearly everyone fit, competition for almost every position, the ability to use more than three substitutes, and Town no longer looking over their shoulder at the teams below them, the conditions are ripe for the manager to rotate his squad.
Too much rotation, of course, can upset the balance, but Weaver seems to have it just about right, resting a few key men who have given such sterling service, whilst giving game-time to other players who deserve to be in the team.
Witness top-scorer Jack Muldoon and club captain Josh Falkinghamsitting it out in Cumbria.
Yet it was these two who came off the bench, as part of a 64th-minute triple-substitution, and changed the course of the game.
Skipper Falkingham lofted a ball over the top for Muldoon to run from his own half and coolly stroke the ball into the corner of the net, past a home goalkeeper who had his angles all wrong.
Cue that feeling of ‘here-we-go-again’ for the Barrovians, as it was also Muldoon who had scored the solitary goal against them when the teams met earlier in the season.
This, in itself, was almost a repeat of the circumstances of our weekend victory. It had been a one-way first period, as our visitors from Grimsby sat deep with a three-man central defence.
For the first time in a while, Town had space in which to play, and dominated possession without managing to score.
The second 45 would however turn into a stalemate and change was again needed.
This time, it was a triple-substitution in the 69th minute that led to a newly-introduced Mark Beck superbly glancing a Ryan Fallowfield cross into the visitors’ net.
Fallowfield, himself, had found himself back in the team for this game, following a lengthy, coronavirus-induced lay-off.
Town then saw the last 15 minutes out, via a couple of scares once Grimsby decided to come out and attack, before the referee Trevor Kettle blew his whistle. See what I did there?
All of this leaves us looking up at the teams above us in the League Two standings.
Whilst not wishing to get too carried away with solitary goal defeats of the division’s bottom two clubs, Town have found a consistent vein in terms of winning matches, and the play-offs are suddenly within reach.
One step at a time, achieve the points required to keep us in this division and then let’s see how far this team can go.