From the Terraces: Early-season issues need addressing quickly

Harrogate Town fans applaud their team off the pitch at the end of Tuesday's defeat to Notts County. Picture: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town fans applaud their team off the pitch at the end of Tuesday's defeat to Notts County. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton's weekly musings on the club's 2019/20 campaign.

I’ve been looking forward to Town entertaining Notts County, the oldest professional club in England and one of the 12 founder members of the Football League, ever since the fixtures were announced.

I’d never have dreamt of this fixture outside of the FA Cup first round five years ago, and I certainly don’t intend to take it for granted now.

Notts were actually in the First Division as recently as 1992, the last time Leeds United won it and the year before it became the Premiership.

If we’re going to be playing County, now appears to be the best time.

They’ve not won yet, looked poor at the weekend when losing to Barnet and only managed to assemble a squad two weeks before the start of the season. Let’s hit them while they’re looking fragile.

Unfortunately, things don’t get off to a good start. And that’s just off the pitch. I’ve left my season ticket in my wallet at work and have to sheepishly ask the office staff to let me in.

To their credit, I’m waved though with a smile, albeit feeling decidedly embarrassed.

Things don’t get any better on the pitch. For the third home game running, if you count Gateshead at the end of last season, Town fail to come out of the blocks and have James Belshaw to thank for keeping the score below four.

The out-of-form visitors suddenly look like world- beaters, while we again resort to hit and hope, struggling to put two passes together.

Yet somehow, we manage to ride the storm and should be ahead towards half-time after Brendan Kiernan is denied at point-blank-range by the visiting goalkeeper.

It’s then that the game turns on a sixpence in five disastrous first-half minutes.

First, Mark Beck is blatantly hauled down for the umpteenth time in the box and we go through the motions of appealing for a penalty.

Shock then sets in as the referee actually points to the spot this time.

Town, having missed three penalties in a row, have passed the poisoned chalice on to Joe Leesley. Being our dead-ball specialist, I’ve always felt he should be our main penalty taker.

He takes aim, fires... and nearly knocks out a fan to the left of the goal. What do I know? The penalty curse strikes again.

‘We’re Harrogate Town, we can’t score a pen’ chants the Kop.

I’m considering never appealing for a foul in the box ever again, it’s all too much to bear.

The visitors then go down the other end and force Town to clear off the line right before the interval.

Unfortunately, it was via Will Smith’s hand, according to the referee and we’re down to 10 men. To add insult to injury, County turn out to be half decent at taking penalties.

I’m in a deep depression at half-time and find myself apologising for Town’s performance to Molly’s friend, Lily, who’s come to the match with us.

I also find myself almost wishing the office staff hadn’t let me in. I can’t see any way back, but you never know.

As it turns out, 10-man Town make a fairly good fist of it second half, displaying all the urgency and confidence they lacked in the first 45, moving the ball with attacking intent and creativity through midfield now that Jack Emmett’s on.

The Magpies are rendered virtually non-existent as an attacking threat, as Weaver opts for a brave three at the back and the players try to take the game to their opponents.

It’s a frustrating repeat of the defeat at Woking however, as Town could still be playing now as I write this and still not have the ball in the net.

Notts eventually make their superior numbers pay and score again with their only shot on target in the second period.

We applaud the players off as they’ve given it their all in the second half, but that calamitous first half left them a mountain too far to climb.

If we are to avoid a difficult season, Town have to address a number of issues quickly.

The recent failure to turn up in the first half of home matches is costing us dearly, and heaven knows where we would be without Belshaw.

When we do start dictating play and creating chances, we need to be more ruthless in putting those chances away.

I can’t even bring myself to mention penalties.

We walk home and Molly’s asking about the next away matches and whether we can go. I tell her Dagenham’s too far too soon, but we may be able to go to Fylde.

“When I’m16 and old enough to go on the coach myself, I’m going to go to all the Town matches,”Molly announces defiantly.

“What, even if they play as badly as in the first half today?”I enquire.

“Yes,” she retorts.

I guess she’s in it for life, and my job here is done...