From the Terraces: Harrogate Town's record against League Two's top teams says a lot

Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton's latest weekly fan column.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 10:01 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th March 2021, 10:06 pm
Harrogate Town were beaten 1-0 at home by Morecambe last time out. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Just over two years ago, midway through Town’s maiden National League season, I wrote the following: ‘Looking at the statistics, our glass ceiling is there for all to see. We’ve played eight competitive matches against teams in the current top six and won only one, failing to score in six.

‘If we’re to progress in the National League, it’s this lack of penetration against the teams around us that we need to address. We haven’t been outclassed by anyone, but the players need to learn to adopt the clinical nature in front of goal that Leyton Orient displayed when they visited Wetherby Road earlier in the season.’

Town reached the play-offs that season, ultimately bowing out at AFC Fylde, having gained a paltry two home wins against the top seven teams, and I speculated as to whether my team could smash through that glass ceiling the following season. The rest, of course will go down in Sulphurites’ folklore.

Last weekend’s frustrating 1-0 home defeat to Morecambe finds us in similar territory in their maiden Football League season: one win and 10 defeats against the top seven teams teams tells the same tale.

It’s true that the visitors could have been three goals to the good at the interval, but we could have easily taken a point if not for the width of a post in a better second-half display.

As was the case two seasons ago, we’ve not been outclassed in any of the games against the top seven, and all of the results have been tight.

Simon Weaver’s players just need to find a way to create more going forward and to be a bit more clinical, against much better defences, in taking those chances when they do arrive.

Cutting out the odd defensive lapse would help too.

The exciting attacking football we saw immediately following the arrival of Josh March, Josh McPake and Simon Power into the front line has stalled somewhat.

The unfortunate injury to March hasn’t helped in that regard, but I found myself frustrated that we didn’t use the width provided by our wingers more, often choosing to play the ball long and hopeful down the middle of the park.

Now I’m not a fan of playing dangerously out from the back, having watched Arsenal through half-closed eyes on Match Of The Day, so I understand the safety-first approach.

Yet I do wonder whether a third central midfielder like Lloyd Kerry, Ed Francis or Connor Kirby would have been the better option here, freeing up a central midfield attacking option free to drift and pick up the loose balls that came back from Morecambe’s central defenders, whilst closing the gaps through the middle that the visitors found with some frequency in the first period.

None of this is meant to be a criticism, however, as I find myself entirely satisfied with little old Town’s first ever season in the Football League so far.

Much as I’d like us to sneak into the play-offs, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility, I’d have taken this at the start of the season.

At this stage, I’ll just invite you all to take a step back, inhale a deep breath and revel in the phrase, ‘Harrogate’s first-ever season in the Football League’. It does it for me.

I find the parallels with two seasons ago entirely encouraging. The aim must be for Town to establish at this level, whilst aiming higher. Anything else will be a bonus.

The challenge for the players is to learn to be braver and more confident when in possession. This will, in turn, open up space and time, push our opponents back and create more chances.

Our management team and players have shown themselves capable of absorbing and learning from the lessons of a maiden season in a higher division, and, whilst there’s no guarantee of a successful season, as Town are to some extent the plucky underdogs, there’s no reason why they can’t do the same again.

The petition calling on the FA to rethink with regards to Harrogate Town, Concord Rangers, Consett AFC and Hebburn Town all having to play their FA Trophy or FA Vase Finals behind closed doors has passed a thousand signatures, thanks to the sterling efforts of supporters everywhere, and especially those supporters of the four clubs concerned.

It’s only been just over a week since the petition took off, and this is a marvellous effort, but I was beginning to get a little bit concerned as to the lack of comment from the FA, with regards to their defaulting on their pledge to seek to play the event in front of fans.

The news, therefore, that our MP Andrew Jones has been in cross-party talks with MPs from the areas where the other three affected clubs play, has spoken to the other clubs concerned, has raised it in Parliament and has made contact with the FA behind the scenes has given me some hope that at least we will receive a positive hearing.

It’s very encouraging that all four clubs and areas are working together, and this can only strengthen our case in seeking to overturn this unjust decision.

The FA stand to make a lot of friends by the simple act of agreeing to stage fans at the event, once the time is right. It seems an absolute no-brainer to me.