Harrogate Town 3 Leicester City U21s 1: Fine showing in EFL Trophy success leaves Simon Weaver with selection headache
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver admitted that his side's impressive EFL Trophy showing against Leicester City under-21s will leave him with a selection headache moving forwards.
The Sulphurites' boss opted to use Tuesday night's fixture to shuffle his pack, resting a host of first-team regulars and handing starts to the players who have found themselves on the fringes of his squad so far this season.
And, he was rewarded with a fine all-round team performance, with the vast majority of those selected doing more than enough to stake a claim for a starting berth in Town's next League Two outing, at Bradford City on Monday evening.
Jack Emmett made his first competitive start of the campaign and looked lively down the left wing, just in front of full-back Dan Jones, who was excellent throughout and even managed to get on the score-sheet.
Further forwards, Brendan Kiernan caused the Leicester youngsters all kinds of problems, bagging one himself and setting up another, while Tom Walker delivered his most encouraging display since his summer arrival, out on the right flank.
"I'm very happy. We go home tonight knowing that people can step up," reflected Weaver.
"We played a lot of the lads who haven't had much action recently and they came into the team and did themselves the world of good.
"They've given me a real headache selection-wise because it was a really good performance. All throughout the team tonight, they've come in and staked a claim and showed that they're not just here to make the numbers up.
"That's what we want, that's what I want in terms of the padding of the squad. It has to be very competitive to drive performance levels for whoever is selected in all the games.
"All aspects of the performance were really good. It was almost a faultless display."
Town were utterly dominant during the opening half an hour, playing with a purpose and intensity that their visitors simply could not live with.
The lively Kiernan saw an early strike comfortably saved by Jakub Stolarczyk before Lloyd Kerry's sweetly-struck volley extended the Foxes' stopper further.
Jones then just narrowly failed to help Jon Stead's downwards header over the goal-line, but with the home pressure continuing it seemed only a matter of time before Harrogate made a breakthrough.
And, with 16 minutes on the clock, it finally arrived as Kiernan danced into the penalty area from the right and slid the ball into the path of Stead, who planted a first-time effort into the roof of the City net.
Town continued to turn the screw, with Kevin Lokko nodding against an upright from a corner before both he and Jones saw close-range attempts blocked on the goal-line.
A second of the night would however materialise on 20 minutes, Leicester again failing to clear their lines following a set-piece, allowing Jones to fire past Stolarczyk from the inside the box.
Emmett and Kiernan came close to extending the Harrogate advantage, while the visitors' only opportunity of the first period came just past the half-hour-mark.
Warren Burrell’s under-hit back-pass gifted Tyrese Shade a clear run in on goal, but James Belshaw stood up well and diverted the ball to safety.
The second period began with Town again looking dangerous. Emmett picked the ball up in midfield and broke forward at pace before sending Stead in on goal, though the veteran striker could only shoot straight at Stolarczyk when he really ought to have scored.
No matter, a third goal would arrive soon enough.
Stead’s 58th-minute flick-on close to halfway found Walker raiding down the right and the ex-Bolton winger cut inside and saw an effort parried by Stolarczyk, though Kiernan followed up and tapped-in from close range.
The young Foxes eventually began to see a bit of the ball thereafter, and although they passed it tidily for a spell, they were only able to do so in and around their own penalty area.
One rare foray forward did see Shade again afforded a clear sight of Belshaw’s goal, however Lokko slammed the door shut with an excellent covering challenge.
At the other end, Stolarczyk was forced to touch Kerry’s in-swinging free-kick over his cross-bar, before Leicester pulled one back in the 84th minute.
Burrell switched off and failed to deal with a long diagonal, letting Shane Flynn in down the left from where he cut the ball back for Thanawat Suengchitthawon to slot in at the near post.
That was as good as it got for the Premier League side’s youngsters, hoewever, and Town could have restored their three-goal cushion at the death, Kiernan firing narrowly wide in stoppage-time.
Victory sees Town move top of the Northern Group H Standings with four points from two matches.