Harrogate Town have started 2021/22 superbly, but must tighten up at the back

Harrogate Town could hardly have wished for a better start to 2021/22.

Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 7:56 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 7:58 am
Harrogate Town right-back Warren Burrell in action against Newport County. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

Second in League Two with a game in hand on leaders Forest Green and unbeaten in seven matches in all competitions, Simon Weaver' s team have undoubtedly exceeded expectations.

The majority of their new signings having hit the ground running, helping the Sulphurites win five and draw two thus far, netting 16 goals in the process while conceding eight.

And, although those statistics show that Weaver's team are scoring twice as many as they are letting in at the other end, there is certainly work to be done defensively.

Sulphurites boss Simon Weaver.

Mark Oxley has performed very well since taking over the number one jersey. The fact that he has just a single clean-sheet to his name thus far is due to the fact that he has been let down by those in front of him on a number of occasions.

Friday's 2-2 draw with Newport County saw opposition attackers twice left with easy finishes right in the middle of the Harrogate penalty area.

Six days earlier, at Mansfield, Luke Armstrong lost Rhys Oates when defending a third-minute set-piece, allowing the Stags forward to direct a free header into the back of Oxley's net and hand his team the lead.

It was a similar story against Barrow last month, Offrande Zanzala escaping Connor Hall to finish off a dangerous left-wing delivery from close range.

Most goals are preventable somewhere along the way, but defenders losing the men they are marking inside the box, or not picking up unmarked opponents are basic mistakes.

Reluctant though he is to pick fault with a group of players who are delivering both performances and results, Weaver has however conceded that there is room for improvement at the back.

“There are always things to learn from," he said.

"There are still things to improve upon. If there is a spare man inside our box it isn't quite right if he ends up finishing off a chance - and that cost us against Newport.

“It’s just disappointing that two set-pieces have cost us when we went though videos of the long throw-ins.

“What we’ve got to do is take charge. Even if you’ve got your own man, you’ve got make sure that there’s no free player entering the box, and that’s what happened on for the second goal. Someone ran past one of our markers and it’s disappointing.

“The first one was a collective failing, the second one we’ve just got beaten in the six-yard-box and he [Robbie Wilmott] powered in. It’s a good ball in, but let’s try to stop the cross, let’s try not to concede the throw-in in the first place. We understand their threat so let’s try and do these things to prevent them even having the opportunity to score from."

While they might not be watertight in the defensive third at this moment in time, there is no doubting the character of this Harrogate side.

They set the tone on the opening day of the season, recovering from the disappointment of being pegged back by Rochdale after taking a 2-0 lead to go on and win 3-2.

Since then, they have gone on to fall behind early on against Barrow and Mansfield but fought back to triumph in both matches before twice equalising against Newport last time out.

“Once again, the character showed was immense," Weaver added.

“I think that in years gone by, at 1-0 down, we’d have tried to force it and there might have been a culmination of errors and suddenly you’re two down.

“But there wasn’t the stress level there - there was from me, I had to have a word with myself a couple of times on the sideline - and I thought the players conducted themselves in a controlled manner. They kept the ball and kept passing it and showed belief.

"We persevered. We're more mature as a group of players now. We are less impetuous when it's not quite going our way. We talked about emotional control. The lads just had to try and be relentless - and they were.

“I enjoyed the energy and intensity with which we played and I think the crowd were lapping it up. When they’re seeing things and thinking ‘this is a new level’ it’s a bit of a thrill and they really got behind us."

Harrogate return to League Two action this Saturday when they visit Port Vale, 3pm kick-off.