Harrogate Town new boys the catalyst for improved attacking display as front-foot football leads to spell of 'concerted pressure'

For the first time in a long time - perhaps, in fact, since their promotion to the Football League - Harrogate Town served up a front-foot performance at Wetherby Road on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, 31st January 2021, 4:49 pm
Updated Sunday, 31st January 2021, 4:52 pm
Glasgow Rangers loanee Josh McPake impressed once again for Harrogate Town during Saturday's 2-1 victory over Newport County. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

The Sulphurites came from behind to beat promotion-chasing Newport County 2-1, recording a long-overdue home victory courtesy of goals from strike duo Josh March and Aaron Martin.

That win was the club's eighth of their first-ever EFL campaign and lifts them nine points clear of the relegation zone. Of the seven triumphs that had come before, all but one of them was achieved on the road.

Town's home form has been a huge concern for manager Simon Weaver. Prior to Saturday they had gone three full games without scoring on their own turf, managing just seven points from the 30 on offer in fixtures which they have hosted this term.

Former Norwich City youngster Simon Power shone down the Harrogate right on his first start for the Sulphurites.

Goals have flowed almost as slowly in North Yorkshire, with only four materialising at the EnviroVent Stadium in the previous eight league matches to be staged there.

One swallow does not make a summer, but there is, however, now at least some cause for optimism.

Saturday's success wasn't in any way a fortunate one, nor was it an example of a team creating just a couple of opportunities but managing to take both of them.

The Sulphurites fully-deserved all three points. They looked dangerous going forwards throughout, matching their opponents in the first half before going on to dominate the second. They could, perhaps even should, have finished the afternoon with four goals to their name.

Josh March celebrates after netting Town's first-half equaliser against the Exiles.

It was chalk and cheese by comparison to what has been on show at home in recent weeks and it is no coincidence that Town finally got their rewards having found a way to at last put visitors to their ground under a sustained spell of pressure. Their second goal had been coming for some time before it eventually arrived in the 66th minute.

But, what proved the catalyst for such a transformation? Certainly the impact of January recruits Josh McPake and Simon Power out wide made a difference, as did fellow newcomer Josh March, who shone up top alongside Aaron Martin.

"That concerted pressure on their goal was really pleasing to see," Weaver reflected.

"Sometimes at this level it's like a basketball game where the play goes from end to end and we don't settle. But we did settle and I think we've now got players in the team who can carry the ball and keep possession and make good decisions. So, that meant that we weren't giving the ball away as frequently and we looked a better team.

"It felt good overall, the performance, I felt that something might happen for us in the second half if we kept knocking on the door, if we kept going down the sides of them. We felt it was coming.

"The front four definitely made their mark. Simon Power making his [full] debut was a constant thorn in their side and both he and Josh McPake showed their class, bringing youthful energy to the team out wide. They're a real threat.

"Josh March looks a good poacher, who has still got our type of work-ethic, there was a vital assist for Aaron Martin, then he's got the winner with a cracking header."

Also making a notable impact on proceedings - albeit at the opposite end of the field - was Will Smith, who returned to the heart of the Harrogate defence following almost 12 weeks out with a hamstring injury.

"He has worked his socks off on the training pitch, his energy is amazing and he's showed real character to come back from a pretty bad injury," Weaver added.

"He's come straight back in looked as if he's never been away, even playing on the left-hand side of the defence. He didn't hardly lose a header and he made some vital interventions.

"He's got a fantastic attitude and he's a winner, so his return is huge for us. Even at elite level, if you're missing one of your best players it is a huge loss to the team.

"Just his presence gives us confidence in the changing room."