Harrogate Town opinion: Beaming smiles followed by another Sutton United disappointment

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

By Rhys Howell
Friday, 28th January 2022, 10:35 am
Harrogate Town beat Oldham Athletic 3-0 at the EnviroVent Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Picture: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town beat Oldham Athletic 3-0 at the EnviroVent Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Picture: Matt Kirkham

I don’t know what we were all worrying about. A superb Jack Muldoon hat-trick, a clean-sheet, a dominant performance, and all played out under the canopy of a stunning blue and pink sunset.

Cue beaming smiles all round and a sense that everything’s fine with the world.

Aside from a dicey moment at 1-0 when a combination of goalkeeper Mark Oxley and left-back Lewis Page saved us, Town pretty much ran the show against an Oldham team in complete and utter disarray at the bottom of the table.

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Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton, left, with his daughter Molly.

Needing to concentrate on the defensive spine of the team after the 4-0 thumpings at Luton and Newport, the new three-man central defence and the return of Lloyd Kerry to central midfield worked a treat.

If you’re going to play this way of course, your wing-backs and forwards need to be on the offensive when in possession and, although Town weren’t spectacular they, and Muldoon in particular, were clinical.

Look at the first goal. Muldoon, 25 yards out, sprayed a pass to Page on the left wing, kept running and was there in the six-yard-box along with three other Harrogate players to meet the resultant cross. That’s what you have to do.

If I can allow myself one tiny bug-bear, it’s the fact that we pulled everyone back into our own area for corners and free-kicks, inviting the cleared ball to be lumped straight back in with no outfield pressure. Oldham couldn’t take advantage, but a better team might.

The visiting fans turned out in numbers to visit a new ground, but it certainly wasn’t a happy travelling support as storm clouds gather over their team.

Interim Latics manager Selim Benachour had insisted on his charges playing out from the six-yard-box. Presumably he had the image of Barcelona in his head, not Swindon Town.

This led to the bizarre spectacle of the Oldham goalkeeper being booed by his own fans every time he touched a goal-kick to a defender.

They hardly ever got past the half-way line before Town won it back and the visiting players exhibited very little work-rate and organisation when not in possession, leaving a lot of free, unchallenged space for the home team in front of the visiting defence.

As the resigned Oldham players trudged back to their dressing room at half-time, travelling supporters gathered near the tunnel to jeer them off.

Their second half didn’t improve. A rare, late attempt at goal set off a sarcastic chorus of “we’ve had a shot,” from the away end, whilst Muldoon’s third goal led to a mini-exodus.

The despondent Latics players then had to run a gauntlet of pretty nasty abuse from many of their remaining fans on the final whistle. It was the final act for the short-lived interim manager as the reviled Oldham owners announced the return of John Sheridan early this week. He’s got his work cut out.

So although I won’t get carried away by this performance, and feel for the plight of a once-proud former Premier League outfit, it was a very upbeat father and daughter who made the short journey home on Saturday evening.

Unfortunately Town’s new formation couldn’t repeat the performance on Tuesday night, as they went down to Sutton United at Gander Green Lane in the quarter-finals of the EFL Trophy.

The result was bitterly disappointing as the team once again gave a good account of themselves in deepest Surrey, but found themselves on the receiving end of a 1-0 loss for the second time in just over five weeks.

Frustratingly, the hosts scored with one of only two shots on target again and, in a tight match, it could so easily have been the other way round.

A goal-less draw and a penalty shootout would have been about right.

Sutton’s style of football would drive me absolutely crazy if I had to watch it week-in week-out, but it works for them and you can see why they’ve been so successful this season.

They were defensively solid, gave Harrogate no time or space in midfield, lumped the ball forward at every opportunity and made the most of the limited chances they created.

Town, to their credit, were the only team attempting to get the ball down and play, but were often forced into lumping it forward due to the physical nature of their opponents.

One step away from another Wembley appearance would have been a nice place to find ourselves, but it just wasn’t to be.