Harrogate Town opinion: Luton Town away in the FA Cup ticks no boxes

Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton, left, and his daughter Molly.Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton, left, and his daughter Molly.
Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton, left, and his daughter Molly.
Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton's latest weekly fan column.

Words are almost inadequate to express the joy of Harrogate Town’s last-gasp win in the FA Cup second round at Fratton Park on Saturday.

It was a truly historic moment for this football club in its rise up the football ladder, and the perfect response to the heavy defeat to Blackpool at the same stage last year, when we were in the middle of a crisis of confidence.

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The FA Cup third round draw on the following Monday has the ability to shred my nerves almost as much as watching Town does. We’re ball number sixty-four, the BBC is highlighting “first time in the third round” Harrogate Town as ones to watch, and my edited highlights go something like this:

“Number 13, Chelsea ... will play number sixty (long pause) one, Chesterfield.

“Number twenty-three, Liverpool ... will play number60 (even longer pause, no additional number), Shrewsbury.

“Number 28, Millwall (please no) ... will play number 15 (phew), Crystal Palace.”

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We’ve successfully avoided Swansea, Cardiff and Yeovil away and have just managed to avoid a glamour trip to Wigan, when my internet connection decides to buffer. I kid you not.

Nerves already shot, I’m frantically trying to click the refresh button to no avail.

“Dad!” shouts my daughter from her room on her last day of Covid-19 isolation. “Is Luton Town a good draw?”.

All that stress and my computer buffers at the very moment Town’s number is pulled out. It also chooses to un-buffer shortly after.

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I may as well not have bothered, it’s like going to the match and nipping out to the toilet, only to miss the only goal while you’re in there.

I tell her it’s not a particularly good draw, being an away tie at a competent Championship team. It also means we won’t be live on the TV and, as if to prove that point, the BBC have already forgotten about us being one of the teams to watch in their round-up of the draw highlights.

Portsmouth fans online start claiming their defeat was tactical so they didn’t have to go to Luton.

I think it’s fair to say that some sections of the Town support had built themselves up into such a state of excitement, that anything short of Liverpool or Chelsea away would have been a disappointment. But it’s always worth remembering that for every glamorous Premier League club that enters the draw at this stage, there’s a middling Championship team entering too.

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Anfield and Stamford Bridge may have provided the cliched ‘payday’, but we’d have been playing their reserves. What I always look for in a cup draw is a home tie, a big crowd and the chance to progress to the next round, so no boxes were ticked for me.

With the benefit of a little reflection, I’m looking forward to a visit to a new ground, Omicron allowing: it being a smallish, compact one at which Town fans will be able to drum up a good atmosphere, and it’ll be interesting to see how the players fare against a decent second-tier team.

It’s still our first ever appearance in the FA Cup third round and there’s plenty to be excited about. Or at least I thought there was until witnessing the visit of Forest Green Rovers last night.

It’s important the players shelve the emotion of the weekend at Portsmouth and are at their absolute sharpest if they’re to match the runaway league leaders. It would also help if Forest

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Green turn up slightly under-par. For 20 minutes it seems that may well be the case, as Town make all the running.

Then there’s a break in play as Lloyd Kerry goes down for treatment, and it’s like a switch has been flicked.

The visitors score with their first shot on target shortly after, you can see Town heads visibly drop, and it’s 3-0 by half-time.

It could have been six or seven, as every effort they have is unerringly on-target and panic inducing. You can see why Rovers are where they are.

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The second period’s an improvement, but you always get the sense that the visitors are playing within themselves. Sometimes you have to say that the quality of the opposition is just too much, but it’s as dispiriting a defeat as I’ve seen in recent times.

The most worrying aspect for a threadbare Town is that they only have two fit first-team outfield players on the bench and, if the players on the pitch look leggy and half a yard off the pace, after the exertions of Carlisle, Swindon and Portsmouth away, there’s no one there to replace them.

It doesn’t get any easier, as second in the table Northampton are due at Wetherby Road on Saturday, and the hectic Christmas fixture list is coming at us thick and fast.

Although we find ourselves in a much better position this year, there’s no crisis of confidence and we have a stronger core squad of players, it appears loan reinforcements will be necessary come the transfer window, as injuries and fatigue begin to bite.