Harrogate Town opinion: Positive signs at the end of the toughest of weeks?
Well that was a week I'll be more than happy to encounter only once in a blue moon, and even then I’ll be hiding under the covers come nightfall.
Having missed the early high point of a 2-0 victory over Morecambe due to the latest train strikes, I arrived back in town excited for the following Tuesday night and the ‘eagerly awaited clash’ with Blackburn Rovers (as touted in an email from the club).
Ticket prices had doubled from the prices in the previous round, so after shelling out £20 for the privilege, I was looking forward to a good old-fashioned cup tie under the lights. The decision to field a weakened team was therefore as unexpected as it was disastrous.
Eight-nil wasn’t a true reflection of the game, of course, it should have been more. That’s how awful Town were. It got so bad at one stage in the first half that there were audible groans around the ground every time their big centre forward Sam Gallagher got the ball in front of goal.
Even a trio of substitutions at half-time didn’t improve matters, if anything Town were worse after the break. And this was against a visiting team with TEN changes from Saturday, bringing on two teenagers for debuts late on, both of whom scored.
I had to stomach the next day fielding sympathetic enquiries from friends who have never been to a game of football in their lives.
Talk about a huge own-goal. Here was the chance to reduce prices, attract a large crowd through the gates, play a strong team and give our higher-flying visitors a fright. Salford, Doncaster and MK Dons all managed to do this without resorting to excuses about the gulf in class.
Yes, Blackburn’s second team were excellent and we couldn’t get anywhere near them, but I saw it more as a gulf in attitude. They were quite simply up for it, played as a team and were confident in their ability to dictate the game. We didn’t tick any of those boxes on the night.
Resting players in advance of a home fixture against Barrow, only six games into the season, struck me as a little bit unnecessary and, as it turned out, proved extremely counter-productive.
If the players’ confidence wasn’t shot before the Blackburn mauling, it most certainly was afterwards.
As if to prove my point, Barrow’s team of giants looked the most-rested in the first half the following Saturday, as the Luke Armstrong saga dragged on and we were again forced to start without him or the replacement for him up front.
Only a mixture of good luck and last ditch defending kept the scoreline down to one, whilst a slight second half rally saw Town still struggle to create a single decent chance and then conspire to miss a penalty gifted by the Cumbrians.
With four goals in six games (none from open play, two of them penalties) and a centre-forward who has been distracted and/or not available to play, you had to wonder where the goals were going to come from.
I’ve considerable sympathy for the club regarding the on-off-on-off-and-maybe-back-on transfer fiasco around Armstrong. He clearly doesn’t want to play for us, although I’m not minded to blame him in light of the interest from Wrexham, and the club did the right thing in bringing in Josh March and Jeremy Sivi to replace him.
His move to North Wales was meant to draw a line under the whole sorry affair so Town could move on from the endless distraction, which must have had an effect on dressing room morale and focus this first month of the season.
We’re now in a scenario where we have two additional wage bills and a transfer fee to find which were meant to be funded by the Armstrong deal. It’s the worst of all worlds.
I mean it’s not as if Wrexham need another striker, having scored 15 goals and conceded 14, I think they’d be better served replacing the defence.
Enter a number of Wrexham fans claiming on X (Twitter) that they need another striker because they only scored one at Tranmere having missed a bucketload of chances. How entitled can you possibly get?
I also wasn’t keen on Wrexham seeking to blame the late paperwork on having to wait for Town to find a replacement. Too right! Well done to our club for sticking to what they said they would have to do in the circumstances.
It was therefore with a heavy heart that I dared venture out to last night’s Papa John’s Trophy tie against Nottingham Forest U-21s. Yet I’m glad I did.
The starting XI was strong, even though admission prices were reduced, and talk of resting players for Saturday was out of the question. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking we may have gotten the approach to the two cup ties the wrong way round.
The first half was so dull I found my attention wandering and my legs wanting to follow, but I stuck at it. I’d managed to tough Blackburn out as the Town fans sang ‘we want 10’, so this was a walk in the park in comparison.
There were signs that the Town players were trying to get back to a passing game, as opposed to lumping the ball in the vague direction of the nearest opposition giant, although they seemed tentative and lacking in goal-scoring purpose. Then our luck turned.
We were awarded a penalty that didn’t look like one from where I was sitting, George Thomson converted, and you could see the confidence start to flood back into the players as they created good chances from flowing passing moves, finally scoring another goal from an exciting bit of open play.
Kayne Ramsay was great when he came on and if he’s going to be in a battle with Sims for the right back position, dare I suggest he’d make a great attacking right-sided midfielder?
It may be small steps, but I left in a better mood than when I arrived, and although Gillingham on Saturday will be much tougher, at least we should have an out-and-out centre-forward available to take the field after it was confirmed that Armstrong will be welcomed back into the fold now that he is definitely staying put – until January at least.