Harrogate Town opinion: What a difference a week makes as positive start evaporates

Harrogate Town supporter Dave Worton's latest weekly fan column.
Harrogate Town goalkeeper Pete Jameson is beaten by Connor Jennings' 53rd-minute penalty during Tuesday night's League Cup defeat to Stockport County. Picture: Matt KirkhamHarrogate Town goalkeeper Pete Jameson is beaten by Connor Jennings' 53rd-minute penalty during Tuesday night's League Cup defeat to Stockport County. Picture: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town goalkeeper Pete Jameson is beaten by Connor Jennings' 53rd-minute penalty during Tuesday night's League Cup defeat to Stockport County. Picture: Matt Kirkham

I was rather looking forward to the trip to Crewe.

The last time I’d ventured there was in the late 1980s in the old Fourth Division and I remember a quaint little ground with a small open terraced away end nestling close to the station. Luckily the weather held up and my team in a previous life won, hence the fond memories.

The last time I was close to this neck of the woods with Harrogate Town was last season’s fruitless trip to Port Vale.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Harrogate Town supporters Dave and Molly Worton outside the EnviroVent Stadium.Harrogate Town supporters Dave and Molly Worton outside the EnviroVent Stadium.
Harrogate Town supporters Dave and Molly Worton outside the EnviroVent Stadium.

It was a match so dispiriting that regular readers of this column may recall it gave my daughter a migraine. Well it was either that or the meandering near four hour journey I embarked on through the Peak District to get there: a fortuitous journey in many ways, as it gave me something to write about in the absence of anything to write about on the pitch.

Not wishing to subject Molly to such a long-winded journey again, I’d briefly entertained the idea of catching the train. After all, what better way could there be to travel to Crewe, a self-proclaimed great railway town?

A cost of £77.40 and another near four hour one-way journey time soon put paid to that illusion.

‘How’s that even possible?’ I found myself wondering, as it’s virtually a straight line from Harrogate to Crewe via Leeds and Manchester, with no meandering over the Peaks and no traffic congestion.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Crewe’s certainly going to have to pull its socks up if it wants to become the location for the headquarters of Great British Railways. I’m rooting for Doncaster.

This is why I find myself sitting on a stationary supporters’ coach on the M62, pausing to admire the installation of a new concrete safety barrier they’ve taken a lane out for. I’m a highways engineer in the day job, and can talk tarmac for England, but even I’m finding this tedious. Holme Moss, Ramshaw Rocks or picturesque Buxton it isn’t, and I’m going to struggle to get a column out of the mind-numbing boredom of Britain’s congested motorways.

Come to think of it, did I ever tell you about the time we turned over on the M62 just outside Rochdale? I don’t even have the pleasure of my daughter’s company as she woke up this morning feeling sick and stayed at home.

At least we arrive in just over two hours, at a much cheaper price I must add, and I disembark at the ground hoping to hit the town.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Where’s the town centre?”I enquire of a nearby steward. “Just turn left at the end of the road,” she replies, pointing the way.

Duly taking her advice, I find myself on the busy A534 along with a few closed takeaways. This can’t be it. I stop to ask a fan for directions. “The town centre’s 20 minutes walk in that direction,” he informs me, waving into the distance.

As there’s only three quarters of an hour to kick-off, I decide to give it a miss and call into the nearby pub. It’s full of Crewe fans singing anti-IRA songs, so I use the toilet and beat a hasty retreat.

Back at Gresty Road – I’m steadfastly refusing to call it the Mornflake Stadium – I pop into the programme shop. It turns out that I didn’t miss much in Crewe town centre. “You’d be better off going to Nantwich,” one of the guys behind the counter tells me.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A trip to the bar near the away end is then thwarted by a keen steward on the door. “It’s full,” he advises, “try again later.”

The quaint old terraced Gresty Road away end has long disappeared of course, and it’s now a shallow roofed, seated and pretty vocal home end. A gigantic, sparsely-populated main stand towers over the pitch in front of us. It’s completely out of kilter with the rest of the ground.

We’re in the opposite, snappily-titled Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Van Stand: a stand with a roof so low that if you sit on the back row you can blank out the aimless high balls Town resort to playing in the first half.

Ah yes, the match. We hold our own for the first 20 minutes or so, looking tidy on the ball without ever threatening much, but then our new formation, so positive last week, falls into five across the back and everyone back for corners.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Passes go sideways and backwards, it seems that our central midfield and wing-backs have been told not to venture over the half-way line and it soon becomes apparent that we’re holding out for a goalless first half as Crewe press.

Our inability to defend corners in quick succession to the far post, despite two earlier warnings when players were left criminally unmarked, puts paid to Plan A.

The home fans in the Gresty Road end run to their players and celebrate like they’ve just scored the winner in the promotion play-offs. And after the lows of last season, when they only won seven times all season, who can blame them?

The second half sees Town with the majority of possession and a slightly more positive outlook, without ever giving the impression that they can score a goal and get back into the game.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Railwaymen predictably kill us off with a breakaway goal. It’s the complete reversal of last week: we’re Swindon here and they’re us. I think Crewe will be right up there this year but, even so, we look off the pace and lack lustre.

As the Town fans file disconsolately out of the ground to the two waiting coaches, we’re met by a small reception committee of some of those braindead youths from the pub and a little bit of a stand-off ensues, whilst the solitary policeman summons reinforcements in the form of yellow-jacketed stewards.

It’s all just stupid bravado of course, and they’d run miles at the first sign of real trouble, but it’s something we can certainly do without. The M6 out of Crewe can’t come quick enough.

Tuesday night at home to Stockport in the Carabao Cup is the chance to give the players who haven’t featured so far a run out, and the fact that there are only three changes to the team that finished at Crewe says it all about the worrying lack of depth in the squad so early on.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It turns into another frustrating watch as Town go down to a solitary penalty against a team that has made nine changes to their starting eleven, whilst being denied a stonewall penalty in front of the Kop when Kyle Ferguson is manhandled to the floor in front of a poor referee.

The visitors then proceed to bully the hapless official by employing the full cynical time-wasting routine as players feign injury, goal-kicks are seemingly frozen in time and Town shirts are grabbed.

There’s more urgency than on Saturday at Crewe, but Town lack numbers, pace out wide, guile and quality in the final third.

It all looks a little bit predictable, and a team that struggles to fashion clear-cut chances and then fails to bury the one it does create is always going to struggle to avoid defeat. Reinforcements, especially up front for Muldoon and Armstrong, are urgently required.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I’m struggling to find the positives the manager has to find tonight, however the one bright spot of the evening is another authoritative performance from young Josh Austerfield.

He’s sharp into the tackle, composed in midfield, aware of players around him and provides the only real quality of the night in front of goal when he sees a crashing drive brilliantly tipped over. Other than that, we seem afraid to shoot.

What a difference a week makes.