Harrogate Town v Hartlepool United: Simon Weaver still looking to strike the right balance

Harrogate Town continue to strive to find the “right balance” as they bid to start winning games on a more regular basis between now and the end of the season.

By Rhys Howell
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 11:38 am
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver. Pictures: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

The Sulphurites are unbeaten in their last three matches since manager Simon Weaver tweaked his 3-4-1-2 system in an attempt to shore up a leaky backline which had conceded 10 goals in the space of the trio of fixtures that went before.

And although their defence has been breached on just two occasions during draws against Port Vale and Barrow and a 3-1 success at Bradford City, the Wetherby Road outfit have tasted victory only twice in 10 matches.

Recent performances have undoubtedly been better, but with Hartlepool United the visitors to the EnviroVent Stadium on Saturday lunchtime, Weaver is still searching for a formula that will enable to his side to start winning more than they lose.

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Harrogate Town drew 1-1 with Port Vale in midweek.

The Town boss concedes that he has had to make what might be perceived as some negative decision as far as his recent team selections are concerned, but believes that he is closer to getting the balance right since switching formation.

"There's been a change in our shape and we have tweaked it," he told the Harrogate Advertiser.

“With the back-three, having an extra centre-half in there to deal with balls into the box obviously helps, but it also helps in terms of a defensive mindset.

“You can put all the flair players in the team, but when you’re conceding three or four a game it is only a matter of time, even with the best team-spirit, before confidence starts to dip a bit.

“However, with the extra defensive mindset in there and lads who are happy to put out fires, to throw themselves in front of things and head good crosses out, it has balanced us a bit.

“And I’ll disappoint some fans because there’s an extra defender in there rather than a forward, but it is about finding the right balance.”

Weaver has deployed Warren Burrell, Will Smith and Nathan Sheron as his centre-backs for the last three games and Town have looked more resolute and certainly conceded less goals than they did during last month's trio of performances to forget against Crawley, Rochdale and Exeter.

Yet although the Sulphurites have been better at the back recently, they still don't look rock-solid, leaving their manager in a position where he has recognised an improvement but still wants more.

He added: “With the defensive side, we probably bore the pants off the players in training with these repetitive messages like ‘when the ball is out wide, see man, see ball, latch on, be physical’.

“But there are signs that they are listening and actually carrying out their duties better and better. And, if you go up the leagues as we have done, it does become more unforgiving, so you have to be more clinical in your own box.

“We’re doing better at the minute and that is credit to the players in the back-line who have stepped up, but you still want more.

"Against Port Vale, I felt for the lads a bit with the amount of crosses they put into the box. They eventually got on the end of one for the goal, so unless we head every single ball out, that can happen. But, we can still do more and have to be better as a team at denying the opposition those crossing opportunities."

Town will indeed have to do better on Saturday if they are to avoid Hartlepool completing a league double over them at Wetherby Road.

Graeme Lee's team did lose 3-1 at Walsall in their most recent outing, but had won four out of five prior to last weekend's defeat and will arrive in North Yorkshire full of confidence.

They currently sit one point and one place better of than Harrogate in 13th spot in the League Two standings.