Harrogate Town v Oldham Athletic: Sulphurites prioritise defensive improvement

Much of Harrogate Town's work on the training ground in the build-up to Saturday's clash with Oldham Athletic has been focused on making themselves harder to break down.

By Rhys Howell
Friday, 21st January 2022, 7:39 pm
Updated Friday, 21st January 2022, 7:46 pm
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver. Pictures: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

The Sulphurites have lost their previous two games by a 4-0 scoreline, and, having shipped 35 goals in 23 league matches, their defensive record is now the joint-fifth-worst in League Two.

Manager Simon Weaver has made no secret of his dissatisfaction regarding his side's inability to defend their own box this term, however the ease in which Newport County were able to open them up last weekend demonstrated that things are getting worse rather than better.

The Town chief felt that some of his players' desperation to get themselves into positions where they could make an impact going forwards left them far too open on a number of occasions at Rodney Parade, thus a concerted effort has been made this week to ensure that they have a more solid platform to build from.

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Harrogate Town right-back Ryan Fallowfield aggravated a groin problem during last weekend's 4-0 loss at Newport County.

"We're still looking back on our season so far knowing that we can do better on the defensive side - and that means everybody buying into it," Weaver said.

"There been a lot of scrutinising our games. We've got great facilities on the computer where we can look back and freeze-frame instances, even from teams higher up the ladder, and see that the organisation off the ball is so vital in terms of winning the ball back and making sure that we are secure, just in case.

"One mistake last week was leading to a goal and it can't be like that. You need that platform behind you and that safety net.

"If players' brains are solely fixed on how good we can be with the ball, then the attention soon shifts and becomes blurred in terms of the defensive work.

"So, this week we have concentrated on and prioritised that defensive work, and hopefully we will become more solid as a result."

Saturday's showdown with rock-bottom Oldham certainly isn't the first fixture that Town have headed into this season where a big part of the build-up has revolved around the need to tighten up at the back.

But Weaver is at least encouraged by what he has seen on the training ground over the last few days.

"It has gone well," he added.

"The players were wounded themselves [after Newport]. We've got a really honest group and good enough people to realise that we weren't up to the mark, whatever the circumstances, and that we have to do much better.

"We've got good options to be able to change it. Whether we tweak the shape, we may do that, just to give us a bit more of a solid base.

"We'll go down to the wire on Friday in terms of selection in a couple of key areas. Obviously the Ryan [Fallowfield] situation opens the door for a right-back to go in there, but we're blessed with good cover in that area.

"Will Smith has returned to training. We will continue to try and build his fitness up and put pressure on the centre-backs.

"Warren Burrell has to come into contention because he was overlooked last week and, looking at it, we missed his pace and vitality at the back."

Basement boys Oldham head to North Yorkshire without a goal in three matches and without a win in six in all competitions.

The last time the Latics tasted victory in the league was on November 20, three days before Town's most recent three-point haul, achieved courtesy of a 2-0 success on the road at Carlisle United.

Since then, Weaver's men have drawn one and lost four on the bounce in League Two.

.Kick-off at the EnviroVent Stadium on Saturday afternoon is at 3pm.