Harrogate Town's new formation 'key' to club's positive start to the new League Two season
Simon Weaver feels that Harrogate Town’s new formation did its job during the club’s fine opening-day victory over Swindon.
The Sulphurites kicked-off their 2022/23 League Two campaign in some style, comfortably dispatching a much-fancied Robins side courtesy of three unanswered goals from Alex Pattison, Matty Daly and Jack Muldoon.
They lined-up in the 3-4-2-1 system which he has used throughout pre-season, a shape which enabled Town to cause their visitors plenty of problems, while never really getting opened up themselves at the other end.
And, while he was at pains to stress that he isn’t getting carried away on the basis of one good performance, Weaver does believe that his players managing to nail their roles within that formation played a big part in Saturday’s success.
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"It was very important that we got the shape right and that was key in terms of the result in the end," he told the Harrogate Advertiser.
"It was really pleasing that we had a lot of control because the one area that we really have to improve from last season is the defensive side - and that is from one to 11. We need a shape where we can press aggressively, but then if the opposition hit over that press then we stay calm, drop in and fill holes and gaps and deny opponents the opportunity to create goal-scoring opportunities.
"I thought that the back-line were outstanding today, but everybody worked well within the system, so we didn't ever really seem out of sync or out of touch with each unit.
"A lot of it comes down to the lads understanding and carrying out their roles. We've said that we are going to play a certain shape this season and work at it and work at it and try and become more solid. But, at the same time we have aspirations to keep creating as many chances as we always have done.
"The discipline and work ethic of the lads meant that we won the game on Saturday, but it is just one match, it is just a start."
While Town's ability to play the ball on the deck through the thirds and ask plenty of questions of Swindon's back-line was perhaps the stand-out feature of Saturday's performance, the effective manner in which they pressed and harried their opponents and forced a number of turnovers was also notable.
"It was a case of when and where to press them really," Weaver added. "We picked our moments and that is what you have to do against a team of Swindon's quality.
"We want to press, but the lads have to be flexible and adaptable and see situations which arise when they've got fans right on top of them.
"Louis Reed is Championship level on the ball. Give him time and he can really purr and it was about trying to box clever and box him out of the contest, that was a big part of the game-plan.
"Him and Jonny Williams are real talents for Swindon. Williams scored the winner for Wales a few months back to get them to the World Cup and now he is playing at Harrogate Town and we've won the game, so we are entitled to be happy about that fact alone."
Weaver rarely deviated from his tried-and-tested 4-4-2 system as he led Harrogate out of non-league football courtesy of two promotions in the space of three seasons between 2018 and 2020.
And, while he has dabbled with 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 with mixed results in the last couple of years, Town have set up in a 4-4-2 on plenty of occasions since they arrived in League Two.
Scoring goals has never really been a problem at any point during Weaver's 13 years at Wetherby Road, however last season saw them leaking goals for fun and finish the campaign with the joint-second-worst defensive record in League Two.
Hence, he made the decision to try out a new shape this term and has gone about his summer recruitment with that in mind.
“It is predominantly a 3-4-2-1, but it is flexible and it is a shape that we can change quite easily as and when we need to, to cater for how we want to disrupt or upset the opposition," he explained.
“We’ve had to look at the shape. We conceded more than 70 goals last season and so we needed a more solid platform.
“We are all about energy and playing on the front foot, trying to entertain and score goals.
“We don’t want to lose any of that dynamism, however we need to become less vulnerable during transitions and more solid in the middle of the pitch because too many times we got stung by sucker-punches."