How England coach Gareth Southgate helped Harrogate Town prepare for biggest game in their history

One of Harrogate's most famous residents paid the town's premier football team a surprise visit ahead of a fixture billed as the biggest in their history.

Monday, 27th July 2020, 9:44 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th July 2020, 6:58 am
England's Gareth Southgate. Picture: Getty Images

England head coach Gareth Southgate met up with Harrogate Town's squad in the build up to Saturday's National League play-off semi-final clash against Boreham Wood.

The Wetherby Road outfit won the match 1-0 to set up a Wembley date with Notts County this Sunday, and the Three Lions chief's words of wisdom seemingly made a difference out on the pitch.

"We didn't know who was coming to speak to us until Gareth Southgate walked into the room at Cedar Court," revealed Harrogate goalkeeper James Belshaw.

Harrogate Town beat Boreham Wood 1-0 at the CNG Stadium on Saturday to move to within touching distance of League Two. Picture: Getty Images

"For the man with the highest-pressure job in football to take the time out to spend more than an hour talking to us was great. We took a lot from it.

"It's hard to quantify how much it actually helped us on the day, because once you cross that white line and the whistle goes it's down to you as players, but what Gareth said to us definitely helped in terms of our preparation.

"That said, one the things he gave us some tips on was set-pieces, and we scored the goal that won the game from a corner, so there you go."

As well as advice regarding set-plays, Southgate also passed on some information about how he prepared his England players for the eventuality of a penalty shoot-out at the 2018 World Cup.

Harrogate Town goalkeeper James Belshaw. Picture: Matt Kirkham

The ex-Middlesbrough and Aston Villa defender oversaw the nation's first spot-kick success at a major tournament in 22 years when they beat Colombia to qualify for the quarter-final stage.

And those tips could potentially prove to be invaluable should Harrogate's play-off final showdown with County not be settled in normal-time.

"The stuff he told us about preparing for penalties was really good," Belshaw added.

"We'd obviously been working on them in training ahead of the Boreham Wood game and it was great to get his perspective.

"He's clearly a very intelligent bloke."

The rest of Southgate's address was focused on the mental side of the game and aimed at helping Town deal with the pressure of their play-off campaign.

Simon Weaver and his players know that victory on Sunday will see them promoted into the Football League for the first time in their 106-year history. High stakes indeed.

"Gareth chatted to us about mentality and mindset heading into our semi-final," Belshaw continued.

"We learned a lot about how England prepared for their World Cup campaign, the things they did well and also aspects of their preparation that he would've changed.

"He spoke about how the only pressure on us as a group going into Saturday's game was the pressure that we put on ourselves.

"It was interesting. He reminded us that nobody was asking us to go out and do anything we'd not done before. We just had to go out and play football, play our own game, not run a marathon or anything like that."