Rory McArdle shines on return from long injury lay-off as Harrogate Town edge out Carlisle United

Simon Weaver felt that the returning Rory McArdle played a huge part in Harrogate Town keeping a first clean-sheet in seven attempts and just their second in 17 matches.

Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 6:00 pm
Rory McArdle made his first appearance in more than three months as Harrogate Town beat Carlisle United on Tuesday evening. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

The veteran centre-half featured for the first time since undergoing groin surgery in late September when he played the full 90 minutes of Tuesday night’s 1-0 EFL Trophy triumph over Carlisle United.

The 34-year-old has proved a big miss during the last three months, with the Sulphurites’ disappointing defensive record telling its own story.

They have certainly suffered without McArdle’s organisational skills, his leadership and the way he communicates in addition to the positional sense and no-nonsense style honed during a decade-and-a-half in the Football League.

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Sulphurites manager Simon Weaver.

And although he made one mistake on the ball which gifted the Cumbrians a three-on-two counter-attack towards the back end of the first half, Town certainly looked far better off for having the ex-Northern Ireland international restored to their starring line-up.

“Rory was superb. He made a big tackle on the edge of the ‘D’ inside the first five minutes or so and I just thought to myself ‘he’s back’,” Weaver reflected.

“He gives us that bit of oomph at the back, which is great. He’s a leader, but a good leader. He doesn’t dictate, he encourages. He makes sure we are all organised and he organises others around him to help him, which is a sensible thing to do.

“There’s still a place in the game for heading the ball miles and clearing the ball, making those decisions. This was two League Two teams, and I think that anywhere below the Premier League you have to do this, you have to win those kind of battles.

“You have to read the game and know when to do these things. Rory’s reading of the game is fantastic and it’s that defensive instinct that is really telling when he is on the pitch. It’s very reassuring.”

With him not having played for more than three months, Town's medical department had hoped that McArdle could be eased back in, but he showed no obvious signs of rust and cruised through to the conclusion of Tuesday's fixture.

"Rory, to play 90 minutes when the physio would rather I had played him for 60 or 65 minutes was great," Weaver added.

"He just powered on through."