Simon Weaver emphasises cost of defensive lapses as Harrogate Town lose yet another game by a slender margin

Simon Weaver sat his Harrogate Town players down after Saturday's 1-0 loss to Morecambe and pointed out to them just how costly their tendency to gift away soft goals has been this term.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 10:53 am
Harrogate Town centre-half Will Smith holds his head in his hands during Saturday's 1-0 home defeat to Morecambe. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

The Sulphurites fell behind within a minute of kick-off at the EnviroVent Stadium after some weak defensive work presented Shrimps attacker Carlos Mendes-Gomes with a chance inside the box that he did not pass up.

Simon Power failed to deal with Lewis Gibson's ball inside from the left, leaving Mendes-Gomes with time and space to fire past James Belshaw with the aid of a deflection off the sliding Will Smith.

And, this was not the first time this season, or in recent weeks that a lapse in concentration or an individual mistake has proved to be Town's undoing.

Simon Weaver wants more from his Harrogate Town players.

"It was another moment of madness at the back," Weaver told the Harrogate Advertiser.

"Saturday could easily have been a dour 0-0. We wanted the win but we would have taken a point against a very good side in Morecambe, however we've got make sure that we're keeping a clean-sheet in games like that. We needed to do much better.

"I said to the players in the changing room after the game, little blips in games have been our undoing in 14 matches this season.

"It's become a recurring theme. Mistakes and lapses keep costing us. Most of the games we've lost this season, we've lost narrowly - and therefore we've had a chance of getting something out of those matches.

"There have been different reasons. It's generally been defensive naivety and that naivety has been quite telling on Saturday and on a number of occasions."

In Harrogate's previous outing - a 2-1 loss at title-chasing Forest Green - an inability to clear their lines at a set-piece and then the failure to track a runner from deep cost them the game.

Seven days earlier, Ryan Fallowfield mistimed a header when he was Town's last man and allowed Stevenage striker Elliot List a clear run on goal, meaning that Weaver's men finished up empty-handed despite dominating the contest.

Rewind to the club's previous defeat - at Scunthorpe United on February 20 - and two flaky moments at the very start at very end of the first half saw the Iron able to register two completely avoidable strikes.

This habit of conceding poor goals is not one that has only been acquired recently. The Sulphurites have actually defended well on the whole in a lot of encounters, but have been guilty of not making opponents work hard enough for breakthroughs throughout their debut EFL campaign.

A trio of 1-0 reverses in December at the hands of Forest Green, Morecambe and Salford City all stemmed from Town players switching off in and around their own penalty area.

Prior to that, errors or lapses in home clashes with Scunthorpe and Bolton Wanderers also stand out.

For a team that has been edged out by a single-goal margin in 13 of the 16 League Two fixtures which they have lost in 2020/21, the amount of clangers they are dropping must be seriously irksome.

But, what exactly is to blame?

"There's been different reasons," Weaver added. "Last week [at Forest Green] there's a little bit of a lack of athleticism, awareness and know-how out of possession because their right-wing-back ran from deep, played a one-two on the edge of our box and ran past us.

"Saturday was a blip by really good players at the back. We weren't compact enough and we didn't see the danger. We looked to pick up people in the box rather than moving in relation to the ball.

"We've got to remember that these lads are learning on the job at this level.

"Sometimes, whereas we might have got away with things in the leagues that we have been playing in, you don't get away with it in League Two. Opponents will stick it in your net."

Yet, although Weaver appreciates that a lot of his charges are still finding their feet in a division where most of them have no prior experience of, he insists that they need to start learning from their mistakes. And quickly.

"I've got to remember that they are still learning at this level, but you still have to drive them and challenge them," he said.

"It doesn't have to shouting and screaming in the dressing room. It was controlled on Saturday, but I told them that we have been short the last two games.

"Invariably, over the last few years we haven't come up short in games. Yes, it's a steep learning curve, but those who learn the fastest are the ones who will stay in the team."