Simon Weaver laments Harrogate Town's defensive failings during Forest Green Rovers defeat

Harrogate Town's performance during Tuesday's 4-1 home defeat to Forest Green Rovers may not have been quite as bad as the scoreline suggests, but their defending certainly left plenty to be desired.

Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 12:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 12:36 pm
Forest Green Rovers' Kane Wilson caused Nathan Sheron and the rest of his Harrogate Town team-mates all sorts of problems during Tuesday night's League Two clash at Wetherby Road. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

Seemingly in control of proceedings against the League Two leaders having passed the ball tidily for 20 minutes, the Sulphurites went on to concede twice in quick succession, then again just before the interval, all but ending the game as a contest.

As good as the visitors looked once they got into their groove, they were aided by some seriously flaky defending and a sequence of individual errors.

Rovers' 21st-minute opener came after Kane Wilson went past Town left-back Nathan Sheron as if he wasn't there and was able to cut the ball back for the unmarked Jack Aitchison to take aim at goal. His strike took a deflection, but Mark Oxley hardly covered himself in glory with his attempt to keep the ball out at his near post.

Sign up to our daily Harrogate Advertiser Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Harrogate Town centre-half Connor Hall's facial expression said it all at the full-time whistle.

Five minutes later, Josh Falkingham's attempted back-pass sent Matty Stevens clean through on the Harrogate goal, enabling him to round Oxley and square from the right for Nicky Cadden to tap in to an empty net.

Just moments before half-time, the rampaging Wilson got the better of Jack Diamond in the left-back position, skipped past a flimsy attempt at a tackle by Lloyd Kerry and crossed for Jamille Matt, who couldn't really miss inside the six-yard box.

And Forest Green's fourth of the evening made for similarly unpleasant viewing, Warren Burrell failing to make a decent connection with the ball as he attempted to cut out a left-wing centre and presenting possession to Aitchison, who hung up a cross for Stevens to nod home.

"We've just given them goals on four occasions," Town boss Simon Weaver reflected.

"We've caused our own problems and against good opposition we have been punished for errors. There were some decisions that just weren't right and didn't allow us to be safe enough in key moments.

"It could have been a crazy scoreline tonight but they punished us with the chances they took, while we failed to punish them when we did actually create.

"We weren’t decisive and we were going to ground. I’m trying to find a reason why we made some critical errors defensively and it’s a shame because I thought that if we could have kept it tight again we could have won this game.

"There was a lack of seeing the danger in the first half. We didn't go out and meet them. Jack Diamond isn't a full-back and we weren't really anywhere to help the lad for the first goal.

"Another goal was a back-pass through bodies and suddenly you find yourself two down. I thought the players reacted well in the second half, although there was another error which led to the fourth goal. Someone has gone to ground in the lead up to it."

Rovers' right wing-back Wilson was Town's tormentor in chief, causing Sheron and Diamond all sorts of problems over the course of the evening, but particularly during the opening period.

Weaver, however, said that his side should have done more collectively to shore things up in that particular area of the pitch.

He added: "We're fully aware of Kane Wilson’s quality but we didn’t move over to that side of the field as units in the first half, and even in the second half, he still showed his ability.

"Down that side was problematic for us. Jack Diamond is not a full-back, he's not a wing-back but he found himself defending deep in our own territory at times and in a one-versus-one situation, which is unfair on him.

"We've got to move in relation to the ball as a back-four and go and help him. We should have shifted over as a team and helped him. We don't play as individuals, we play as a team.

"This kind of result is what can happen if we are not quite clear in our heads about what we are doing.

"It didn't look like the margin was massive between the teams, but Forest Green did nothing daft on the night and punished us for our mistakes."

While Weaver accepted that Harrogate's defensive display fell a long way short of being acceptable at League Two level, he did offer up a couple of mitigating factors in the wake of Tueday's defeat.

The Town chief felt that a fourth fixture in the space of a fortnight was a "game too far" for a depleted squad that has had to dig deep to produce three excellent results on the road in the lead up to their showdown with Rovers.

And with left-back Lewis Page serving a one-game ban having accumulated five bookings, Weaver had just three recognised defenders available for selection, forcing him to re-shuffle his back-line and deploy attacking midfielder George Thomson at right-back.

"We were at fault for the goals. There were some bad decisions. I'm not going to name the players, I'm not that type of guy, but the lads know that we made errors tonight and we have got to do better," he continued.

"But, we have had quite a hectic week-and-a-half, we've created a lot of excitement in the area from the FA Cup win at Portsmouth and probably the decision-making that went awry was probably also a result of adrenaline running out. People were going to ground when normally they'd stand up.

"You are waiting for that game where it is one too many for some and we just can't rotate it around. It's a simple fact, we've got too many injuries to do that. We could have done with maybe getting fresh legs on second half, but we really just didn't have the opportunity.

“Nathan Sheron did brilliantly on Saturday at right-back and then he has had to go on play on the opposite side tonight. We had George Thomson at right-back, who did well, but he’s playing our of position, playing right-back for the first time in his life.

“There’s only so many times you can get away with that."

Tuesday's loss sees Town slip out of the play-off positions and down two place to ninth.