The verdict: More positives than negatives to take from Harrogate Town's draw with Walsall FC

Harrogate Town celebrate taking a 2-1 lead against Walsall. Pictures: Getty ImagesHarrogate Town celebrate taking a 2-1 lead against Walsall. Pictures: Getty Images
Harrogate Town celebrate taking a 2-1 lead against Walsall. Pictures: Getty Images
There were more positives than negatives to take from Harrogate Town's 2-2 draw with Walsall on Saturday afternoon.

Simon Weaver and his players were disappointed to be denied back-to-back League Two victories by a late Saddlers equaliser at the Keepmoat Stadium, but on reflection a point against Darrell Clarke's team doesn't look a bad one.


Town responded well to conceding an early goal. Just was the case at West Bromwich Albion in midweek when they conceded twice in quick succession having looked very comfortable, Weaver's men wasted no time feeling sorry for themselves after Walsall grabbed a fourth-minute lead.

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Aaron Martin fires home from close range to level the scores at 1-1.Aaron Martin fires home from close range to level the scores at 1-1.
Aaron Martin fires home from close range to level the scores at 1-1.

It says plenty about the character of the group and is further evidence that this team knows what it wants to do and just gets on with it. It would have been easy for them to sulk, but instead they immediately went about their business, trying to get on the ball and find ways to hurt their opponents.

Having hit the bar as early as the ninth minute and then gone close again through Aaron Martin, the Harrogate players got their rewards with two goals in the space of 11 minutes before half-time.

A point against a decent-looking Walsall certainly isn't anything to be too upset about. It's probably be too early to predicting who will be up there challenging for promotion from League Two come spring, but Walsall are clearly no mugs and you'd expect them to finish in the top half of the table at the very least.

The Saddlers ended 2019/20 very well, unbeaten in five matches - three of which they won. They began this season by holding Sheffield Wednesday to a draw in the Carabao Cup then beat Grimsby Town last time out. They are a much, much stronger side than Southend United, yet for a good 50 minutes Town more than matched them. For a big chunk of that time, the Sulphurites looked far superior and scored two decent goals.

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Of course, it's not enough to just be the better side for a third of a contest if you want to win on a regular basis. But, if it weren't for the fact that they ran out of steam having clearly put so much into trying to keep up with West Brom in midweek, I don't think the second half would have unfolded as it did.

Town's problems stemmed from them running out of steam, rather than them doing too much wrong. Trailing as they were at the interval, Walsall were always going to come out and have a go in the second half. And, a team of their quality was always going to have a period in the ascendancy, just as a much weaker Southend outfit did immediately after half-time last week.

I do however believe that Town would have been able to ride out the Saddlers' spell and then start to assert themselves on the game again had they had seven days rest, like their opponents did in the build-up to the match.

Even though were stuck in their own half for a long time, Harrogate defended their box pretty solidly, in my opinion. The only time they were really cut open and left exposed was when Josh Falkingham gave the ball away in midfield and Josh Gordon was presented with the simple task of playing Elijah Adebayo through on goal for a one-on-one chance that he couldn't finish.

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The problem was, that the ball wasn't sticking up front, so it just kept coming back. Eventually that kind of pressure is always likely to tell - and it did. George Thomson and Jack Muldoon looked spent on the flanks by the hour-mark and Martin had run himself into the ground. Town couldn't get a foothold to build attacks and relieve the pressure for any considerable amount of time, which ultimately proved to be their downfall.

And, while it can't be denied that Walsall upped their game and definitely deserved a share of the spoils in the end, I'm not sure they'd have enjoyed anywhere as much possession had their hosts not run out of energy.

The Harrogate attackers were pretty ruthless in front of goal. Having been left to rue a lack of killer edge in the final third after draws against Tranmere Rovers and Grimsby Town during the opening week of 2020/21, Weaver will have been pleased with his team's finishing in their first two League Two outings.

Against Southend, they scored four times and only really spurned one clear opening inside the box. Saturday saw them do what good teams at any level do, capitalise whilst in the ascendancy. They worked two clear openings in fairly quick succession during the back end of the first 45 and stuck both of them away.

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Martin hit the cross-bar with a header and saw another close-range strike expertly blocked by Cameron Norman, though these were both half-chances and I don't think you could find fault with the Town player's efforts. He was unlucky to see a good header from such an awkward, hanging cross strike the woodwork, and you have to take your hat off to Norman for the brave challenge he made to prevent the ball from ending up in the away goal.

Town are a team who almost always create plenty of chances, so if they continue to convert them at such a rate, then they shouldn't go too far wrong this season.

Martin continues to impress. The 29-year-old striker just keeps delivering. A goal and two assists on his League Two debut at Southend last week was followed by a display at West Brom where he didn't look out of his depth up against Premier League centre-halves.

Admittedly he tired in the second half on Saturday, but not before he had caused the Walsall defence plenty of problems with his physicality and work-rate. He was such a pest, his manager described him as "an animal" post-match.

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Hit the bar before going on to score from close-range to make it 1-1 and would have had another if it weren't for an excellent block by Norman. This was another performance that only serves to re-affirm the growing sense that Weaver has unearthed a diamond of a striker, one who is exactly the type of player who Town needed to add that extra dimension to their forward line.

He certainly isn't the only Harrogate player to have impressed in recent weeks, however given where he's come from and the fact that Saturday was just his sixth start in a yellow and black shirt, his progress is quite remarkable.


Town conceded another goal from outside the box. While there are positives to be taken when you consider that Walsall's goals came from an excellent long-range strike and a penalty, Harrogate will still be disappointed by the nature of Walsall's opener.

Having conceded twice at West Brom when opposing players found sufficient time and space to send 25-yarders past Joe Cracknell, it seems that Town didn't learn their lesson. Yes, Rory Holden's fourth-minute goal came from a well-worked corner routine straight off the training ground, however, as was the case at the Hawthorns, the player wasn't closed down quickly enough, allowing the opportunity to pick his spot.

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Town defended their box pretty well throughout, though they need to also get out of it quick enough to be able to prevent opponents from being able to take aim with such ease on the edge of the area.

Walsall's equaliser looked like it was coming for some time. Just as was the case when Harrogate were on top and knocking on the door in the first half, there was, for me, an inevitability about the Saddlers' equaliser.

Knackered though they may have been, it will bother Weaver and his men that they couldn't do anything about it, to change the momentum of the contest or prevent their opponents from making that second breakthrough.

Weaver didn't feel like he had the right options on the bench to help freshen things up. With Town visibly flagging, boss Weaver opted to make just the one change, bringing Jon Stead on for Mark Beck up top on 72 minutes.

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While I think it would be fair to say that all the defenders were doing their jobs pretty well and Falkingham and Lloyd Kerry were still competing in midfield, the aforementioned Thomson, Muldoon and Martin looked tired. These are players whose fitness and work-rate cannot be questioned, but having put in so much and played all 90 minutes against West Brom in midweek, they were unable to influence the game as they would have liked during the closing stages of Saturday's contest.

The fact that they weren't replaced makes one wonder whether the Town boss felt he didn't have the right options on his bench to throw into the testing situation which Town found themselves dealing with against Walsall.

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