View From the Press Box: Harrogate Town need to tighten up to give themselves more of a chance
Harrogate Advertiser sports editor Rhys Howell has his say on the latest goings-on at Harrogate Town.
Saturday’s defeat at Sutton United was just Harrogate Town’s first in four matches, and although things are incredibly tight at the top of the National League standings, they remain in a play-off spot despite that 3-1 reverse.
While victory would have left them in a far healthier position, Simon Weaver’s team are still just about in contention as far as the top of the table is concerned.
When you look at the overall picture, I think it is fair to say that things are looking pretty healthy.
I don’t think many supporters would have turned their nose up had you gone to them before a ball had been kicked in August and offered them this scenario at the halfway stage of the season.
When you consider the rather underwhelming start to 2019/20, I doubt that you’d have found a large number of fans willing to have staked a substantial amount of money on Town occupying a play-off berth at the turn of December.
All that said, recent form isn’t the best. Only one defeat in the last four, yes, but at the same time, Harrogate have won just once in six since their 10-match unbeaten run came to an end last month.
There is, of course, no need to panic by any stretch. Back-to-back league victories and the whole complexion changes.
We are, however, at the stage of the season now where the league table is really beginning to take shape.
Look at the top end. If Barrow win their game in hand then they will sit 10 points ahead of Town at the summit.
Although there is still a long way to go, I believe that if the Cumbrians pull that far clear, that advantage will prove insurmountable as far as the men in yellow and black are concerned.
And, if that’s the case, then any realistic title hopes are probably over and done with before Christmas.
That will mean that the focus will shift to ensuring that a position in the top-seven can be secured.
Along with Barrow, Bromley and in-form Solihull Moors look very good bets for the top-three, but fortunately, when you look at the form of the rest of the sides in the mix for a play-off spot, Halifax’s and Yeovil’s isn’t great.
Woking’s is not too bad, however they aren’t quite hitting the levels that saw them top the table during the early weeks of the campaign.
Torquay and Notts County have also tailed off badly in recent weeks, though Stockport County are now on the rise.
It’s very tight, and Town really need three points on Saturday when Torquay visit the CNG Stadium.
Stating the obvious about league form and analysing the table taken care of, I think the next job is to try and figure out why Weaver’s men have won just one of their last six.
Well, for starters, FA Cup opponents Portsmouth are a very decent League One team, so no great surprise that they didn’t come out on top in that one.
Also, aspects of the performances at Eastleigh and Sutton were so poor that Town never really gave themselves a chance of going on to secure a positive result.
The underlying issue, in my opinion, is that all of a sudden, Harrogate are conceding too many goals again.
They have shipped 14 in their previous six outings having let in just five during the 10 games before that.
And that, for me, is the reason why they remained unbeaten during that period.
They kept five clean-sheets and the Town defence was only breached once in each of the other five fixtures.
You’d always back this Harrogate team to create enough chances to score at least one per game, so if they’re conceding just one or indeed none, then logic dictates that they aren’t going to lose too many.
It’s easier said than done, but Weaver’s team need to re-discover that mean form of September and October.
When you’re conceding four, as at Eastleigh or three, like they did at Bromley and Sutton, then you’re really going to be up against it.
There’s no magic formula where clean-sheets are concerned, but too often in recent matches, goals have been given away far too cheaply.
Harrogate need to start making their opponents work a lot harder to put the ball in the back of their net because individual errors, lapses in concentration and not doing the basics are proving extremely costly.
Naturally, supporters want to be entertained, but a gritty 1-0 win when Torquay visit certainly wouldn’t be an untimely result at this moment in time.