View From the Press Box: Jon Stead offers a sign of better things to come
Harrogate Advertiser sports editor Rhys Howell has his say on the latest goings-on at Harrogate Town.
Jon Stead continued his personal vendetta against Torquay United on Saturday afternoon, scoring his third goal in two appearances against the Gulls to secure a much-needed three points for Harrogate Town.
That takes his tally for the club to three, meaning that all of his strikes in yellow and black have found the net of the same opponent.
More important, however, was the type of finish he produced at the 1919 end.
There are other players within Simon Weaver’s squad who could have dispatched such an opportunity from Mitch Hancox’s inviting left-wing pull back, however if there was anybody I personally would have wanted on the end of it, Stead would have been the man.
There was plenty of time to think about what to do as the ball rolled, almost in slow motion, across the penalty area.
Stead’s experience and predatory instincts had guided him to the right place to meet it and 17 years of coverting these kind of chances at a higher level meant that he was able to pick his spot and make the execution look easy.
The 36-year-old spent the best part of his long career operating in England’s top two tiers and he has made the most of more difficult openings with less time and space to work in, surrounded by better defenders and confronted by goalkeepers far superior to Torquay’s rather unconvincing stopper, Lucas Covolan.
His finish was classy, the strike in the end perfectly placed, sending the ball back the same way that it had come and towards the top left-hand corner.
It was the sort of chance that I think would have been spurned by many of his team-mates during a season in which we have seen Town fail to make the most of a lot of very good opportunities in front of goal.
And that was why Stead was brought to the club by Weaver, to add a clinical edge to a squad that he felt weren’t ruthless enough last term, despite finishing 2018/19 as the top scorers in the National League.
Now, the former Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town hitman can’t be said to have set the world alight since his arrival at Wetherby Road, and has largely been limited to appearances from the substitutes’ bench.
He has looked off the pace at times and hasn’t been helped by a couple of red cards, the first of which was entirely undeserved and cost him his place in the team just as he’d staked a genuine claim for a regular starting berth with his brace at Torquay.
Yet, at the age of 36, I think it was always likely to take Stead some time to get going and he’ll certainly require a run of regular games if Town are to see the best of him – just look at how Mark Beck benefited from getting an extended run last term.
I think that Saturday’s goal is a sign of things to come – provided that Stead can hold down his place.
His link-up play is decent and means he fits into the Town style of play, but crucially he’s a sweet striker of a ball and a high-quality finisher in and around the penalty area, a commodity that a team which creates so many chances will really benefit from.
I’ve read plenty of speculation about how much the veteran forward is getting paid and even saw one ‘supporter’ Tweet after the Sutton game that Stead should ‘stop robbing a wage from our club and retire’.
Personally, I believe that what I expect is to come from the former England under-21 international will provide the perfect riposte.