Why Harrogate Town must learn to cope better with being under pressure in League Two

Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver, right, and his assistant, Paul Thirlwell, watch on from the sidelines during Saturday's 2-2 draw with Walsall. Pictures: Matt KirkhamHarrogate Town manager Simon Weaver, right, and his assistant, Paul Thirlwell, watch on from the sidelines during Saturday's 2-2 draw with Walsall. Pictures: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver, right, and his assistant, Paul Thirlwell, watch on from the sidelines during Saturday's 2-2 draw with Walsall. Pictures: Matt Kirkham
Harrogate Town must learn to cope with spending extended periods under the pump if they want to be successful in League Two this season.

That was the view of manager Simon Weaver after seeing his newly-promoted side fail to hold on to a half-time advantage when they entertained Walsall in what was their first ‘home’ fixture since securing promotion from the National League last month.

The Sulphurites were good value for their 2-1 interval lead, one handed to them by close-range strikes from Aaron Martin and Jack Muldoon, but struggled to get out of their own half during the second 45, with their visitors firmly in the ascendancy.

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Town have lost just two of their last 21 competitive fixtures, and one of those defeats came at the hands of Premier League West Bromwich Albion.

Walsall celebrate at the Keepmoat Stadium.Walsall celebrate at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Walsall celebrate at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Thus, it has been a long time since they have had to operate with their backs to the wall for a significant period of time, and spent the majority of a half of football firmly on the back foot.

But, with the step-up in class that comes with promotion to the Football League, it is inevitable that they are going to face greater challenges this term.

Weaver insists that lessons must be learned and adaptations made.

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“There was a concerted spell in the second half where we were under pressure and didn’t deal with the situation as well as we could have,” he reflected.

“We want to win every game and we’ve been on a heck of a run, but someone’s going to come along at some point and deny you. It’s then that you’ve got to stay level-headed.

“You can’t beat the lads with a stick because they’ve come off it for 45 minutes. They know that, they’re disappointed, it was underwhelming, but next time we can think ‘okay, we’re in this situation again, let’s deal with it a bit better, this is what we need to do.’

"We can take a lot from the Walsall game in terms of how to handle that pressure, learn from it and hopefully become stronger as a unit.

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“It’s part of the learning process. It’s about keeping calm and composed in those moments, not panicking, not losing discipline and not adding fuel to the opponent’s fire by giving free-kicks away in difficult areas.

“Other teams will have possession at times, then when we have it, we’ve got to have a breather by keeping the ball and keeping it moving. We weren’t half as fluid second half as we’re capable of, but we’ll learn from this.”

Harrogate didn’t exactly get off to the ideal start at Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium – their temporary home – and fell behind with just four minutes on the clock.

A cleverly-worked Walsall corner routine straight off the training ground saw Alfie Bates deliver from the right and pick out Rory Holden, who took a touch and drilled home a low effort from just outside the home box.

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Town wasted no time feeling sorry for themselves, almost drawing level on nine minutes when Martin crashed a header from Warren Burrell’s cross against the crossbar.

They continued to press and with Ryan Fallowfield and George Thomson linking to good effect down the right flank, it came as no great surprise that the hosts’ 32nd-minute leveller arrived following a move down that side of the field.

Thomson rolled a pass into the path of the advancing full-back and his low delivery found the near-post run of Martin, who couldn’t miss from almost on the goal-line.

Things got even better for Harrogate shortly before the interval. Connor Hall’s hanging free-kick from left to right was met by the towering Mark Beck, and his knock-down was pounced upon by a stretching Muldoon for 2-1.

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The hosts began the second period well enough, though the rest of the match would play out with Walsall in the ascendancy.

Josh Falkingham’s loose pass in midfield enabled Josh Gordon to send Elijah Adebayo clean through on goal, but despite managing to dance around Cracknell, his attempted finish from a tight angle rebounded off a post.

With the Saddlers continuing to turn the screw, the pressure eventually told, James Clarke going down under Hall’s challenge inside the Harrogate area, prompting referee James Adcock to point to the spot.

Gordon got very lucky from 12 yards, Cracknell saving his initial penalty, only to see the ball rebound straight back into the path of the visiting attacker, who made no mistake second time around.

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Walsall’s former Premier League star Danny Guthrie was then sent off for a second bookable offence, and although Town finished with something of a flourish and Fallowfield drew a good save out of Roberts with a 25-yard blast, the final whistle sounded soon afterwards.

Harrogate Town: Cracknell; Fallowfield, Smith, Hall, Burrell; Thomson, Falkingham, Kerry, Muldoon; Martin, Beck (Stead 72). Unused substitutes: Jones, Kirby, Walker, Minter, Lokko.

Walsall: Roberts; Norman, Scarr, Clarke, Jules; Kinsella, Bates (Guthrie 54); Gordon, Holden (Osadebe 83), McDonald; Adebayo (Lavery 72). Unused substitutes: Rose, Sinclair, Nurse, White.

Referee: J Adcock (Notts).

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