Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Four under forty watt floodlights : Harrogate Town Vs the Mighty


Splash out on 80 watts!


The first year I followed football seriously was the first year of automatic promotion and relegation between the football league and non league. The team who came up were Scarborough, managed by some fella called Neil Warnock. Whatever happened to him I wonder? Even at the age of 7 or 8, I noticed that the names of some clubs looked incongruous. I had a book, (that I really wish I still had) that had a complete record of every football league table and the name 'Scarborough' didn't feature in it. It therefore seemed weird as it flickered into view on the vidiprinter with that weird noise the vidiprinter made as if it was literally printing the teams and goals on the screen physically. Why did it do that? Answers on a postcard etc. 

Scarborough have come and gone (our titular hero Mitch having had a spell as their manager at one point) from the league. They've been wound up and reformed, changing their name from Town to Athletic in the process. Looking at the list of promoted teams since is a sobering task. Macclesfield, Rushden and Diamonds, Halifax don't exist in their league form. Teams like Barnet have suffered a severe decline, many sides have gone back from whence they came, the likes of Kidderminster and Boston now much worse off than they were at the time of their promotion. Yeovil Town, always one of the biggest non league clubs by reputation and fanbase made it all the way to the Championship before heading all the way back to non league in a 16 year spell. My first Pool game, I shivered in the old wooden seats of the west stand with my dad as we scratched our way to a 1-1 draw against the now defunct and reformed Maidstone United. 

Still, there's happier stories to consider. Wycombe seem like league furniture now and are in the Championship. Accrington have prospered against the odds. Some crummy fishing port are in the league too. I forget their name. Burton also made (and survived for a year) the second tier. I can never quite get used to seeing Stevenage and Crawley as league sides, but weirdly, I can happily accept Morecambe. Maybe it's a geographical thing, a hangover from the early years of football that means I just can't take a Southern side seriously but every Northern team is a potential powerhouse.

Of all the teams I find incongruous (Cod botherers aside) I think Harrogate Town are the ultimate. I don't really know anything about them beyond the little I gleaned as I hoped they didn't pip Barrow to the post last year. They've had a lot of investment, the son of the chairman is the manager and they boast the actual Jon Stead as one of their players. I turn to wikipedia and learn they used to be called 'Harrogate Hotspurs' and they only spent 3 years in the 5th tier before going up to the 4th. I lose track and end up reading about the Yorkshire League that ended in 1982, with Emley as the champions. Emley also no longer exist, reborn as Wakefield FC who, curiously, play in Doncaster and AFC Emley, who don't.. I'm digressing. 

Harrogate are one of those sides who wouldn't have been promoted under the old election system. No one would have fancied them in the club. The last side to win the Conference before Scarborough was Enfield and their application was rejected by a measure of more than 12 votes to 1. It's weird to think that within my lifetime, sporting merit wasn't the chief consideration about who got promoted or relegated and whilst we've opened the door on some slightly questionable clubs who are there only because they're a one man ego trip, isn't that ultimately the state of play in football in general? If the previously generally shambolic and occasionally mercurially brilliant Man City are to be a predominant force for a few decades because of their finances, why shouldn't Harrogate or Fleetwood be in the league? We've got Simon Sadler and all that...

Anyway... 

I don't want to think back to Tuesday. Half time, I'm cancelling the Wembley trip, convinced we're going up as fucking champions. Full time, I'm back to thinking 'mid table' This is the joy of football. This is the life of 'Pool fan. We've never done it the easy way and all too often we're a Jekyll and Hyde (United) side. My instant reaction to Critch's first game was 'that was all a bit 'Macca'' - the game on Tuesday was exactly that. Sublime and ridiculous in one. 

The question is - how is he going to rotate the squad? Do we have the forwards to give the Goal Machine and Shirtless Jerry a rest at some point? Will someone like Matty Virtue or Oliver Sarkic get a probably much needed run out? Surely Dan Ballard will get a game today, the same is surely true of Jordan Gabriel. Has Demi Mitchell got his trust or not? We'll see but the side on Tuesday seriously ran out of batteries and I'm expecting changes. The way we play is tiring and we need more than 11 players who can be trusted to play. I really can't read Critchley, so I've no idea if it'll be 'same again' or 'all change' 

When the team comes it's obviously got Marvin in it as it always does. Luke Garbutt is a surprising inclusion, Gabriel and Ballard come in as expected as does Keshi, Ward and Woodburn. It's a selection that again highlights how (literally) pivotal Madine has become to the way we play. It's a bench that makes me wonder why, when you've got Turton and Husband who are both fairly versatile, you'd pick almost an entire back line as subs and not give someone like Virtue or one of the striker kids a chance for a run out, maybe see if Bange (he's big, he's a striker!) can function for twenty minutes as an emergency Gary Madine-a-like if we desperately needed one. Still, in Critch we sort of trust depending on what happened the match before such is their loyalty of football. 

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Critch comes out swigging a bottle of water, Steve Banks carrying a blue folder. I wonder what's in it? We have a minute's silence for Diego, he wasn't quite Wes Hoolahan but he was pretty good and we're off under the worst floodlights I've seen for ages. 

Hamilton hares down the right and pulls it back, Keshi's shot is bundled away for a corner. It comes to little. We win a couple more corners, they have a nice run that comes to nothing, before Hamilton again causes all sorts of trouble, crossing to the far post and causing a desperate defensive header to flick it out of play. A Harrogate lad goes down, holds his head, then gets up and weirdly pulls his socks up over his knees. 

They have a few forays, we don't quite thread the pass a couple of times. They have a snapshot from a knockdown and then force Marvin into a stunning recovery tackle from his own mistake, turning his back on a through ball but getting back and timing the tackle brilliantly.

Keshi slips a gorgeous ball to CJ who skins the full back for about the fifth time so far and pulls back to Woodburn. The Liverpool man tries to cushion it and strike, but the first touch is heavy and the superb chance runs away from him. Another moment runs away from Pool as they break following a Harrogate corner, lovely footbwork from Hamilton as he steps away from two challenges, touches off to ward then along with Keshi, races forward, Ward has a clear run and there are men over, but Ward strangely seems hell bent on shooting from 30 yards instead of passing and predictably, he just cracks it into a defender. 

We see the good and bad of Marvin in a few minutes. First, he slides brilliantly to deny them chance after a first time pass finds a man in the box seemingly in space, but before he can even draw his his leg back, Marvin has had it off his toes. Then, under no pressure he plays a really poor pass and is saved by Ballard tackling back as Harrogate bear down on goal. 

Pool have a 30 second burst of pressure started by a Dougal tackle on one side of the pitch, involving five Pool players and ending with Ward drilling it from the other side of the pitch, toward the near post where Madine gets a good contact but can only turn it the wrong side of the post. 

The rest of the half is fairly uneventful. We knock it about without ever really seeming likely to do anything with it. The one time we do, CJ again is the danger man but his cross is miss hit and ends up back at the half way line, having completely missed the box all together. 

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It's been manful and committed but not a great spectacle. I don't think there's been a save in it. Harrogate have worked very hard and defending very well but we've struggled to find a really quality pass. I think I've worked out what Critch sees in Ward. He likes that he always shows for the ball and takes it very well. The problem is, he doesn't seem to do very much with the ball when he has it. Keshi has been kind of the opposite, peripheral but on a couple of occasions, used the ball really nicely. I'm still not really seeing what got everyone excited about Garbutt. He has lovely hair and his physique looks like a Premier League player's but so far, he's basically been a left back. Woodburn has again been a bit anonymous. What does Kemp need to do? 

It says a lot that really, the best moment of the half was Brett getting tangled in his headphone cord and emerging from the disaster with a sheepish 'sorry - I got stuck!' 

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Second half opens with a pair of free kicks, one each slung into the box to no avail for either side. I've decided to watch Garbutt to see if I can work out what the fuss is about. He stuns a lovely ball forward and plays another with a strolling elegance. He takes a nice well shaped free kick that comes to nothing and then he swings a corner that curls deviously, looks to slide off a Harrogate head and into the net. It seems my half time questions worked and Garbutt is even awarded the goal. That's better! 

Ben Woodburn wins a dangerous free kick on the edge of the box, close to the goal line. Garbutt is over it again, chipping it like a sand wedge and seeing it headed behind for another corner and more Garbutt watching. This time it's cleared more decisively but soon the ball is soon back in the danger area with Hamilton, he's forced outwide and the ball goes for another corner. There's a period of pressure and scrambling about, trying to tee up a shot, 3 or 4 players not quite able to make the space. 

Horrogate have a nice little move which ends with a weak shot straight at Maxwell. We go straight to the other end from a great goal kick, Keshi squares to Woodburn, but his shot, a bit like his overall performance is unconvincing. Maybe if I decide to watch him, he'll come good?

The first time I saw Gabriel, I liked him and he reminds me why as he puts the ball between two Harrogate players then wriggles through after it, then beats one, then another, then another before finally running out of steam. I love this lads intent. 

Woodburn is the spare man as Madine of the total football brain sees space and lays it off beautifully, Woodburn hits it better than the previous effort, the keeper saves well, it falls to Hamilton who hits it low and hard and the keeper makes a wonderful second save, as good as you will see. The corner comes in, it's headed away, but Ward control gloriously (as he does) and this time, he certainly does something with it, smashing it through a crowded box, with barely any back lift right into the bottom corner. 

Bez (on for Woodburn) plays a terrific ball that grazes Madine's head as his first contribution. CJ dances on the edge of the box and cracks one that draws another great save. Harrogate then have a little spell of pressure, their most dangerous coming from two silly passes by Bez and a really poor clearance from Maxwell, that sees him make a really good save to redeem himself. Pool break like lightening, lovely passing up the pitch and nice play from Keshi in particular sees Hamilton cracking it towards the near post and again, the keeper making a good save, this time with his legs. 

Keshi and Bez work a lovely move down the left but no one can quite bring themselves to shoot. Dan Kemp comes on for Keshi who has done ok today. He looks a little short of confidence but I think he'll take a bit from the performance. 

It's absolutely sheeting down and the rain is making it even harder to see through the 40 watt floodlights. The game is scrappy now, Pool having gone for the jugular for the first 25 minutes of the half are content to go forward when there's a chance but to take their time otherwise. Madine lashes one over the bar... 

Then a beautiful goal, Dan Ballard with a thumping challenge wins possession on the edge of our box, Pool stride forward and Ward (remember at half time I questioned his product, I'm managing this team from the blog!) plays the pass of the season, an outside of the foot defence splitter from the centre circle, weighted to perfection for Demi who races in, slips it past the keeper, it beats him but not the post, luckily Gabriel is there to tap it home from a few inches - a deserved goal for his effort today, the fact he, a right back, has chased this down, tells you all about his work rate. 

Bez does the most Bezlike thing ever as he picks it up, shapes to go one way, goes the other, finds space, runs back into traffic, backs himself to beat three, falls over and accidentally deflect the ball with his head from the ground, straight to a Pool man who can't finish. He's a manic chaos engine.  

Chissy gets the Madine 20 beers and 4 kebabs anecdote wrong, turning it into burgers. Chissy. You were fucking there! 

Madine, who has become more and more the pressing forward Critchley wants forces an error, he siezes the ball, runs away but the prone defender seems to stick out an arm and trip him. Goal Machine denied, defender off! From the free kick, Garbutt plays one that goes high, curls and drops perfectly for Dan Kemp to tap it in. A lovely delivery that made it look easy. I'm still a bit fuming though as Goal Machine goals are the best goals. 

The feeling doesn't last long as the whistle blows. Critch is grinning his twinkly grin despite looking like he's been chucked in a swimming pool. That's been a terrific way to put the wrongs of Tuesday right. We've hammered them in the second half and shared the goals around. The confidence that took a long time to build over a long period could have taken a real blow after the second half against Donny, but that's an important step in ensuring we're back on track. 

Garbutt provided some lovely delivery and composure in the second half, Madine again just makes the team actually make sense, Ward actually produced stuff, CJ was lively all day and unlucky not to get a reward for it, it goes without saying Dougall did his job, Gabriel is just a quality player but for me, the player of the match was Dan Ballard. Harrogate (or Harrigate as Brett would have it) had monsters up front, but Ballard combines the strength of an ox, the timing of a Rolex, the spacial awareness of a bat and surprisingly high class distribution. He's fucking special. One moment summed it up for me - they'd broke on the right, put in a dangerous ball. Ballard not only took a little side step as the ball was delivered, reading off the winger's foot and adjusting to meet it but leapt, flicked it completely deliberately and with perfect execution to Ward on the edge of the box to start an attack. Every defender we've had since the homecoming would have headed that 'up and away' in a general direction but he's a cut above. Imperious even. Sign him up! Lock him in a cupboard, kidnap Arteta's family and swap them for Ballard, I don't care about the morality, keep him at the club.  

In conclusion. He's a grand wizard in a team of wizards, and we're gonna win the cup! (And the league and the uefa cup the year after) 

Great second half. Life is good again. I'm going to Aldi now. 



utmp

 

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