ON PAPER, it may appear that Harrogate Town have all the pressure squarely on their shoulders ahead of today’s home derby with Guiseley (3pm) – but Mark Bower takes the opposite view.
In terms of living up to their pre-season billing so far in 2014-15, Harrogate have palpably failed to walk the walk despite a lavish recruitment programme which led many to tip them to be firmly in the promotion picture, while Guiseley in contrast look the real deal.
A microcosm of that can be seen in the pair’s recent form, with Simon Weaver’s Town positioned in a modest 14th place in Vanarama North with no wins or goals in their last three matches in all competitions, which have all ended in defeat.
In contrast the third-placed Lions have lost just twice in their last 15 league matches, on both occasions to leaders Barrow, while holding the Indian sign over Town, having done the league double over them in the past three seasons.
A hat-trick of penalties from Gavin Rothery saw Guiseley prevail 3-2 in a cracker at the CNG Stadium last Boxing Day, but despite all the cards seeming to be stacked in their favour, Bower says that with that comes pressure.
He said: “With the money they spent, the bookies quite rightly put Harrogate and Barrow as comfortably the two favourites to be competing for the title this year.
“It has not quite worked out for Harrogate, but as we saw last year, it can take you a little time to get going and anything is still possible in the second half of the season. I am sure they will be still be looking upwards rather than down.
“The game is a strange one for us in that we are probably going to the side with one of the biggest budgets in the league away from home, but probably the pressure is on us as not as much is expected of them.
“With the run we are on, having won six of our last seven league games, people are probably expecting us to go there and just turn up and win.
“But knowing some of their players well, I am sure it won’t be too long before they click into gear and put a run together, but hopefully not against us.
One player in Town ranks who needs no introduction to Guiseley fans is James Walshaw, someone Bower is wary of.
He added: “We will have to deal with James’ strengths and cut out the supply into him as he’s as good a finisher as there is in this league. You give him chances, he generally puts them away.
“But they have (other) good players. We know Rhys Meynell well and him and James will be keen to get one up against us.
Relishing the derby stakes, he added: “We have had a good record against them over the past few seasons. The game at Christmas last season was a close affair and a good game to watch and we are looking forward to this one again with a good crowd with two good sides expected to be up there at the start of the season and good players.
“A couple of their players have history with Guiseley, so all the ingredients are there for a good game.”
Loan player Shane Killock won’t feature today, while Adam Boyes plays the last game before starting a three-match ban.
Bower added: “We are not looking too bad at the minute, but can’t really take a few more injuries than what we have got.”
Elsewhere, struggling Bradford Park Avenue head across the Pennines to face fifth-placed Chorley tonight.
In the Conference, FC Halifax visit Gateshead.
PAUL MARSHALL has challenged his Tadcaster Albion side to keep running with the baton after the departure of marquee recruit Jonathan Greening.
The ex-Manchester United, Middlesbrough and West Brom player has taken up a post on the academy staff at former club York City, and while Tadcaster will retain his registration, it is unlikely he will be featuring much more.
Greening and younger brother Josh have both played an instrumental part in Tadcaster’s scintillating first half of the season which has seen them set a scorching pace at the top of the NCEL Premier Division.
But regardless of Greening’s exit, Marshall believes the Brewers are more than capable of finishing off the job.
Taddy boss Marshall, whose side visit Bridlington tomorrow, said: “It is good for him and a shame for us, but it is one of those things.
“He has been great while he has been at the club and everyone has appreciated his help in getting us to the top of the league.
“Jonny has improved the team, gates and profile of the club; now it is up to us to keep it all going.
“We have done really well this season and now have a big four months ahead of us in the New Year, with us being in three cup competitions as well as the league.
“It will be a massive four months and it is probably the best I have ever done as a manager to get this far in several cup competitions by Christmas, while us being top of the league as well. It is there for us.”
Admitting bringing in additional recruits is an option, he added: “We might look at bringing a couple more in. We have bought big Danny Gray back and he has bolstered the squad. He is a big fans favourite at Taddy and it is nice to get him back on the field and he will help as much as he can.”
Elsewhere, games tomorrow see Garforth visit Worksop and Glasshoughton welcome Barton Town.
Nostell entertain Handsworth Parramore and Liversedge head to Albion Sports.
In the first division tomorrow, Yorkshire Amateur welcome Grimsby Borough, while Selby host Lincoln Moorlands.
Knaresborough visit Worsbrough Bridge and Pontefract Colls call in at Hall Road Rangers. AFC Emley head to Louth.
Eccleshill entertain Rossington and Hemsworth head to Hallam.
IN terms of duration of days, Ossett Town are on their longest unbeaten run of the season so far, although not for the reasons that John Reed would prefer.
Without a game since November 29, Town emerge from their early winter hibernation with an Evo-Stik First Division North Christmas cracker at home to derby rivals Ossett Albion at Ingfield today (3pm) – with his side likely to be much changed from that which took the field at Brighouse Town 28 days ago.
Five players have arrived since, including somewhat intriguingly, ex-Albion player Darol Lucas, likely to be handed a baptism of fire against his former club today.
Reed is hoping the new recruits can prove a catalyst and spark the campaign into life for Town, one place below Albion in 19th, but with games in hand.
Reed said: “We’ve not been beaten for three weeks and this is the best unbeaten run we’ve had!
“But seriously, we are looking forward to this game, having not played for three weeks, while Eric Gilchrist, their assistant manager, is a very big friend of mine, but we will both be wanting to win the game badly.
“We have four players suspended, which doesn’t help, but obviously me and my new assistant Dave Merris have been active and brought four new players in and are really looking forward to the game.
“Hopefully, the people of Ossett will come out. I went to watch Albion versus Spennymoor last week and was very impressed by them. They are a better side than a lot of teams we have played this year and it is mystifying they are where they are.
“I can’t believe we have got our new right-back Darol Lucas from Albion, he looks an absolute gem, while Michael Brewster, who we have signed from FC United, looks a really exciting player.
“We have also brought in Vill Powell, who is a very experienced striker and can play a big part with the amount of games we have got.”
On the derby stakes this afternoon, he added: “I am sure Eric and (manager) Richard (Tracey) will be thinking it is a great chance for them to get three points and we think the exact same.
“But I have been involved in the game for 37 years and done masses of derbies and in truth, it all about on the day.”
Elsewhere, Farsley visit Brighouse and Harrogate Railway welcome Spennymoor. Scarborough visit Darlington 1883 and in the Premier, Frickley host Whitby.
Goole head to Brigg in the First Division South.