Simon Weaver and Harrogate Town in no mood to slow down yet
Less than 12 months later, Simon Weaver’s team defied expectation by finishing their debut National League campaign in sixth position, qualifying for the play-offs in the process.
Their upward trajectory continued into 2019-20, where for the third consecutive year they went on to record their highest-ever league finish.
Ending the season as runners-up to Barrow paved the way for a maiden trip to Wembley and a glorious triumph over Notts County in a match dubbed the biggest of their 106-year existence. That play-off final victory earned them Football League (EFL) status – yet another historic first.
On Saturday, more history was made as Town competed in the League Cup for the first time, beating Tranmere Rovers on penalties in what was their first-ever match as an EFL club.
And the firsts just keep on coming. A trip to Grimsby Town tonight sees them make their EFL Trophy debut, with an even bigger occasion to follow at the weekend as Weaver and his men make their League Two bow away at Southend United.
Logic dictates that the Wetherby Road outfit cannot continue to progress at such a rate and they will plateau at some point – but don’t bet on that happening sooner rather than later.
Dark horses they may be, but Harrogate are riding the crest of a wave at the moment.
There is a genuine feel-good factor around the Envirovent Stadium. They have developed a winning mentality and the confidence and belief within the playing group is near-enough tangible.
There’s a fearlessness about their play, which is based around slick, high-tempo passing when in possession of the football and intensity, pressing and work-rate without it. Over the last 12 months they’ve learned how to grind out results, how to win games without being at their best – two major hallmarks of a ‘good’ team.
Gone are the days when Weaver’s men had to out-football the opposition to overcome them. There is much more to them than that now. This is a side who find a way to get the job done.
Take Saturday’s success against Tranmere Rovers.
Admittedly, Town needed a penalty shoot-out to see off their hosts – a League One club last term – but they did more than enough during a 90 minutes where they played the better football and created the clearer chances to have won the game in normal time.
In addition, they showed plenty of character to recover from falling behind against the run of play, then dug deep to survive a couple of hairy moments during the shoot-out before eventually holding their nerve when it mattered to set up a mouthwatering second-round showdown with Premier League West Brom.
The feeling I’ve had for the last few weeks that Town could go on and push for the play-offs this term was only compounded by what I saw at Prenton Park at the weekend.
Harrogate will surprise plenty of their League Two rivals over the next eight months. They’ve got momentum, belief, they are as fit a team as you’ll find and boast genuine quality across the park.
The one real concern is how they will cope if they lose a couple of key men to injury or suspension at the same time.
Weaver’s squad is not the biggest and the new signings he has made so far this summer look like players who have been brought in to add depth to the group rather than upgrades on Weaver’s first-choices in their respective positions.
That issue aside, the picture looks pretty rosy at present, so, what price a place in League One for 2021-22? They couldn’t, could they?
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