Harrogate Town’s players showed on Monday night they can compete with higher-level players on a one-off basis. Now manager Simon Weaver wants to see them doing it more consistently.
Stunning goals from Brandon Haunstrup and Ronan Curtis were the difference as Portsmouth came from behind to knock Harrogate out of the FA Cup with a 2-1 win.
But having missed out in last season’s Conference play-off quarter-finals, the Sulphurites’s aim is to reach the Football League for the first time, and Weaver viewed the game in that context.
“The confidence they’ve gained should count for a lot because they’ve played against players with Championship pedigree,” commented Weaver.
“I thought they were nailed on for looking like League One players so there’s no reason why they can’t drag us over the line.
“Portsmouth have a very competitive League One budget and the majority of our players who started on Monday came from Conference North but they’ve stepped up and nailed that level.
“Why can’t so many of our players think they can do it, and they can do it here? We’ve got to demand that from them because we know they can reach higher levels.
“Our lads have got to aspire to that and they’re all the right age.”
The average age of Monday’s starting XI was 25.
Portsmouth were also frustrated in last season’s play-offs, denied at the semi-final stage of the League One competition and won the EFL Trophy, the knockout competition for third and fourth-tier clubs which also features top Under-21 sides.
Harrogate troubled them in the air, with Mark Beck heading an early goal and winning numerous flick-ons. But there was more to their game than just that, with their pace down the wings a real feature of the first half and captain Josh Falkingham a creative influence throughout.
The challenge now is maintaining those standards for the more mundane and arguably more important task at Bromley in Saturday’s league game.
Coming into the Cup tie, Harrogate lost for the first time after an 11-game run which saw Weaver named Conference manager of the month.
“A big difference between the levels is consistency and that’s the challenge for our lads, to get geared in and focused on the next job in had, which is Bromley,” he warned. “If we show the consistency of attitude and organisation we showed on Monday with no shortage of ability, we should do well in the league.
“I know it’s a bit of a cheesy cliché to say focus on the league but we have to focus on being better and striving for more because Monday showed what a good team we are.
“We had seven wins, three draws and a defeat leading up to this and the lads have grown and grown in stature so there should be no regrets. On Saturday we have to get right on it against a good Bromley team with powerful players.
“I’ve learnt that my players can step up but now it’s not a one-off game. We’ve been consistent in 11 out of the last 12 games so that gives me great belief that we can go again and keep getting better.
“People have to make better decisions and quicker decisions the higher up we go and we did that. Some players were really relishing that against Portsmouth.
“Now it’s about going again and demanding it from each other in training.”