Competing with a striker he used to watch from the Premier League terraces is “surreal” for Harrogate Town’s Mark Beck, but it is a challenge he has risen to.
Even before Jon Stead’s suspension, Beck was in pole position to lead the line against Portsmouth as FA Cup first-round weekend comes to its conclusion in North Yorkshire tonight.
If signing former Huddersfield Town, Sheffield United and Bradford City forward Stead was a show of strength by Harrogate, keeping him out has highlighted Beck’s progress.
The 25-year-old Sunderland fan must have wondered if the arrival of Stead, who had 18 months on Wearside when Beck was at school, would lead to a bit-part role.
But Beck has made 17 starts to Stead’s three.
“It was surreal because he’s played at the highest level and for the club I’ve supported since I was born,” admits Beck. “He’s scored goals in the Premier League. You can’t really rest on your laurels in this team because there are good players who can step in.”
Assistant manager Paul Thirlwell, another former Sunderland player, has been impressed at Beck’s response.
“He had been in and out of the team but now he’s a shoo-in,” says Thirlwell. “He’s 6ft 5in and he’s a lot better on the ground than people give him credit for.”
So, despite as many red cards as goals (two), has Stead. “His experience has been invaluable,” says Thirlwell.
“He hasn’t been too despondent when Mark Beck and Jack Muldoon have been in really good form.
“He got sent off at Torquay after he came on and scored twice. I think by everyone’s admission now that was a mistake.
“He was starting to make an impact but a week ago he got sent off again (versus Barnet).”
The FA Cup is Stead’s specialism. He scored in Bradford’s 2015 wins over Chelsea and Sunderland, and has 11 goals in 33 competition appearances.
“I can definitely pick up a few things from his game,” says Beck. “It will be nice to have his knowledge even though he won’t be out there with us on the pitch.”