Mansfield Town v Harrogate Town: Intensity and squad depth at root of Harrogate’s fast start

Deeper, wiser and with more “goal power” – Simon Weaver’s Harrogate Town squad is much better now than it was 12 months ago and the results are already showing on the pitch.

Limited to four matches by a Covid-19 outbreak, the Sulphurites nevertheless travel to Mansfield Town today second in League Two, their only dropped points coming in last week’s draw at home to Exeter City.

The League’s longest-serving manager has never known anything like it, forced to make difficult decisions when he picks a team to take on the Stags for the second time this week, and carrying the sort of goal threat he was not used to even in his club’s heady rise up the pyramid.

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Weaver made seven changes for Tuesday’s Football League Trophy game but summer signing Danilo Orsi’s hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Mansfield made a very strong case not to revert to the previous XI. “The players who have been brought in have settled in really easily,” comments Weaver. “I think it’s helped that the lads are so welcoming and down to earth.

Jack Muldoon of Harrogate Town. (Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

“Now we’ve got really good choices. We were discussing this week how I’m going to have to make a couple of players really unhappy because we’ve got a good squad of 18 players and we wouldn’t really want any more.

“In the past we’ve had strong XIs, strong 12s and 13s, but now we don’t have those squad fillers, we’ve got lads there who’ve come to play 35 games a season for us. There will be awkward conversations and there’s certainly lads with credit in the bank.

“We’re not ones to chop and change but now we can genuinely go with intuition.”

For a manager who sets great store on intense football, keeping bodies fresh is enticing.

Luke Armstrong of Harrogate Town (Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

After such a good start to the season the Football League Trophy offered a chance to keep Harrogate’s positive momentum in a competition League Two clubs have a decent record of winning. A club that had not been to Wembley just over two years ago but has won twice there since will not turn its nose up at a hat-trick.

“We always try to play with an edge and if the players can see me on the side of the pitch just having a cup of coffee it looks like I don’t care and we’re never like that,” he says. “We play with an edge, an energy and a real attitude to win. We attack everything with the same attitude whether it’s our analysis of the opposition, the training or matches.

“We did that on Tuesday because it’s a path teams like Salford have gone down and ended up winning it.

“We’ve got Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle Under-21s (to play) and they’re games we’re 
really looking forward to,” he added.

Simon Weaver the head coach / manager of Harrogate Town (Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Orsi’s three goals puts him level with fellow summer signing Luke Armstrong and takes pressure off Jack Muldoon, who has top-scored in his three seasons at Wetherby Road. On Tuesday winger Jack Diamond returned for a second season-long loan from Sunderland to supply them.

“We needed more goal power and with Luke and Danilo we’ve got that,” says Weaver.

“Even in previous years we haven’t always profited as much as we should have from the chances we created. Muldoon needed that support.”

As so often in football, the more injuries a squad can sustain, the fewer it has.

“It’s nice that Rachel (Davis) the physio is watching training instead of treating players,” says Weaver, who expects to pick from a full squad. “No one wants to open the door to being left out.

“Everybody’s even more excited this season because the crowds have returned and so far the performances have shown a bit more knowledge of the level. We’re thrilled to play in front of crowds and even though there were only 825 in midweek, the crowd really responded.

“Training is more intense because the quality is there. We’re expecting a much-changed Mansfield side and a very competitive one because (Stags manager) Nigel Clough was certainly like that on Tuesday night!”