Stockport County v Harrogate Town: Why being in the comfort is working for Simon Weaver's Sulphurites

Stockport County v Harrogate TownSimon Weaver is talking about his Harrgoate Town players when he speaks of "freedom in the mind" but it could apply just as easily to him.

The Sulphurites are building carefully and sensibly to a clear plan. You can see it at Wetherby Road, where a new away stand was recently erected, and in the League Two table.

There will be bumps – it would be a pleasant surprise if their four-match unbeaten run survived Saturday’s trip to leaders Stockport County – but they will be dealt with calmly and maturely.

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Of the division’s three Yorkshire clubs, Bradford City and Doncaster Rovers were expecting to fight for promotion but the Bantams, after yet another managerial change, and Rovers, following a complete summer overhaul, are in the bottom seven. Harrogate are eighth, a point off the play-offs. They should not be.

The Sulphurites are 89th in this season's average attendance table (2,632), itself an improvement on last term's 92nd, and that is reflected in resources a million miles from seventh-placed Notts County, free-spending Stockport and others.

Expectations at Bradford, Doncaster and many others can bring on panic attacks, but Weaver is by more than five years English league football's longest-serving manager.

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Winning just two of their first 11 home league games (there was an 8-0 League Cup hammering by Blackburn Rovers which Bloxham scored in too), was dealt with calmly.

CLEAR IDEAS: Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver.CLEAR IDEAS: Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver.
CLEAR IDEAS: Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver.

"We had a hard run of games where any kind of rawness seemed to get punished," reflects Weaver, made player-manager of the then-Conference North club in May 2009.

"In a lot of those games we put up a fight, which seems to buy a bit of time with supporters. Plus it wasn't one-dimensional football. I like to think they could see a method.

"I honestly think we have got a clear identity and football's not always straight-forward, especially when confidence isn't sky high.

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"There were some draws that could have been wins and defeats that could have been draws so you say, 'Okay, that's par for the course when not all 11 players or even the majority are feeling really happy within themselves.' We just tried to generate a bit of belief, start with the spirit and build on the gameplan.

ADDITION: Harrogate Town responded to the loss of Kayne Ramsay by loaning Derrick Abu from SouthamptonADDITION: Harrogate Town responded to the loss of Kayne Ramsay by loaning Derrick Abu from Southampton
ADDITION: Harrogate Town responded to the loss of Kayne Ramsay by loaning Derrick Abu from Southampton

"Bit by bit I think people have confronted their own nerves by going, 'This is the style we want to play. We've all got to be happy with the ball and preparing for the next pass, then making a late decision if that's been taken away by the opponent.’

"It's that bit of freedom in the mind that can tell you whether a team's flowing or not. You kind of lose control as a player when you get the nerves and think, ‘My next pass has to be this,’ the picture changes and you give the ball away.

"In the last few months I've seen people drop a shoulder or go back to the keeper instead of hoofing it.

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"You can't get cock-a-hoop because a couple of injuries or a little drop in confidence to a couple of players can make a big difference to clubs like ours but it's okay to celebrate the fact we're eighth."

ENTERTAINER: Harrogate Town kept hold of star performer Abraham Odoh in the transfer windowENTERTAINER: Harrogate Town kept hold of star performer Abraham Odoh in the transfer window
ENTERTAINER: Harrogate Town kept hold of star performer Abraham Odoh in the transfer window

Playing good football is an important part of it to keep gates rising.

"Unless you're on a top-six or top-seven budget it's very hard to implement a really attractive style of play and win," says Weaver.

"We're not the biggest team in the league, that's what we do give up, so we've worked really hard to be streetwise, marking tight and doing the gritty stuff a lot better this season whilst at the same time spending more time on the ball and creating better and more goals.

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"All the players seem comfortable with the system. The other night against Sutton, the biggest team in the league, our centre-backs were two lads (Toby Sims and Liam Gibson) who were playing full-back at the start of the season.

“We've been able to play out from the back more, they've been a lot more comfortable. James Belshaw's (re)joined us, he's like a modern sweeper-keeper, really, he's very comfortable in possession.

"We've scored some really good goals after some good passing sequences and it's been attractive. We're proud of that."

The rewards are coming.

"The two games where we haven't got favourable results in the last eight, we dominated largely against Tranmere (but lost 2-0) and Morecambe equalised in the last 30 seconds," argues Weaver. "In the past where we've had two or three good games then been found out.

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"We've had a prolonged good run and yet not had to tinker with the system because it's been strong enough to withstand games where it's not gone our way at times.

"The players who have come in have had enthusiasm and are comfortable in their role."

Sometimes being comfortable is bad. Not at Harrogate just now.

* Home games against Newport County and Grimsby Town have been moved to February 27 and April 9 respectively, both at 7.45pm.