The White Stuff: Learning the lessons of a tough season for Harrogate Town

NADV 1404211AM6 Harrogate Town V Barrow. Simon Weaver  Picture : Adrian Murray. (1404211AM6)
NADV 1404211AM6 Harrogate Town V Barrow. Simon Weaver Picture : Adrian Murray. (1404211AM6)

What are the main points Harrogate Town can take away from this Skrill North season, which saw them fail to nail a play-off place?

Harrogate Town’s disappointing campaign came to an end on Saturday, as their 3-1 defeat at Stockport County left them ninth in Skrill North.

Now the season has ended, the dust can start to settle and the mistakes of the last 12 months must be learned from.

Three poor runs of form ruined Town’s play-off ambitions, and culminated in the worst of the lot when they went eight games without a win in March and April.

The five straight defeats in September and October (including the FA Cup exit at Colwyn Bay), just as the three-point deduction came to light, started the topsy-turvy season before another spell around the New Year.

Many fans will deem this season a failure. And, with the season objectives set at a top five placing, it cannot be looked at in any other way.

Chairman Irving Weaver was challenged over what he would construe as failure at the supporters’ meeting in September, and without properly answering, there was a certain hint he knew Town needed to at least equal the 2012/13 sixth-placed finish.

However, the learning process for boss Simon Weaver continues. He still remains a young manager on the rise, but he has certainly had enough time to find his feet at Skrill North level. In his fifth year in charge next year, there can be no slip-up.

There’s no doubting Town have evolved in Simon and his dad Irving’s control. Stadium, pitch and community improvements all show a positive direction but the form on the field is what ultimately defines a manager.

Simon says he has found a winning way, and in six win out of seven through January and February, he had. But, many of those were ground out and scrappy, whereas the Boston United victory (where United ended with seven men) was completely unique. If Town want to be successful, they have to attack and have goalscorers across the park.

Player-wise, the manager has a decision whether to stick or twist. He can either freshen up the squad with a bundle of new recruits like last season, or maintain a continuity from the season just gone. I believe only the latter would lead to the targeted success next season.

Whether the players will buy into he same project for another year is another matter. And trying to keep hold of goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray, right-back Dwayne Samuels and midfielder Michael Woods will be difficult with the rumoured interest in them.

Anton Brown gave a hint after Bank Holiday Monday’s win at Barrow that he will be reassessing his commitment. His loss would be a major blow after he finally found the commanding presence expected of him towards the end of the season.

The crux of Simon’s summer scouting must be for a 30-goal striker to supplement Chris Hall and Ashley Worsfold, both of whom came into their own after Christmas.

With Leigh Franks, Matt Heath and captain Shane Killock, the central defence can be the meanest across the league next season. And Peter Crook has shown at Harrogate Railway he can replicate MacGillivray, should the star leave for a professional deal.

Local lads Dan Clayton, Alex Metcalfe and Adam Nowakowski have been the season’s most promising signs. While Metcalfe has been under-used, he has been integral down at Railway, and his final appearances provided a glowing résumé of his talent.

Clayton’s return surprised me. It was a strange move at the time, but the left winger has shown desire and looks fitter than ever. Nowakowski, like Brown, has grown into a dominating midfielder that will score more goals at this level.

There is plenty of talent and an upheaval is only necessary to chop the ridiculously-sized squad to a tight-knit group. Neil Aspin worked with a quality, but small group, and that’s what is needed to keep the squad motivated and together.

Quality over quantity must be the focus, because a fifth-year failing might not be so forgiving.