Payne’s Player Ratings Harrogate Town

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

The final away day of the season saw The Dons visit mid-table Harrogate. Mike Williamson’s men had already secured their play-off place but still required more points on the board to confirm their spot in fourth place. An experimental side took to the field and a hectic game followed. Both sides threw away leads but it was Dons that came out on top in the end, winning 3-5. Here’s how I rated the players after the victory at The EnviroVent Stadium:

Formation: 5-4-1/5-2-2-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)

GK – Michael Kelly – 7.5: Despite conceding three, Kelly had a really good game. He made a number of big saves across the 90 minutes but what stood out most was his distribution. Kelly’s throw forwards to Alex Gilbey started the counter-attack for The Dons’ second goal. The keeper showcased his vision again with his over the top ball for Stephen Wearne, directly assisting Dons’ third goal of the game. There was little Kelly could’ve done to prevent the first and third goals. The second goal was a free-kick from range and though Kelly did manage to get a hand to George Thomson’s shot, it wasn’t enough to prevent the goal, making it 2-2 after 45+2 mins. Perhaps he could’ve done more to prevent it given the distance the shot was taken from but at the same time it was a wonderfully struck free-kick.

RWB – Cameron Norman – 8 (TOP DON): Norman looked particularly sharp in this fixture and his game-long duel with Abraham Odoh was an intriguing watch. The wingback looked to get forward at every opportunity, though at times he did make the wrong decision on the ball, playing the safe option when there was a good chance to attack. With this being said, it was Norman’s low ball into the box that led to Max Dean scoring The Dons’ second goal of the game. Although Norman’s cross found a Harrogate player, he had played it towards the six yard box with the opposition defender facing his own keeper, a difficult position to defend from. When the Harrogate defender failed to clear his lines properly, it allowed Dean to swoop in and supply the finish. Norman was evidently feeling confident given the way he was moving the ball about, even beating his man with a lovely turn in the box as Dons looked to extend their lead.

RCB – Jack Tucker – 5: Consistently inconsistent. Tucker had some bright moments, particularly when defending on a one-on-one basis. In possession he shielded the ball well but sometimes opened himself up to challenges with poor touches. The Englishman did give the ball away a few times though he usually did enough to prevent Harrogate from creating a major chance from his mistakes. However, when Harrogate attacked with speed and intent, Tucker was one of a few players that was regularly far too slow closing the man down. He seemed to have a habit of trying to block the shot without being close to the man on the ball, something he did for one of Harrogate’s efforts that hit the post. Tucker made the same mistake for the opposition’s first goal, though admittedly he was in an awkward position with the initial shot bouncing off the post and straight to the Abraham Odoh who had plenty of space just inside the box.

CB – Warren O’Hora – 6.5: Easily the most solid of the centre-back trio though even he was caught ball-watching a couple of times, most notably for the first goal where he was too slow closing down Matty Daly as he went to shoot. The Harrogate man’s shot hit the post but the rebound landed perfectly for Abraham Odoh who swiftly found the back of the net. O’Hora looked comfortable on the ball and helped Dons dominate possession. He did well in his aerial battles and put in a few challenges, most notably winning the ball back in the build-up for The Dons’ first goal. O’Hora was taken off after just 59 minutes for Dan Kemp. MJ Williams moved into the middle centre-back slot to accommodate this change whilst Stephen Wearne dropped into the holding midfield duo.

LCB – Dean Lewington (C) – 5.5: Comfortable on the ball and he could often be seen venturing into the opposition half to further advance the attacks. Lewington was part of the passing move that led to The Dons’ first goal. However, his defensive work was questionable at times. Lewington was notably slow tracking down the man on the ball whenever Harrogate had possession on the edge of the box and Dons conceded too many chances this way. The skipper was the one to give away a cheap free-kick for Harrogate’s second goal and he did lose track of his man for one of their major chances in the second half. With this being said it was due to Lewington trying to play an offside trap but he was let down by the linesman who was a few yards behind play. Fortunately, Harrogate failed to hit the target with their resulting shot. Lewington did manage to pick up an assist following a corner routine, flicking the ball through for Ellis Harrison who went on to score the final goal of the game.

LWB – Kyran Lofthouse – 4.5: It may well have been due to playing on the opposite side, but Lofthouse struggled to get into the game. He regularly gave the ball away cheaply and was slow tracking back. The wingback couldn’t even get the basics right at times, making it easy for Harrogate to defend against him. Lofthouse did try to run at his man a few times, though it was blatantly obvious that he wanted the ball on his favoured right foot. He did have a couple of brighter moments towards the end of the game but he’s certainly not a natural player on the left side of the pitch.

CM – MJ Williams – 7: Probably his best game for a while. Williams played the holding midfield role well, picking up plenty of loose balls all over the pitch. His physical presence caused Harrogate some trouble in the midfield third but he was good enough on the ball to maintain the patient possession play. He wasn’t as incisive with his passing as Jack Payne or Lewis Bate would be, but he kept things ticking along nicely. Williams slotted into the middle of defence once O’Hora came off and continued in a similar fashion. He kept the move alive in the build-up to The Dons’ fifth goal, winning his aerial challenge after the initial corner was cleared in his direction.

CM – Ethan Robson – 5: Solid in the attacking half but a liability in the defensive half. Robson created the first Dons chance of the game, turning over possession in the attacking third before laying the ball off to Alex Gilbey. The holding midfielder also played a part in the build-up to Dons’ first goal. He was heavily at fault for Harrogate’s first goal, giving the ball away in his own half after taking too many touches. It was a shame because he had just made a decent interception but he got caught far too easily and Harrogate went on to open the scoring, making it 1-0 after 33 minutes. Robson was mostly to blame for Harrogate’s third goal as well, totally failing to track George Thomson as he ran into the box, with The Dons midfielder only realising his mistake just before the cross was played in. This left Thomson with a close range finish, making it 3-2 after 50 minutes. Robson neglected his tracking back duties far too often over the course of the game. As the holding midfielder, it is his job to cover the wingback position when there’s a fast turnover of possession but he very rarely did. This enabled Harrogate to attack down the left with very little resistance and this was the root cause of a lot of their shots on goal, including a couple of the shots that hit the woodwork.

RAM – Emre Tezgel – 7.5: Tezgel started the game brightly, though no goals were scored in the opening exchanges. He faded in and out of play at times but crucially popped up with a goal and an assist. His assist came after Alex Gilbey played the ball to him in the box. With his first touch, Tezgel played the ball back into the path of Gilbey who went for goal from the edge of the box. In the second half Tezgel helped to seal the win, receiving the ball in the box from Dan Kemp, before cutting inside his man and firing past the keeper to make it 3-4 after 80 minutes. He did also miss a few chances, including one where he got the ball stuck between his feet as he went to shoot. With this being said, his confidence never dropped and he pressed well. The only major criticism was giving the ball away cheaply in his own half with a bad touch from a throw-in. Harrogate went on to score their third goal of the game from this sequence.

LAM – Alex Gilbey – 7.5: Gilbey was the driving force of the first half. He always seemed the most likely to score for Dons with his constant forwards runs and good attacking positions. However, it took a while for Dons to start creating clear cut chances, with a lot of possession play but very little purpose. This changed after conceding the opener and it wasn’t long before Gilbey found the reply. He received the ball on the left from Robson before finding Tezgel in the box. Gilbey carried on his run and Tezgel set him up nicely, allowing Gilbey to find the bottom corner with his first time strike from the middle of the box. This made it 1-1 after 40 minutes. Gilbey was withdrawn at half-time, with Mike Williamson looking to protect his key players. Stephen Wearne came on to replace him.

ST – Max Dean – 7: For most of the half Dean struggled for service, though he pressed hard and got into the right positions. He did have a shot on goal from a relatively tight angle but it was a tame effort that was saved comfortably by James Belshaw. Dean’s goal was a proper poacher’s finish. He made the run as Norman played the ball in and was quick to react when the defender failed to clear his lines. Dean reacted fastest to the ball’s change in direction and was able to roll the ball past the keeper, making it 1-2 after 43 minutes. Like Gilbey, Dean was taken off at half-time in the hopes of protecting the young striker ahead of the play-off fixtures. Ellis Harrison took to the field in his place.

SUB (LAM/CM) – Stephen Wearne – 7: Wearne made his mark on the game just a few minutes after coming on. He ran through on goal from Kelly’s ball forward and was left in the strangest one-on-one scenario. The entire Harogate defence stopped tracking back and James Belshaw seemingly refused to close him down so Wearne took plenty of time before eventually finding the bottom corner from close range. This made it 3-3 after 52 minutes. After O’Hora came off, Wearne slotted into the holding midfield role and did a reasonable job, throwing his body about and playing the ball around nicely.

SUB (ST) – Ellis Harrison – 6.5: Harrison had a relatively quiet game, struggling to win his aerial duels whilst being constantly man-handled by the Harrogate defenders. Whenever he did get into a bit of space he looked decent on the ball and he did eventually get his chance when Lewington flicked a ball through to him. Harrison went for goal straight away and despite the shot being quite central, James Belshaw failed to get a touch to it. This made it 3-5 after 83 minutes.

SUB (RAM) – Dan Kemp – 6.5: Looked very lively but was perhaps trying to do too much on the ball at times. Kemp’s best moment came when he dispossessed a Harrogate defender in the final third before feeding the ball in to Tezgel who swiftly went on to score. It just goes to show that if he simplifies what he’s doing, Kemp can be very effective going forward.

TEAM PERFORMANCE – 6.5: This was a very unusual game. For thirty minutes Dons seemed to have more control, but Harrogate were having the better chances. When they eventually did score, Dons came alive and responded. The same thing happened again in the second half and Dons eventually came out on top. However, Harrogate hit the woodwork four times and Michael Kelly was forced into a lot of saves. It ended up being a game of two teams that just couldn’t defend. Taking Lewis Bate, Jack Payne and Daniel Harvie definitely weakened the defensive dynamic, as there wasn’t enough closing down and nowhere near enough cover for the wingbacks. The whole reason the wingbacks are allowed to play so high up the pitch in possession is because the holding midfielders are supposed to step in and cover them when Dons lose the ball. This was a transition that was lost in translation in this game and would explain why Harrogate were creating so many chances.

The other disappointing thing was The Dons’ reluctance to play on the counter-attack in the first half. There was a lot of slow methodical play in the opening exchanges but whenever Harrogate looked vulnerable at the back, Dons would turn around and play the ball backwards again. This mentality only changed after going behind. Both Dons’ first half goals came from counter-attacks having spent most of the half avoiding attacking quickly. It was also the only two times in the half where a low ball got played into the box and on both occasions it led to a goal. Sometimes it’s just a case of asking the right questions of the opposition’s defence as there were plenty of opportunities to test them and they clearly weren’t up to the challenge.

The Dons continued to ride their luck in the second half and had Mike Williamson been desperate for a result here, there likely would’ve been a couple more substitutions to sort out the defensive mess. It’s evident that the priority is resting the key players with three usual starters on the bench and a further three coming off relatively early in the game. From a squad preservation point of view it makes sense, but it does make it harder to build up momentum going into the play-offs. There’s a reasonable chance that The Dons could be facing Doncaster, who are on a run of nine wins in a row. If they come up against a side that’s scraped past Harrogate and then rotated heavily again on the final day of the season then there’s a real risk of the team collapsing in the opening away leg of the play-offs. Dons have been inconsistent away so regardless of who the opponent is, some momentum would be useful in hopefully inspiring a positive performance and ultimately, a result.

If you’ve read this far then thank you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game in the comments below and I hope you enjoyed the read!

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