It’s the big one. The North Yorkshire derby part II is here, as York City prepare to take on Harrogate Town in a hugely important game of football.
Apr 7th 2018, 3pm KO
With just six games remaining, it’s likely to be a compelling affair, with both sides needing a win for very different reasons.
With York not playing this week, they dropped to sixth after Stockport won their game in hand over the club and they are now just five points ahead of Blyth, who also have a game in hand over City in eighth place.
High flying Harrogate have been at war with Salford City for top spot all season. They are three points behind the Reds in second and after coming off the back of a ruthless 5-1 victory over Blyth last week, they will be hot favourites for a North Yorkshire derby scalp.
Passions will be high at Bootham Crescent after more off-field trouble saw the club’s hugely popular Supporters Liaison Officer Phil Howden leave this week, and protests are expected to take place before the match.
Simon Heslop is expected to go straight into the starting line up on Saturday, as he returns from a two-game suspension. Alex Pattison is also likely to play a part despite picking up a knock in last week’s 1-1 draw with Chorley.
However, City will still be without strikers Alex Kempster and Louis Almond, as their injuries are not healing as fast as first hoped and top scorer Jon Parkin is still out with his knee problem.
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York City preview
Ready for battle
York City manager Martin Gray is expecting Saturday’s derby to be somewhat of a scrap.
Gray is well aware of Harrogate’s attacking prowess, but after seeing them lose their first match in 11 to Spennymoor Town recently, the manager is also confident City can exploit Town’s weaknesses.
The City boss is expecting Harrogate to be equally as ready for York, after Town manager Simon Weaver attended City’s last match against Chorley and has therefore warned his players to treat Saturday’s visitors with the upmost respect.
A mixture of off-field tensions and on-field ambitions will be the fuel for City fans to create a really hostile reception for the first ever competitive meeting at Bootham Crescent between the two sides.
Gray thinks the crowd will be a crucial factor in dictating the course of the game. He said:
It’s a derby game, a battle, a scrap and we’ve got to make sure we have the right mentality for that.
We have to respect Harrogate, they’ve been in the top 3 all season and Simon Weaver has done a great job there.
We’ve done a lot of work on them as they have on us, so we know their strengths and weaknesses, as they know ours, but in the end it’s about who turns up and performs the best on the day.
It’s all about the crowd this weekend. Harrogate will be well supported, but people turn up from all over the place to see us and we’ve got to make sure we send them home with three points.
Smith’s big chance
With City’s best three attackers out of action at a crucial point of the season, Martin Gray has been forced to call upon reinforcements in recent weeks.
Replacement strikers Raul Correia and James Gray fired blanks against Chorley last week, and many fans were calling for the name of Connor Smith to be introduced to the field. Those prayers were answered in the best possible way.
After just 12 minutes of his introduction, the super sub got City back on level terms with his first goal of the season, to save City from what would have been a catastrophic defeat for their playoff hopes.
The dynamic midfielder has performed well when called upon on many occasion this season, but has still only mustered two starts under Martin Gray. Which invites the question: why isn’t he involved more?
Manager Martin Gray has previously labelled the 21-year-old ‘not blessed with the best of footballing abilities’, and yet he is used in a variety of attacking positions when called upon.
Smith added a creative edge to City’s attack last week, and you would like to think that his pace and energy would be a big part of Gray’s plans for the Harrogate game, given injuries elsewhere.
Harrogate Town preview
Stadium: CNG Stadium (Wetherby Road)
Capacity: 2,800 (500 seated)
Colours: Yellow and Black stripes
Manager: Simon Weaver
League Position: 2nd
Top Scorer: Joe Leesley (14)
Harrogate Town are currently experiencing some of the best times in their history – at the peak of what many call ‘the Weaver era’.
Chairman Irving Weaver and his first team manager son Simon have taken the club on a journey that saw them achieve full time status at the beginning of this season, and now they are a stone’s throw away from the highest level they’ve ever played at.
After a successful recruitment drive last summer, Weaver formed a team whose relentless attacking style of play has seen them score incredible 90 goals (the most in the league).
That, along with the league’s third best defensive record, define why Harrogate have been sitting pretty in the top two all season.
Town have only lost two games on their 3G home surface this season, leading many to believe that they have had an unfair advantage over the rest of the division.
However, Town manager Weaver is not worried about the choppy conditions that Town could face on the Bootham Crescent pitch that has seen a lot of rain over the last few weeks.
Speaking to BBC Radio York, Weaver assured that his team won’t change their style of play to deal with potentially bad playing conditions, but he is expecting a big challenge ahead.
It’s going to be a big challenge for us. We’re going to Bootham Crescent knowing it will be a big occasion with a big crowd, and everyone likes to play there because of that.
A lot of credit has to go to Martin Gray, because he has stiffened it up and they’ve been on a good run meaning they’re now embedded in the playoffs. He’s brought in some good players to add to the already experienced core that they had.
We’ve got to make sure that we’re really focused, do our jobs off the ball and hopefully counter attack with pace. They’ll be no excuses in terms of our style of play on Saturday as both teams should have a decent pitch to play on and we will have a full strength team.
We’ll be prepared, organised and ready to give 100% commitment.
Man to watch: Jake Wright
Young forward Jake Wright signed a permanent deal from Sheffield United at Harrogate in March, after his original deal at the beginning of the season was cut short due to an injury.
The 21-year-old has been instrumental alongside Dominic Knowles and Joe Leesley in a devastating front three that helped town score five against Blyth on Monday.
Wright scored two of those goals in a man-of-the-match display, and the number 9 will be full of confidence ahead of the trip to Bootham Crescent
The Manchester-born frontman had previously enjoyed a spell in The National League with York City last season, scoring one goal in six appearances.
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Last time out: York were outclassed in a 2-0 derby day defeat to Harrogate at a sold-out CNG stadium back in September.
A first half penalty from Joe Leesley and a deflected Liam Agnew strike in the second half was enough to give Town the win in first recorded competitive meeting ever between the North Yorkshire Neighbours.
Five of Harrogate’s seven away defeats have been away from home, but they have only failed to score once away from home all season (0-0 away at third placed Brackley).
York are still yet to lose a home game in 2018 and have scored in each of their last 15 home matches.
Saturday’s game is built up to be quite a goal fest. York have only managed to keep five clean sheets at home this season, which is the same amount that Harrogate have managed keep away from home.
The first goal could be very important in Saturday’s game, as Both teams have only lost once from a leading positions all season.