Harrogate v FC Halifax Town: Opposition focus

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FC Halifax Town have been warned to keep a close eye on winger Joe Leesley when they travel to Harrogate Town on Boxing Day.

According to Rhys Howell, who covers the club for the Harrogate Advertiser, Leesley has the ability to hurt The Shaymen if he is not closed down properly.

“It’s tough to pick just one dangerman out, but if Halifax fail to shut down Joe Leesley, then the quality of his delivery from the left flank will likely hurt them,” said Howell.

“He has already provided 16 assists in just 23 starts this term.”

Howell says Harrogate are probably overachieving this season, as they sit fourth in the National League, with 46 points from 25 games.

“I don’t think anyone knew what to expect of Town from their first ever season at this level, but I doubt many expected them to be mounting a genuine challenge for promotion.”

Results have been mixed for Harrogate in recent weeks, having won three and lost three of their last six National League fixtures with each victory followed up by a defeat.

“That said, they’ve actually been playing pretty well and of those recent losses, a midweek reverse at Solihull Moors is the only time Simon Weaver’s team haven’t performed,” says Howell. “They certainly deserved at least a point at Salford City and Eastleigh.”

An 11-match unbeaten run at the start of the season saw them top the table for a couple of weeks and they’ve remained within touching distance of the summit ever since.

“They’re undoubtedly a very good footballing side,” says Howell, “however I believe that some of that early success can be put down to established fifth tier teams not showing them enough respect and expecting them to roll over.

“Having lost just one of their opening 12, four defeats have followed in the subsequent 13 league fixtures as opponents have realised that they are no soft touch and started to take them seriously.

“With 50 goals to their name already, they are currently the division’s highest scorers.”

Harrogate were beaten 2-1 at Eastleigh last time out despite taking a second-minute lead, though Howell says that boss Simon Weaver felt his side played well enough to warrant at least a draw.

“As mentioned previously, recent league form has been somewhat mixed, however Town are unbeaten at home in eight matches in all competitions, winning four out of their last five at the CNG Stadium.

“Town are very comfortable in possession and like to keep the ball on the deck and shift it quickly across the pitch. The 3G surface at Wetherby Road helps certainly aids that style of play.

“They usually operate at pretty high tempo and the intensity of their play and high fitness levels have carried them to a number of positive results already in 2018/19.

“They’re not afraid to go direct when they need to, however, and carry a big threat at set-pieces.”

Winger Jordan Thewlis is out injured, but Harrogate should be at near enough full-strength for the visit of Halifax.

“It’s been an old fashioned 4-4-2 pretty much all season,” says Howell, “however in Saturday’s game at Eastleigh, Weaver added an extra man in the centre of the park and played more of a 4-5-1, but with the wide players pushing forwards to create an attacking three when in possession.

“He was satisfied with the way his team performed, if not the result, so it’s possible he may stick with that system for the Boxing Day game, though with it being at home, I expect him to revert back to the tried and tested.”