In Tranmere Rovers’ final game of a frustrating 2023, Nigel Adkins’ side travel to Harrogate Town on Friday night looking to add on to Boxing Day’s 5-1 away victory at Salford City.
The win at the Peninsula Stadium was Tranmere’s first win, on the road, since February.
It was a dominant performance from start to finish as striker Harvey Saunders, who has struggled this season, opened the scoring in the 12th minute before four different goalscorers netted the others.
Friday’s game may be winger Robbie Apter’s final outing in a Whites shirt, the 20-year-old has captured the love and affection of all supporters with his dazzling performances and manager Adkins has admitted to doing his utmost to try to keep him at the club.
Harrogate Town are unbeaten in their last four league games, after narrowly beating Accrington Stanley on Boxing Day and will thus put up a good test.
Ahead of the game, I spoke to Sulphurites season ticket holder Neil Hirst.
Hi Neil, when did you start supporting Harrogate Town? What was your first experience of the club like?
My first game at Harrogate was in February 2017 against Worcester City in the National League North. I went with a mate from university who was club secretary at Worcester at the time. As my son was born in Harrogate and getting heavy into football, I started taking him as it was accessible from home and, unlike Liverpool, you could buy tickets with ease. The standard was clearly lower but being so close to the pitch, it made for a great experience and the hunger and desire of the players (and the crowd) made me keep on coming back for more.
You’re a Liverpool fan but a season ticket holder at Harrogate, do you like the difference down in the lower leagues?
I’ve been lucky enough to see Liverpool in lots of games and even in a Champions League Final (we lost!) but getting tickets was becoming harder and harder. Of course, there’s lots of wonderful fans at Anfield but one look at the TV shows there are plenty of spectators who appear to be there for the prestige as opposed to the love of the game. Lower league fans are definitely there for love the game and for a club the size of Harrogate, the ambition is usually nothing more lofty than to not get relegated. I think it also feels more intimate down in the lower leagues and you find you know more of the ground staff and the players are infinitely more accessible and happy to get a snap with the kids.
The Sulphurites play their home games at the Envirovent Stadium. Would you mind giving us your thoughts on the ground and telling us where away fans should head to?
You’ll find the Envirovent Stadium on Wetherby Road, next door to Harrogate Hospital. There’s two main entrances to the ground, one for home and one for away and they’re both on Wetherby Road. Away fans are now housed in two stands – one on Wetherby Road itself and depending on how many you bring, another stand next door to it which goes from the corner flag to the goal. This new stand has only recently been opened so can’t tell you too much about the away section. Around the ground itself, there’s not too much other than a hospital and housing. There are plenty of pubs in Harrogate centre but I’d say the nearest to the ground is probably The Woodlands Hotel. I’ve seen plenty of away fans there – never seen any bother at all.
Harrogate finished 19th last season and are currently positioned 12th, after 23 games, this season. What would you say are the greatest reasons for the turnaround in form?
Great question. We had some upheaval surrounding the Luke Armstrong ‘sale’ to Wrexham and his eventual departure to Carlisle which the club and manager handled magnificently. I think the general improvement to the depth of the squad has really helped and the quality of the purchases made during the summer. Defensively, we’ve looked more solid and offensively, we’ve seen an uptick in the performances of some long standing players such as George Thomson and Jack Muldoon. Our two fullbacks have been really impressive and we’re seeing great performances from offensive players like Odoh, Folarin and Matty Daly.
The club is owned by Irving Weaver and managed by his son, Simon. What has the relationship been like recently?
Simon Weaver is the longest standing manager out of the 92 clubs, possibly helped by the fact his dad, Irving, is the owner. The crowd have been singing the Yaya/Kolo chant of late, replacing those names with Simon and Irving in recognition of the performances and a nod to the investment being made. For a club with our gates, there’s no doubt Irving is chucking in more than a few quid.
What would you say Simon’s playing style is like? Is he loved by fans at the moment?
As I alluded to in the previous question, there’s a lot of love right now. Now Simon is more acquainted with League 2, he’s showing more tactical nous and better ‘in game’ management. He’s sticking with having four at the back and two holding midfielders and then three in front of them with one up top. You’ll see plenty of plenty of width using the speed we have with Abraham Odoh and should he be fit, Sam Folarin.
Captain Josh Falkingham has been a Sulphurites player since 2017, what has the 33-year-old been like this season?
Josh Falkingham hasn’t played that much this season if truth be told but when he’s on the field, you’ll hear him barking instructions constantly. He came on in the last match against Accrington to sure things up.
The team’s top scorer is 31-year-old George Thomson, he has scored eight goals and picked up four assists in 24 games. Could you give us a quick scout report on him as the Rovers defence will need to be on top form?
George Thomson has been in great form and getting plenty of goals and assists. He’s often at the heart of set pieces and can be trusted to deliver quality balls into the box. He’s got a great engine too and knows his defensive responsibilities. He’s not the tallest but deceptively good in the air and has an eye for the right pass at the right time.
Harrogate are unbeaten in their last four league games, beating Accrington Stanley 2-1 last time out. Are you confident that Harrogate can get the better of Tranmere? The Rovers won the last tie 3-0, at Prenton Park in August.
I went to the Tranmere away game and thought you beat us comprehensively. I was surprised to see you falter so badly but things are clearly back on track under new management. We’ve been great of late and put together a decent run against some opponents who thought we’d be a walkover. Strangely, we’ve had a lot of our wins away from home but we’re riding high right now so I expect this to be a fairly even affair. I’m predicting a 1-1 draw on Friday night.
What are your thoughts on the Whites? Nigel Adkins has managed to get the best out of his team since his appointment as permanent manager, picking up nine points from a possible twelve in December.
I was blown away by how good you looked in that first game but clearly, your form dipped considerably. I know you’ve won the last two against Salford and Swindon but I think that needs to be tempered by the fact they’re two comparatively poor teams. I’ve always (don’t shoot me down) been a fan of the Davies/Turnbull partnership and on their day, they’re as solid as they come. Adkins seems to have got them firing again.
Being a Liverpool lad, I’ve always kept an eye out for Tranmere and wish you all the best for the season. Hope you all have a safe journey over to North Yorkshire.