Rovers' first road trip of 2024 sees Grant McCann’s side visit Yorkshire rivals Harrogate Town in this Saturday’s early kick-off.
The Sulphurites currently sit 14th in Sky Bet League Two and have struggled for consistency for the majority of the campaign but have won three of their last five to enter the new year.
THE LAST MEETING
The two sides met on the opening day of the campaign at the Eco-Power Stadium but it was the visitors who prevailed on that occasion.
Despite strong penalty shouts of their own, Rovers fell behind on 65 minutes from 12-yards out as Jack Muldoon snuck the ball beneath Ian Lawlor for the game’s only goal.
Owen Bailey came close with a headed effort shortly after but Mark Oxley pulled off a great diving save to secure the three points.
HARROGATE’S RECENT FORM
Harrogate are enjoying their finest five-game spell of the season at current but are winless in their last two after winning the first three games of that run.
The first of those three wins came with an impressive 3-1 victory against Notts County before following that up with an away win at Grimsby Town.
Back on home soil Town ran out 2-1 winners against Accrington Stanley but most recently lost against Tranmere Rovers and conceded late against Morecambe in a 2-2 draw.
LAST TIME OUT
Morecambe 2 Harrogate Town 2
Sky Bet League Two, Monday, January 1, 2023
Line-up: Belshaw, Foulds, Gibson, O’Connor, Ramsay, Falkingham (Sutton 81), Cornelius (Burrell 86), Muldoon, Odoh, Thomson, Folarin (March 85). Subs not used: Daly, Sivi, O’Boyle, Mooney.
Doncaster-born manager Simon Weaver is into his 15th season at the helm on Wetherby Road and has taken Harrogate from National League North to League Two.
Most notably a Lincoln City player during his career on the pitch, Weaver turned out for 15 different clubs – including Rovers – before retiring at Harrogate Town after three years as player-manager. He also won the FA Trophy with the club in 2020.
THE KEY MEN
Keeper: James Belshaw
Belshaw returned to North Yorkshire on December 15 on a seven-day emergency loan for a second spell with the Sulphurites and that deal has been renewed every week since.
After leaving Harrogate in 2021 following a four year stay, the ‘keeper won League Two promotion with Bristol Rovers just a year later and also won Player of the Year for the Gas in the same season. He has quickly reignited his fan favourite label upon his return to Weaver’s side.
Defender: Liam Gibson
Harrogate announced the signing of Liam Gibson at the start of this term and the 26-year-old has brought a wealth of League Two experience to Wetherby Road.
After leaving Newcastle United, Gibson turned out for Accrington Stanley, Grimsby Town and Morecambe before taking up the number 30 shirt in the yellow and black.
In midfield: Josh Falkingham
A former Leeds United youth player, Falkingham has achieved hero status in Harrogate after winning both the National League play-offs and FA Trophy in the same season as captain.
He has also enjoyed a strong spell north of the border after turning out for St Johnstone, Arbroath and Dunfermline Athletic where he also won Scottish Championship promotion as captain.
Up top: Sam Folarin
After coming through the ranks at Tooting & Mitcham United, Folarin signed for Middlesbrough but it never worked out at the Riverside Stadium as he spent time with Queen of the South on loan.
In 2022, Folarin brought his three-year spell with Boro to an end to join Harrogate Town where he has scored nine goals in 55 games.
The two sides first met in the third round of the FA Trophy 2001/02 campaign and Rovers ran out 2-0 winners on that occasion in January 2002 but exited the competition just one round later with a 5-4 loss to Yeovil Town.
In total, the sides have faced off four times but Harrogate lead the head-to-head rivalry with two wins in comparison to Rovers’ one.
The only other occasion ended in a 2-2 draw in Rovers only visit to the Envirovent Stadium last April as Harrogate clawed back a point from two goals behind after Aidan Barlow’s and Luke Molyneux’s earlier goals.
Contributor: Jefferson Hall-Nolan