Hartlepool Utd v Exeter City: Former Sunderland defender relishes challenge of tackling on-song Grecians
Scott Harrison believes Hartlepool United's players will rise to the occasion when they face another test tomorrow.
Tests have come thick and fast for Pools, with Exeter City the latest promotion contenders on the list.
Tomorrow’s visit of the Grecians to the Northern Gas & Power Stadium is the fifth fixture out of six against sides with genuine aspirations of leaving League Two via the front door.
Pools, on the other hand, are attempting to avoid departing via the trapdoor.
However, Harrison said that the team will relish the challenge tomorrow of tackling Exeter, a side which boasts the best away record in the division.
Paul Tisdale’s side have won 11 times away from home – that’s three more than Pools have managed in total.
They also boast one of the most potent attacking formations in the Football League – Ollie Watkins and Reuben Reid are brilliant strikers, while they also have David Wheeler, who has outscored them both with 15 goals.
Watkins is two behind, with Reid on eight, including a timely late equaliser last Saturday against Blackpool.
Harrison is confident the young home defence will tackle them head on, so to speak.
“I didn’t play at Exeter at the start of the season, when they had a bit of a slow start,” said the centre-half. “But they have come good and are one of the top teams.
“Every time we play them here, they seem to be in good form.
“When we clinched safety in the Great Escape, it was Exeter we beat, so those are happy memories. This is going to be hard, but we’re looking forward to it.
“I’ve played against Reid before and he’s a good striker. Watkins is only a youngish lad and he’s had a brilliant season.
“But Wheeler’s scoring goals for fun – his agent is the same as mine, so I know how well he’s done this season!
“It’s another tough game, coming after Colchester, who had a good frontline as well.
“Communication will be key for us tomorrow – we’ll do a lot of talking through the game and we have Nicky Featherstone, just in front of us, which will help.
“It’s a similar game to the Plymouth match a couple of weeks ago. We played well that day and we need to do the same again here.
“I think we like playing higher teams – we want to express ourselves and show that we are a good team.”
Pools did exactly that against second-placed Plymouth, who needed a stunning goal 15 minutes from time to deny the hosts victory. Dave Jones’s side maintained their strong form at the Vic on Tuesday night when they sent Crewe Alexandra packing 4-0.
“We were pleased with that,” said the former Sunderland defender.
“But this game against Exeter, for me, is more important than Tuesday.
“In the past, we’ve got three points and then lost the next game – this is a massive match and we need to continue where we left off against Crewe.
“It was a great win and getting a clean sheet was a huge boost – we’ve now got to look to keep that going.”
That clean sheet against the Railwaymen was a reward for the young back five of keeper Joe Fryer, Kenton Richardson, Harrison, Brad Walker and Liam Donnelly.
The average age of the quintet is a mere 20, with Harrison the ‘veteran’ of the unit at 23! “The old man of the back four!” he laughed. “Sounds mental, doesn’t it?
“I didn’t think that might comer for a few years.
“But I’m enjoying playing in the same defence as these lads. Everyone is playing well and I think you saw on Tuesday that we are very good at covering one another.
“We’ve had good communication as well, which really helps.”
It could, of course, be coincidence but it seems to have brought out the best in Harrison, who has performed in the fashion he did in his early days at the Vic.
“I’ve heard people mention that which is nice of them,” said the Teessider. “I feel it myself. I think 90% of it is about working your socks off, but I do feel as though I’m playing well and I feel calmer in possession and think my positioning is better.
“I try my best to be helping our defenders, but, at the moment, we’re all helping each other which is brilliant.”
That defensive unity will be paramount tomorrow.