IT’S taken a lot longer than normal but we can finally trot out one of the oldest cliches in the book: we can concentrate on the league now.

Saturday’s defeat to Harrogate Town in the FA Trophy means we are finally done with cup competitions for the season. Usually, the cups are a distant memory before we’ve even thought about Christmas shopping. Such is the progress under Alun Armstrong we have managed to keep our interests in the cups going through the festive period and out the other side.

Having overcome big-spending, high-flying Solihull Moors last Wednesday, the prospect of facing big-spending, high-flying Harrogate was not particularly daunting. It became even less daunting when the team sheet came out and it appeared our visitors had made a number of changes. It felt like an opportunity to claim another National League scalp.

Sadly, the chance to see Will Hatfield pitted against Josh Falkingham wasn’t to be. In the build-up to the game – 60 odd hours or so – all I had thought about was the prospect of a midfield battle to end all midfield battles. A modern-day Rocky versus Ivan Drago albeit a bit more welterweight rather than heavyweight. As it was, Drago...err, I mean Falkingham, wasn’t even in Harrogate’s squad.

Sadly, the boxing analogies don’t end there. Our plucky warriors looked a bit punch-drunk having overcome a physically heavyweight Solihull with barely any time to make a sufficient recovery. It felt very much like the game against Gainsborough a few days after having faced Walsall in the cup. You could see the legs weren’t quite there. Sadly, Harrogate are lot better than Gainsborough.

Despite resting a number of regular starters, they had a bit too much for us across the pitch. We had our moments but crucially when playing against better sides, when the opportunity presents itself you have to take it. Jack Diamond was the coolest of cucumbers when presented with the opportunity to give Harrogate the lead. If we had the same level of composure as he had in similar opportunities, we’d probably have another ten goals this season.

Ultimately, Saturday’s game was a lesson which was well worth learning. We saw what a top side from the league above looks like. Far more artisan than the agricultural Solihull. Harrogate pressed the life out of us from start to finish, jumping on poor touches and giving us no time to think about our game. We had bright spots. Harrogate’s left back will have faced far easier tests than Justin Donawa this season. Unfortunately, that was just one battle in a pretty tough war.

As difficult as the game was, there’s nothing to be too despondent about. We know where we are right now. We know this season is about laying the foundations for future years. Saturday will have provided Alun and the team with a really good insight on what aspects need working on and where we need to improve if we want to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Harrogate and Solihull on a regular basis.

Some things are more obvious than others; money helps. But there are other elements which can be dealt with relatively easily. For instance, I thought the midfield looked a bit exposed by how we played. With two centre forwards and a couple of wingers, the two in the middle of the park were probably asked to do a bit more than they could with tired legs against a crack full time outfit. That’s easily rectified as we move forward now Alun has a larger squad with the quality to adapt to situations. The cups might be done but this season still has the potential for plenty of excitement.