I want to be starting the next game. I just want to play. I plan to carry on working hard in training.Wes Harding
The defender was thrown into the side for his full First Team debut against Hull City and more than played his part in a crucial 3-0 win.
The Under-23s captain made two substitute appearances in the Carabao Cup in August and penned a new contract, until 2020, in February.
Garry Monk has included several of the Under-23s in his training sessions and matchday squads since being appointed. And Harding created an impression on the Manager to the extent that he was preferred to the experienced Cark Jekinson for the visit of the Tigers.
Here, 21-year-old Harding sits down with bcfc.com to reflect on his big breakthrough.
Take us through the week leading to your full debut. When did you get an inkling that you might be involved?
“I had been training with the First Team and I knew I had been training well. Within the sessions I had been playing right-back as also had Marc Roberts. So I knew it would either be one of us basically. But it wasn’t until Friday morning when I got called into the gaffer’s office when he just explained to me that he had enjoyed how I had been doing and he was going to start me the next day. I was delighted. And I was focused from then on.”
Did nerves kick in, you had 24 hours to let things sink in?
“I was going to say I didn’t get nervous but I probably did, yes, just before the game. I’d say I am a quite confident person and I don’t let things get to me. From when I knew, it was more enjoyment than nervousness or worry.”
How did the other lads react, what did they say to help you?
“Paul Robinson said a few things to me, as did Richard Beale the Under-23s Manager. They offered words of advice and encouragement. Everybody was really telling me ‘good luck, all the best’. Just before the game a few of the lads said to do what I have been doing, enjoy it and the gaffer and the First Team staff said the same – there was a lot of positivity.”
When the game got underway, it was in blizzard conditions. With the magnitude of the match, quite a full professional debut all told?
“The conditions were tough, that was obvious for everyone! How big the game was, the three points were crucial. For me, it was a massive plus to come through like happened, getting the result. I blocked out everything really and concentrated on doing my job for the team.”
We know you like to bomb on forward from right-back, did you have to adjust your style in any way?
“I didn’t get giddy or anything like that at all. I felt I possibly could have attacked more. But, at the same time, as the goals had come it was a case of ‘you know what, we’re trying to keep a clean sheet’. If the circumstances had been different, had we been losing or chasing a goal, I definitely would have bombed on more. But I felt we were comfortable going forwards, I felt we didn’t really need everyone i.e. myself to be attacking all the time. I tried to get the balance right, stayed back when needed and do the defensive job first and foremost.”
Just nine minutes in and you picked up a yellow card for an uncompromising sliding tackle . . .
“With that, I thought I was going to get the ball. Whatever. You have got to leave your mark. Especially in your first game. I felt before the start that I needed to stamp down my authority and nine minutes in, I did that! Obviously I didn’t want a yellow card that early. But it was my plan to let my opponent know I was there.”
Did it help you having had the two substitute appearances in the Carabao Cup earlier in the season?
“I don’t think so, really. This was completely different. Obviously one, I was starting; two, the circumstances now compared to back then were different. If back then was similar to now it may have helped, but this was something on another level.”
You have been working hard towards your league debut for a number of years, it must be great to have broken that barrier. But on the flip side, I guess you are thinking you don’t just want one game, you want more?
“Exactly. One hundred per cent. It is massive achievement. I am happy to make my family proud. I am proud of myself doing it. But it doesn’t stop there for me. I want more and more – that’s the plan.”
We know you can play centre-half or right-back. Right-back it is, then?
“Listen, I will play anywhere! Yes, right-back is my favourite position. In terms of my two positions, I prefer right-back. You can get on more, I like to use my pace. Yes, it’s my favoured position.”
What would you say the biggest thing is you learned from your league debut?
“That is a tough question . . . quite honestly, I don’t think I learned anything specifically. It was quite what I expected, the game and everything around it. Going into it I knew what we had to do as a team. We needed the points. We were going to be defensively sound, we were going to attack with pace and be penetrative. Those were the things to concentrate on. I wouldn’t say it was a massive learning curve.”
What did Garry Monk and the rest of the guys say to you afterwards?
“The gaffer just concentrated on the lads. That’s what I expected. It was about the team, it was a big game for everybody, not just me. He congratulated everybody on what we did. The lads came up and said ‘well done’ and stuff but being the gaffer, he was concerned about the team, which is right and I understood.”
What is your focus on now?
“Next game. I want to be starting the next game. I just want to play. I plan to carry on working hard in training.”
And it is encouraging for you and the Club’s other young players that the Manager is prepared to look from within. Steve Seddon was on the bench against Hull City as well?
“It’s great, yes. It’s good for the other young players to see me being pushed through. I know that’s how I felt when I saw it happening before. You just hope to get the same opportunity and I am still buzzing from it.”