RR: First off - I just noticed that you’re second in the League Two table, three points ahead of the nearest side. That’s impressive! Before we chat about Jack Diamond... are you surprised with how well Town have started the season?
Josh: I think I speak for most Harrogate fans when I say that we were all aiming for higher midtable or sneaking a playoff place before the season started.
I was a little apprehensive in pre-season after losing our double promotion winning goalkeeper James Belshaw to Bristol Rovers, but after a shaky pre-season, Mark Oxley has made the number 1 his own with some great performances.
To see the team gel with quite a few new additions has been amazing. We have added in areas that were important, we signed Page at left back which has been an area we have needed to fill for quite a few seasons now and when he has been fit, he has shown his class, to further strengthen the back line we have brought in experience in Rory McArdle.
But the real improvement is our attacking options now, namely the additions of Pattison, Armstrong and later on Diamond have really made us a real threat going forward, with the ever-reliable Muldoon and Thomson added into the mix.
So surprised would be an emphatic yes, but with the football we are currently playing and the quality of player on our bench to cover injuries and suspension, I see no reason we can’t continue our form.
RR: How much has Jack had to do with that form then?
Josh: Since Jack has come back to us on loan he has given the whole club a lift - he’s a real fans favourite, and a born winner.
The link-up play with players he played with before is phenomenal, and it’s like he never left.
He is a player that livens up the crowd, and he is just one of those players that makes you feel like anything can happen when he gets the ball.
Since arriving - barring a silly red card at Port Vale away for two silly challenges - he has been fantastic, and has contributed 2 goals and 1 assist in 6 games, although he has had a massive hand in an awful lot more of our goals by beating a man or putting a dangerous cross in that has rebounded to a striker.
He is integral to the way we play again already, even after just 6 games.
RR: I actually think lots of our fans were surprised that we let him go, given he was a firm fixture in the matchday 18. Were you surprised that he was allowed to return?
Josh: I was extremely surprised that he was allowed to come back to us, purely because he was usually in your matchday squad - although, I always had a feeling that he would go out on loan again at some point, because it’s so important for a player of Jack’s age to be playing first team football, and to continue his development and gain experience in a high-pressure environment.
This wasn’t for the want of me and several others trying - we tweeted Harrogate Town daily to ask them to sign Diamond, from the moment he returned to Sunderland until the moment he came back!
RR: Why do you think Sunderland have seen Harrogate as a good fit?
Josh: Harrogate is probably the best fit for Jack for many reasons.
Sunderland know he is more than good enough to be playing week in, week out at League Two level, so game time for Jack will be there. Secondly, our assistant manager Paul Thirwell used to play for Sunderland, so I imagine the first time around at least he was probably using every contact he had to try get Jack to Harrogate.
Lastly, I would say the level of improvement in his first spell at Town from his first game to his last was unbelievable - throughout the weeks we saw him grow from a raw lad with potential, to the star of the team and the first name on the team sheet, topping it off with a beautiful goal at Wembley and a man of the match performance in a play-off final.
I would say this is down to the coaching he had at Harrogate, so Sunderland will be more than aware of how much he progressed, and would have been more than happy to see him come back to further his development whilst gaining crucial first-team EFL minutes.
RR: You saw Jack first time around when you guys were in the National League. What would you say the biggest changes/differences are that you’ve noticed between Jack Diamond then, and Jack Diamond now?
Josh: His strength. When he first came to Harrogate, he was pushed off the ball fairly easily, but throughout the season you would see him in battles, shoulder to shoulder with big burly non-league defenders, and he would win the duel or win a free kick by positioning his body smartly between the player and ball, more often than not.
His first few games at Town were quiet, and there were a few of us unsure whether he would end up being able to cut it, but after a month or so he really came into his own - making powerful runs down the wing, cutting inside and adding important goals and assists to his game later in the season, which really did help us win promotion.
From his last game at Harrogate to his current spell now, I have noticed the improvement in him again - his passing range has come on leaps and bounds, and you will often see him now spreading the play or hitting a diagonal to the other wing.
On top of that, you see him playing some lovely, intricate 1-2’s, and linking up fantastically well with our strikers and midfielders.
Also, his defensive ability and work rate has come on leaps and bounds - that was probably my only criticism of him in his first spell, and he has now brought a hunger to track back and get stuck in too.
RR: I think most Sunderland fans are undecided on Jack - you can see he has the raw materials there and could become a very handy player, but he’s still raw and needs to add consistency to his game when it comes to goals and assists. Do you think he’ll do that as the season goes on?
Josh: Starting the season with 2 goals and 1 assist in 6 games is a great return for a young lad that came into the side when the season had already started, and our preseason was over.
He has been heavily involved in many more goals for the team already this season. There is no reason that - in a side that are currently joint-top scorers in the EFL - he cannot push on and nab more goals and assists, and I have every confidence that he will.
I do not agree that he’s raw in the slightest - I believe he is a brilliant player who is far more developed than just now being a “raw” talent.
He’s already a real talent who, with the correct mentality and desire, will kick on and play Championship level easily later in his career.
RR: What has been his most impressive performance so far this season?
Josh: Easy question, this - Scunthorpe at home Saturday just gone.
He scored an excellent goal, provided an unbelievable assist and was heavily involved in 1 or 2 of our other goals, including a luscious cross which was headed onto the bar, only to be tapped in after.
His driving runs and general terrorising of the Scunthorpe defence was only great to see if you were a Harrogate fan!
He was voted man of the match by the local press,, with a match rating of 9.
RR: Sunderland have their sights firmly set on promotion to the Championship at the end of this season. Be honest - do you reckon he’s got what it takes to be a regular in that division?
Josh: He’d be a brilliant player currently to bring off the bench in the Championship because he is fearless, direct and likes to make things happen.
I’m not sure currently he is fully there to keep up with the Championship week in, week out just yet, but he one hundred percent will be once his game develops that little bit more.
Will that happen at Sunderland in the Championship next season?
Not if he’s going to be sat on the bench - he needs real game time week in, week out to hit the levels he is capable of. If that means another loan, I can think of a lovely little spa town in North Yorkshire that would take him back over and over in a heartbeat!
My advice, having watched him play as often as I have, would be to either play him or let him continue growing his game elsewhere with a loan deal - because, believe me, this boy is the real deal!
As the commentator said in our National league Play-off final win after Diamond scored: “Diamond by name Diamond by nature!”