Sam Jones @samuellejones
After 4 points from the previous two games, including an excellent point away at promotion hopefuls Macclesfield, I could be forgiven for feeling cautiously optimistic as I stepped off the train in a cold and rainy Maidenhead. It was my dad and brother’s first ever Torquay away game too, so I was really hoping that the boys would show up and put on a display for us. Especially as my dad had delayed his flight back to Mexico for this. So, thank God the men in yellow did us proud today. An outstanding performance from 1 to 11 meant that the Yellow Army went away happy, with the thought of yet another Great Escape creeping into the back of everyone’s mind.
The first half was very open, with the momentum swinging back and forth between two teams wanting to play attacking football. Torquay had the better of the possession, but Maidenhead were creating the better chances. The pitch was cutting up badly, which Torquay struggled to deal with at times, and Maidenhead took advantage of some sloppiness at the back to create, but not convert. Their best chance came as Sam Barratt, who has been on a good run of form, hit the outside of the post after Gowling and Balatoni decided to leave the ball for each other.
The Gulls huffed and puffed and after a couple of half chances, step up Aaron Barnes. The midfielder nonchalantly curled a stunner into the top corner from a good 30 yards out with half an hour played. A bolt out of the blue for the Gulls, who were starting to let the game get away from them. The first half ended on a sour note though has the imperious Gowling had a nasty fall when going up for a header and couldn’t continue.
The second half started with wave after wave of yellow pressure. Williams, Dowling and Balatoni had chances, and new boy Connor Lemonheigh-Evans struck the outside of the post with a fierce drive. Maidenhead began to get a foothold and scored from a beauty of a free-kick by Sam Upward in the 69th minute. It was a daft challenge by Efete to give away the foul, and the goal was coming. As the away fans got more and more frustrated as United got sloppier and sloppier, everyone could feel that a second Maidenhead goal was coming.
However out of nowhere, the Gulls remembered how to play football again. With just 7 minutes left, a corner from the right was swung in by Young and Maidenhead failed to clear. The ball fell to Brett whose cross/shot was turned in at the near post by Romain. Torquay defended resolutely and held on for the remaining few minutes (which felt like hours) to claim three crucial points. It was a fantastic game, proper end to end stuff, and one where we probably deserved to win. The Yellow Army left the ground singing “6-1 on Aggregate” as we completed our first league double of the season.
Balatoni 8 Gowling 8 McGinty 8
Davis 8 Young 8 Barnes 8.5 Dowling 8 Efete 8
Williams 8 Romain 8.5
Man of the Match:
There were a number of players who could’ve been todays MOTM but Dorel takes the biscuit. Maidenhead’s delivery was outstanding at times but that never phased the former Plymouth man, collecting each cross with ease and relieving pressure on the defence. On the odd occasion that Maidenhead got in behind, he was there to make some crucial saves and get the ball out of danger. His distribution was excellent again and he could do nothing about the free kick. A top keeper for this level of football.
Aaron Barnes is a hell of a player. Part of the reason Maidenhead got back into the game, was because he had to move into defence after the injury to Josh Gowling. He bossed the midfield, snapping into tackles and getting the boys forward whenever possible. He capped a great performance with a peach of a goal, his first in professional football no less.
What a signing Elliot Romain could turn out to be. Won’t stop running and a perfect foil for Williams. 2 goals in 3 games and some of the best hold up play I’ve seen at the club since Bliss. Real gem of a find.
Owers went for the same line-up that played so well against Barrow last week. The experienced back three of Gowling, McGinty and Balatoni were flanked by Davis and Efete. The midfield comprised of Young, Barnes and Dowling with Williams and Romain up front in the 5-3-2 or 3-5-2 that we’ve seen so much of this season.
The game plan was to try and play the ball through the middle, but with the pitch cutting up so badly (as well as being on a downward slope towards one of the corner flags) that proved hard. The long ball out from the back provided some problems for the home side, as our front two are a handful for any defence. Torquay’s best chances came when some pressure was built, then the ball passed out wide to the willing runner. It was surprisingly easy to get in behind the two Maidenhead fullbacks at times, but the final ball was lacking.
What I noticed about Torquay today, as I did at Barrow last weekend, was how fluid and fit the midfielders were. All three would pop up in various locations around the box, supporting attacks and mopping up loose balls, as well as giving 110% for 90 minutes.
Maidenhead obviously wanted to play football. They started with a 4-4-2 but switched to 3-5-2 as the game wore on. They kept the ball very nicely at times, and could counter in a flash, with Smith and Marks upfront proving a handful for our back three. James Comley dictated play nicely in the middle of the park, and their crossing and set pieces at times were vicious.
They looked more of a threat when Jake Hyde came on after 65 minutes and gave them greater fluency in attack. Defensively they were good in the air, but at times appeared very disorganised when Torquay played the ball on the ground. I can see why they are comfortably mid-table this season, as they do pose a threat and will score against worse defences. Alan Devonshire has built a solid team, that should have no trouble finishing mid-table.
Joe Hull and his three Musketeers were probably the best I’ve seen all season in the National League by a mile. Apart from missing the odd shove and stuff like that, he got every call correct. The free kick was the correct call, and he waved away what looked like a very soft penalty appeal from the Magpies with the score at 1-1. They even added on a fair amount of added time at the end of each half. How often does that actually happen?!?!
The winning goal. It has to be. Sorry to be boring. The game was very open from start to finish, and after Maidenhead equalised it felt like whoever got the bit of luck or the moment of brilliance was going to win. Corner from Torquay came in, was only half cleared to Williams on the right who fired it back in. The ball fell to (hit) Romain and ended up in the back of the net. Maidenhead failed to defend a corner, again, and Torquay made them pay. Queue absolute euphoria for the travelling Gulls and shredded nerves for the rest of the game.
Romain and Barnes will grab all the headlines, but what a coup it was by Owers to get George Dowling for the rest of the season. Once again he shone in the middle of the park as his understanding with Young and Barnes grows. He’s quick, skilful, strong and not afraid to put in a challenge or two. He even almost scored another wonder goal that would’ve made his goal last week seem like a tap in. If he can stay fit untill the end of the season, he’ll be a great asset as we fight for Great Escape number 3. The lad could go far in the game, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s playing in a much higher league next season.
Away day overview:
Why are National League teams in such grim towns? Aldershot, Dagenham, Ebbsfleet and now Maidenhead, all dark and depressing places. I really need to pick my away games better. If only there was a National League team somewhere on the South Coast, where the sun always shines and the Wetherspoons are always open.
Despite the horrible new town façade however, the Maidenhead population were wonderfully friendly. Giving us directions, chatting to us beforehand and even sharing a joke with us in the pub after the match! The stadium was very non-league, with no segregation and very little seating, it fostered a great atmosphere as both Torquay and Maidenhead fans filled up every nook and cranny of the ground. York Road is the oldest stadium in the U.K. to be continuously used by the same team, now there’s a pub quiz fact for you. At £15 a ticket for adults and some great half time chips, it was more than fair in what was a great away day out.
I’m going to take credit for this one. I am. Really. And I’ll tell you why. Of the 6 games we have won this season, I’ve been to four of them. I’ve been to every away win and the Barrow victory last Saturday. But the boys will have to do it without me, as I’m away for the next two weeks.
Joking aside, this was one of the better National League games I have seen in a while. Two teams going for it, creating chance after chance, on a pitch that looked like a Glastonbury field on the Monday morning. A moment of magic from Barnes and a moment of strikers’ instinct from Romain gave us the valuable three points.
I said after the Sutton game that I feel like we can stay up and then everything went wrong. Today I mean it. This is the best squad we have had all season, by a mile. Gary has finally got the balance right and we look a real threat up front. We will score goals with Brett and Romain starting, and we won’t concede many with that back 5. If we play like we did today for the rest of the season, we’ll pull off the Great Escape. Simple as. Then, can we finally build the statue of Brett outside Plainmoor that I’ve been asking for? Only me? Fine.