Sam Jones – @samuellejones
In the pub before the match I was informed by a Maidstone fan that they hadn’t won since November. That was 17 matches without a win. A run that included 7 defeats in the last 8 games. We’d lost our last two, but had seven points from our previous 5 games, so I was confident we could get a result today. Especially as it was pretty much our strongest team all season starting. But, once again, I was completely wrong and found my optimism completely misplaced as the game descended into what could only be described as a clusterf**k.
From almost the first whistle I knew it was going to be a dire game. The first half was the definition of a game that no one deserved to win (is that a thing?). Maidstone lacked any real quality and we were really struggling with their 3G pitch. Chances were at a premium with McGinty heading just over from a cleverly designed corner and Dorel had a kick blocked which would have been embarrassing but summed up our season nicely.
Nothing much happened in the rest of the half as the game petered out and the half time whistle blew. The only real excitement came when a bunch of Dover fans were kicked out after 20 minutes, one of them after being literally wrestled to the ground by four policemen. I wish our boys showed that much fight at times.
The second half was much better. A few more chances for both sides, with Dorel being called into action a couple of times and Torquay getting their foot on the ball a bit more in the opening 15. Our best chance came after about an hour when a clever break by the boys ended up with Romain setting up Lemonheigh-Evans with a peach of a cross, only for Worgan to pull off an outstanding save.
Maidstone then grew in confidence as Torquay forgot how to pass. Every ball was too long, or easily dealt with by the towering Finney and Wynter at the back for the Home Side. They had started to really believe they could win and had a Turgott goal ruled out (correctly, I think) for offside and forcing Dorel into a couple of great saves. When it looked like we would hold out, in true Torquay fashion, Maidstone ended their winless streak. A header by Lafayette came off the post and defender Josh Hare beat Gowling to the ball to prod home. Torquay had one last chance as a clever header by Williams meant Pitman was through on goal but his hilarious swing at the ball meant it dribbled wide and the chance was gone.
The boys looked devastated at the final whistle, but on a day where all the results around us went in our favour, the loss looked even worse. I walked out of the Gallagher Stadium and onto the train with tears in my eyes. I don’t see anyway back for us now. Not this time.
Davis 4 McGinty 5 Sokolik 5 Balatoni 5 Barnes 4
Lemonheigh-Evans 5.5 Young 6.5 Dowling 4
Romain 3 Williams 4
Subs: Pitman 4 Gowling 5.5 Gosling N/A
Man of the Match:
Vincent was my man of the match last time I saw us play, at Maidenhead, and he’s man of the match again today. Time and time again he collected the ball with ease through a sea of bodies and made some very smart saves to keep us in the game. He almost let one slip through his legs in the second half after a Maidstone player deflected the initial shot but did very well to recover. Couldn’t have done anything about the winning goal and is doing his best to try and keep us up this season.
Luke Young tried so hard, bless him. He really tried to get the ball moving and get the lads up the pitch, but it was to no avail. His set pieces overall were fine, and his passing was slick. He did try to force the issue towards the end, but I can’t really blame him.
No one else deserved a mention. Trust me. It was that sort of game.
Owers only made one change from the home defeat to Sutton, Efete out and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans in. There was the standard 5-3-2 with Barnes and Davis wide and Romain partnering Williams up top.
If the boys had been told to go out and play football, they obviously didn’t listen. Too often tried to play hoofball towards Williams and Romain and build from there. Whether it was the pitch or a complete lack of confidence, most passes were going astray, and the ball would bounce harmlessly out for a goal kick or into the keeper’s grateful arms. This wasn’t helped by the constant slipping on the plastic pitch and the fact Romain had feet like trampolines today. It was a dire performance with no obviously game plan.
In a funny way, not having Efete in the side was the biggest loss as we missed Barnes control in midfield. We needed a player to break up play and for all their strengths, that is not in the skill set of the midfield three. What was startling today was the lack of movement from our midfield. Dowling in particular looked exhausted and did not put in the hard yards that I’ve seen him do so much of this season.
Maidstone did not look like a side that had not won since November. They were confident on the ball and were not scared to go for it. They lined up in a 5-3-2 but looked much better organised than us, especially when going forward. The big guy, small guy, partnership of Turgott and Lafayette up front worked at times and provided mobility that we could only dream of. Round the edge of the box they played some nice stuff at times and always looked a threat. Even their long balls where better played than us!
The very dangerous and direct Blair Turgott would at times make mockeries of both Davis and Barnes and provide a constant threat to our defence all game. Ross Lafayette up front was as useless for them as he was against Sutton, but the one time he won a header it hit the post. They are a good side and should stay up comfortably.
Alan Young and his band of Merry Men had odd games. They would blow for the smallest of contact, then let a studs up tackle on Brett by De Havilland go card free. He seemed scared to pull his card out when the challenge really needed asked for it, and only booked Alex Finney for what could only be described as a rugby tackle on Williams. I’ve seen better referees this season, but the ref did not have any impact on the result and ultimately that is what matters.
In a match of very little quality, the key moment must be the winning goal. Maidstone really upped their game in the final 20 minutes and left us chasing shadows at time. They had already had a goal ruled out for offside from Turgott and looked like they had the bit between their teeth.
Then with 2 minutes of normal time to go, a cross from the left was headed against the post by Lafayette and Josh Hare beat both Gowling and Balatoni to the ball to prod into the back of the net. The Maidstone fans went absolutely mental, and I don’t blame them. They had just won their first game since November.
I’ve seen Elliott play twice for us before today and both times he was the game winner, holding the ball up well, causing a nuisance and in the case of Maidenhead, scoring the winning goal. However today he was dreadful. His inability to keep the ball under his control was startling as attack after attack broke down as the ball bounced off his feet. His lack of movement was also obvious as he would often stand there and wait for the ball to come to him rather than go chase the ball and the defender into the corner. It was a very poor performance for a player who had made such an impact previously.
Away Day Overview:
Of all the away days I’ve been too, Maidstone has been the best. Despite missing my train as London Victoria didn’t have enough ticket machines, I arrived just in time to watch my second love Liverpool lose to United in a local pub. I wish that had been the low point of the day. The locals were lovely: happy to chat about football and give me betting advice on why I should never bet on Maidstone. Most of them told me that they didn’t want us to go down, as we were the best away trip of the season!
The ground is one of the better ones too, having only been built in 2012, it had all the mod-cons needed for a National League ground. The 3G pitch definitely had an effect on our boys, but it was in a good condition and can’t be blamed for the defeat. £15 for entry and £3.50 for the best food I’ve had at an away ground all season is fantastic value for a lovely day out, ruined by 90 minutes (180 if you count both games) of football.
With about 10 minutes left the Yellow Army started belting out “Truro City, we’re coming for you!” followed by a few chuckles from the rest of the away fans. Unfortunately, they are not wrong.
It has got to the point now where it feels that the inevitable is coming and we are all just waiting to die (or get relegated to the National League South, same thing really) and GI to pull down Plainmoor to make space for a new IKEA or a Statue of Harrop or whatever they want to do with the club. There is also no question that Owers is out of his depth. He did steady the ship when he came in after the omni-shambles that was Herrera, but there has been no progress since then despite the odd flash in the pan. Would I keep him when we go down? Maybe. Who else is there (apart from Nicho) that would really want to take us over? Not many would line up, I assume.
In a game of very little quality we deserved to lose. Maidstone created chances, we had nothing. Maidstone could pass the ball, we couldn’t. Maidstone scored, we didn’t. The boys tried, they really did. They ran their socks off all game and looked devastated at the final whistle. Despite barrels of abuse from some Gulls fans, they still came over to applaud us (I’m pretty sure Dorel and McGinty had tears in their eyes) as they did all they could. No one can convince me that this team doesn’t care about where we are in the League. Once again, the Gulls huffed and puffed but all they’ve done is blow the door down to the National League South.