As I woke up with on the morning of Torquay United’s first ever game in the National league South, only one thought flashed through my mind. Why on earth did I have that extra shot of vodka last night? When the nausea brought on by the previous night’s birthday celebrations had finally subsided, I remembered what today had in store. It was the opening day of the 2018/2019 football season and the resumption of everyone’s love/hate relationship with the biggest team in Devon. The omnishambles of the new stadium and Osborne and Oliver’s creepy bromance had cast a chilling shadow over the club, but I was looking forward to getting myself to Chelmsford and watching the boys (once my bedroom had stopped spinning, that is). I very quickly realised that I was remembering non-league football through rose-tinted glasses, as the opening day turned out to be a 0-0 snooze fest.
The opening minutes of the game saw Chelmsford dominate the ball, as the Gulls took a while to get up to the surprising pace with which the home side were playing. The Clarets created a few half chances, with MacDonald being kept on his toes and former Torquay loanee Murphy almost getting in behind, but the Gulls were defending well. Williams and Davis both had chances that flashed wide, but that was it for the Gulls in a poor first half display. The home side were definitely the more dangerous of the two, but MacDonald was not called upon to make a real save as the game petered out to half time.
The second half started much more brightly as the Gulls began to get their foot on the ball and started to play with a lot more purpose. The first moment of promise fell to Reid who sliced wildly over when well placed (surprise, surprise). He did have the ball in the back of the net at one point but was rightly flagged offside. Chelmsford began to dominate the game as the Gulls began to look tired and the home sides superior physicality gave them the upper hand. With ten minutes to go, MacDonald pulled off his first real saves of the match from a strike from range by Porter and then a cross/shot by Omozusi as the home side cranked up the pressure. Then, in the last minute of added time, a corner whipped in by Dickson was met by the commanding Kyle Cameron whose header looped over the home keeper Worner, only to be cleared off the line. So nearly a late winner for the Gulls. The whistle blew not long after, and a draw was probably a fair result and a very good point for the men in blue ( that’s us by the way, no idea why we weren’t playing in yellow).
Wynter 7.5 Essuman 7 Niate 7 Cameron 7 Davis 7
Dickson 6.5 Hall 6 Regis 6
Reid 4.5 Williams 4
Subs: Keating 4 Bawling N/A
Man of the Match: Shaun MacDonald
Shaun MacDonald had a very good debut for the Gulls. Only playing because of an injury to Alex Bass, the driving fanatic took his chance brilliantly. Despite his small stature he was untroubled under the cross, commanding his area brilliantly as he helped us to an opening day clean sheet. He also made a couple of good saves towards the end of the game during a late Chelmsford flourish and could be very pleased with the days work. I doubt he will replace Bass when he is back fit, but it’s good to know we have a solid back up available. He has still yet to confirm whether he prefers the Cyndi Lauper or Roy Orbison version of, supposedly, his favourite song.
Two more debutants also had very good games. Ben Wynter had a very accomplished game at right wing-back, rarely looking troubled by Fenwick on the Chelmsford left. Going forward he left a bit to be desired, but what he did defensively was outstanding, constantly winning the ball and trying to get the team up the field.
I was also very impressed with George Essuman today. The former Dover youngster was rarely beaten in the air or on the ground and has started to build up a good understanding with both Wynter and Niate. The signs are promising for our defence this season, shame I can’t say the same about our attack.
I really could copy and paste this part from most, if not all, the games I covered last year. Despite all the positive recruitment over the summer, we still play Owers ball. The away side lined up in a 3-5-2 with Davis and Wynter as the wing backs. Hall, Regis and Dickson made up the midfield three and Williams partnered Reid up top. Defensively we were very solid against both the cross and the ball on the ground, against a Chelmsford side who knew how to play. The midfield showed signs of promise, even if they looked like they had never played together before. However, the attack was pathetic, and that was being kind. Reid does not have a first touch, despite some flashes of good play, offered less than nothing at times, Keating was pretty useless when he came on and Brett was Brett. More about him later. The Gulls looked very solid and organised (mostly) with Chelmsford rarely troubling MacDonald but going forward there needs to be more movement and creativity, or we are going to have to rely on set pieces and luck to score many this season.
Chelmsford finished 3rd last season, and for a lot of the game it showed. Rod Stringer’s men were excellent at keeping the ball and at times in the early stages the Gulls were chasing shadows. The hosts lined up in what appeared to be a 4-3-3 with former Torquay striker Rhys Murphy up top, being supported by Scott Fenwick and Jai Reason, who was an absolute unit. Captain Anthony Church was seriously influential in midfield as they looked to get the ball on the ground, play round the Gulls then look for the run of the big man at the far post. This tactic worked but the Gulls defended brilliantly at times to stop them winning the second ball and potentially creating a chance. Despite all their good play, they really did not create too many chances with the first effort forcing a save out of MacDonald not coming till the 80th minute. The odds put them among the favourites to gain promotion this season and I understand why. However, like us, they are going to need some more cutting edge if they want to do well this season.
The referee, whose name I didn’t catch and I can’t find anywhere, had a solid yet unspectacular game. There were no big decisions to make and he got the vast majority of the calls correct. He missed the odd foul or handball but nothing that would have seriously impacted the game. Both Ruairi and Brett’s bookings were fair, and perhaps could’ve booked Brett again for multiple niggly fouls. The best performance by a ref I have seen in the National league South ever (in my first ever game, may I add).
It’s hard to pick out a key moment in a dull as dishwater 0-0 draw, but I’m going to try God damn it. With about a minute to go of stoppage time, Torquay won a corner which was swung in by Dickson. Cameron climbed the highest at the back post and his header looped over home keeper Scott Worner, only to be cleared off the line by midfielder Matt Young. So nearly an undeserved winner for the Gulls, but we would have taken it. This was also the only shot the Gulls had on target all game, which tells you all you need to know about us going forward.
Player Spotlight: Brett Williams
At the end of last season, I said that Brett Williams should be the first player out the door. So, what does Owers do? Re-sign him and make him captain. Are we sure Gary isn’t reading these reports? Today he typified why I thought we should have let him go: hardly touching the ball in the first half and then getting himself booked in the second when trying to actually move. I’m really not sure what he offered today (or for the past 9 months), and it might have genuinely been better playing with 10 men (or two Reidy’s up top). I really hope he proves me wrong this season, but I’m not optimistic.
Away Day Overview:
Chelmsford is only about 40 minutes from London by train, so it was a fairly easy trip with a hangover. This is even factoring in the fact that I missed my train (thanks TfL) and made a fool of myself in front of a local bus driver (don’t ask). The ground was a tad awkward to get to, as it’s a way from station and I couldn’t be bothered to walk. The Melbourne Stadium is a multi-purpose sports complex that had decent views of the pitch, but a discus/javelin cage in one corner and a running track round it that gave it sort of a budget London Stadium vibe. Just imagine what a track and field day would do to their pitch (not as much damage as Truro in the winter I imagine). This meant that from certain parts of the stands you were quite some way from the pitch, not that you were missing much. The locals were friendly enough, but £15 to get in was steep considering the level of football. The attendance of just over 1,000 was impressive, but I reckon a good 300-400 of those were the Yellow Army, which is a credit to the club. Overall, a decent day out spoiled by ninety minutes of football.
There is always a buzz about the beginning of the season, no matter who you support and where your club is in the English football pyramid. Even if Osborne and Oliver are slowly becoming Dick Dastardly and Muttley in human form (you decide which is which), today was no different. The buzz around the ground was great before kick-off, and even though the match was more of a game of head tennis, I am still glad Non-League football is back. Especially after this summer’s England induced heartbreak, I was pleased to see Old Gravy Gary and his merry band of footballers out on the pitch again. One of the interesting things that I noticed today was that the standard of football I saw today was no worse than a lot of what we’ve seen over the last few seasons at National League level. Either it’s because these are two of the supposedly better teams in the division, or the gap between the divisions wasn’t that big. Whatever the reason, we looked right at home.
A couple of Yellows mentioned during the game how over the summer we had completely rebuilt our squad, probably for the better, but the one area we didn’t was up front. Infuriatingly, this was the one area where we really needed to rebuild it completely. As one of the big problems last season was the complete lack of goals, or any threat up front to speak of. It was painfully obvious today that our strikers may struggle to perform at this level. Whether that is down to the players or the tactics is yet to be seen, but our lack of goal threat could seriously hurt any chances of promotion this season. I know we are only one game in, so I might be being overdramatic, but we need to beat the best and we didn’t look like it at all today. On a positive note, Owers has lost a lot of weight and looked rather trim today. Every cloud and all that.