Andy Charles – @capitalgull
I turned up for the first time this season – we lost for the first time this season and conceded a goal for the first time this season. Just restore me to chairman of the “Jonah Club” right now.
Torquay’s first trip to Court Place Farm proved less than enjoyable with a contentious first-half goal from Rob Sinclair the difference between the sides on City’s extra-crumby 3G surface.
It was almost certainly a game decided by the officials, with Torquay denied a goal before what turned out to be the winner as Jean-Yves Koue Niate’s half-volley was ruled out for offside/handball/foul (depending on who you listened to).
Not long after Sinclair was left in acres of space to fire past Shaun MacDonald, although his reaction and that of the rest of United’s team seemed non-plussed enough to suggest the bearded midfielder was (miles) offside. I didn’t have the right view to know for sure, but the goal was given and that’s all you can say about it.
A much-changed United side proceeded to dominate the second half, with Brett Williams seeing a 25-yard effort come back off the bar and Samir Nabi’s curling shot from outside the box hitting the post.
But there would be no equaliser and the majority of the 520 inside the stadium (fair play to all the Gulls who made the trip) went home disappointed after their first setback of 2018-19.
Shaun MacDonald 7 – another brilliant save from Joe Oastler to stop City taking a 2-0 lead, but otherwise a quiet night for the impressive young stopper.
Ben Wynter 6 – composed display but didn’t offer enough going forward.
Liam Davis 7 – biggest threat in a turgid opening 45 minutes. He’s clearly too good for this level.
Kyle Cameron 4 – a day to forget. Pulled out of position constantly, mindless hoofing a la McGinty and heading was off.
Jean-Yves Koue Niate 8 – made a couple of key interceptions when City were at their most dangerous in the first half. Barely missed a header all night and “scored” a lovely “goal” as well.
Asa Hall 6 – performed adequately at the back before being switched into midfield, where he looked more at home, after the break.
Ryan Dickson 4 – was looking forward to seeing him, but he really disappointed me. Wanted too many touches on the fairly slow surface and his set-piece delivery was dreadful.
Samir Nabi 6 – more of him later.
Jason Banton 7 – was surprised to see him taken off at half-time. Looked to be a threat playing in an advanced midfield position and would have fit into our changed formation after the break.
Ruairi Keating 5 – couldn’t live up to his Saturday scoring heroics. Works as hard as anyone but didn’t look to be on the same wavelength as…
Brett Williams 5 – Out of sorts. Gave up on tracking back a couple of times before being told in no uncertain terms to sort himself out. Few chances bar one long-range shot off the bar and not convinced he and Keating are the ideal strike pairing – their spacing never seems to be right.
Bobson Bawling 7 – made a massive difference with his pace. I’d imagine he will need a change of formation to fit into Owers’ regular plans though.
Jamie Reid 5 – sorry in advance to those who rate him, but he just isn’t a left winger.
Andre Wright 7 – only an 11-minute cameo but showed more than Keating, Williams or Reid in that time. When he’s fit, he’s going to have to start.
Man of the Match: Jean-Yves Koue Niate
There is definitely a massive howler in JYKN, but he seems to be avoiding it at the moment and was impressive tonight. A couple of times he stretched like Inspector Gadget to make vital clearances, and looked even more comfortable when moved into a back-four after half-time. Often had to cover for the off-colour Kyle Cameron and did loudly bawl the former Newcastle man out on a couple of occasions as well. Won just about everything in the air against the dangerous Matt Paterson and looked to have given Torquay the lead with a superbly struck half-volley. Does need to cut back his chat though, as he was booked late on for dissent and looked to get involved in a confrontation as the teams were coming off at the end of the match.
Liam Davis and Jason Banton were Torquay’s only threats in the first half, often working well in tandem before failing to find either Keating or Williams, who spent too much time too close together. The other mentions go to two of Owers’ second-half subs, Bobson Bawling and Andre Wright. Bawling brings much-needed pace to the team, but I fear he doesn’t fit in properly if the head coach opts for a 5-3-2 formation. As for Andre Wright, he sounded disappointed not to be starting at Court Place Farm and looked to be a man on a mission. He has excellent body strength and has to come into contention soon – I think it will be Keating who gets disappointed.
Cut and paste 5-3-2 at kick-off. The biggest disappointment of the night for me was seeing Asa Hall deployed at centre-back in the first half. Put players where they are suited Gary for pity’s sake. I said to my travelling companion Merse that we should play a flat back-four while we were walking around Oxford some six hours before kick-off, and in hindsight that’s exactly how we should have lined up. The change to 4-2-3-1 after half-time injected some pace into the team, with Nabi moving into a more advanced midfield role and Bawling coming on to play down the right. He made a big difference there but I would rather have seen Banton stay on rather than bring on Reid in a position he is simply not suited to. (BTW I am not a Reid hater!)
Captained by the impressive former Gull Joe Oastler, City took full advantage of our first-half lethargy and could arguably have led by more than one goal at the break. Oastler, now a centre-back, marshalled a solid back-four and Oxford’s midfield dominated most of the opening 45 minutes thanks to Reece Fleet, Zak McEachran and the excellent Rob Sinclair, whose beard reminds me of any one of hundreds of ice hockey players keen to avoid a play-off curse. Their best player, striker Matt Paterson, was kept fairly quiet but then again it’s tough for someone to play up front on his own against three centre-backs (another reason we probably could have done with two). I’m going to call their formation 4-4-1-1, with Sinclair the more advanced midfielder. It was very effective and nullified any threat we could manage centrally.
If I never see Wayne Cartmel again, I’ll be happy. Over-officious, deeming the slightest of contact a foul. Very inconsistent with his decision-making, failing to punish a City player for a late tackle on Ben Wynter and seconds later giving the same foul against Brett Williams, who I think was booked for pointing in the general direction of where the first incident had taken place. Wasn’t helped by his linesman on the main stand side for the City goal and was in danger of losing control of some of the players by the final whistle, especially Koue Niate who wrongly got very close to confronting him after he was the victim of another late tackle…and was correctly booked for serious dissent.
Either of the first half incidents could be seen as key, but I’m not going for the goal here. I get the feeling in this league that if one of the supposed “big boys” takes the lead away from home, they won’t give it up, so I’m going to go with the Koue Niate disallowed goal. Also annoys me that we would have had a chance to see the most passionate player in the team celebrate a rare goal – I reckon he has something special up his sleeve for such an occasion.
Player Spotlight: Samir Nabi
I’m going to take a look at Samir Nabi here. The former West Brom academy player clearly has talent in abundance, but I fear a lack of conditioning is going to hinder him. He looks very comfortable on the ball, but needs it played into him as he just doesn’t look to have the pace or strength to go and win it for himself. A couple of times he was so easily dispossessed it was almost as if it was a case of “after you Claude.” Nabi threatened more in the advanced role he filled in the second half, but after an hour it was becoming apparent that he was fading rapidly and should probably have been withdrawn there and then. He was a passenger by the time Andre Wright replaced him on 79 minutes, unable to even raise a gallop to try and get back to make a tackle. I’m not one to talk, but Nabi needs some serious fitness training, because he could be a real asset for us…something he is not at the moment.
Simply put, disappointing. It was my first viewing of the new-look Torquay United squad but by half-time I was ready to get back to planning trips to random clubs, even on days when the Gulls are close enough to go and follow. I made my feelings known, surprisingly without any swearing, on Twitter at the break and was ready to condemn this as the worst performance I had ever seen. The second half removed the need to do that although, if as Owers said in his post-match, it was the best 45 minutes we have played so far this season, then that would concern me as we only looked good enough for this level, certainly not a team likely to contend for automatic promotion. I know we have to give this team time to gel, but when does that stop becoming an excuse? Most of them have been around long enough to settle quickly. I’ll be interested to see what lessons have been learned when the Gulls turn up at Slough’s excellent Arbour Park on Saturday.