Sam Jones – @samuellejones
I woke up this morning with a spring in my step. Not just was this my first United game since the shitshow at Slough in August, but also my first-time seeing Gary Johnson’s Yellows in the flesh. Not even the news of a bus replacement service between Three Bridges and Brighton were enough to dampen my spirits (or the manflu I had picked up during the week that was making me sound like an asthmatic Darth Vader). However, unlike Anakin Skywalker, Torquay finished with the high ground as Jamie Reid put his failure to be nominated for the Balon d’Or behind him to score an impressive hat trick as the Gulls ran out 4-2 winners.
The first half was dominated by Eastbourne, as the Gulls took a while to settle into their new 3-4-3 formation. After Sendles-White went off on 12 minutes with what looked like a hamstring injury, the Gulls struggled to cope with The Sports wide men (yes, that is their real nickname). Former Orient stalwart Dean Cox was a right handful on the left, creating a few chances that the home side really should’ve put away. The Yellows struggled to get anything going up front, even if new boy Kalala looked lively. Our best chance fell to Hall who fired over in anger when well placed on the edge of the box. The opening goal came on 36 minutes as a long ball from the back landed at the feet of Alfie Rutherford who beat Cameron far too easily, knocked it past MacDonald and tapped into an empty net. The Gulls did fashion one more chance before half time as a Hall free kick was headed across the face of goal by Janneh, and the sliding Reid couldn’t quite reach it. Half time arrived, and the home side held a deserved lead.
The second half was so much better, as you probably could’ve guessed. Torquay started on the front foot as the movement of Reid and Janneh improved massively. The equaliser came after a slick counter attack led to Edwards having the ball on the right. He fed the ball to Andrews who took a couple of touches and sweetly curled the ball into the top right-hand corner from 20 odd yards out. And just like buses, the second goal came just two minutes later. A great ball into the box by Edwards fell to Hall, whose first-time shot was well saved by Smith in the home goal. Jamie Reid reacted quickest to turn home the rebound and put United in front.
Torquay then committed the cardinal sin of sitting back a bit too much which meant Eastbourne got a foothold in the game. A few dangerous crosses from the home side should’ve been a warning sign, but they soon made the pressure tell. A strong (and possibly foul-riddled) run by Torres led to him crossing for Cox, whose shot looped off Essuman and over the helpless MacDonald to equalise. To be fair, it was what they deserved.
However, sleeping Gulls don’t lie and Torquay got themselves back in front with ten minutes to go. After a game of head tennis between the two sides on the edge of the Eastbourne box, Brett used his body well and got flattened in the process. Maybe a tad soft, but who cares. Up stepped Jamie to send the keeper the wrong way and make it 3-2 to us. Borough pressed and pressed but couldn’t make it count. The final nail in the coffin arrived as a long ball out from defence was well controlled by our now legendary number 19. He twisted and turned their defence inside out and finished with aplomb to seal the game. A fantastic second half for the Yellows, who will play better than they did today, but got the three points and a second away win in the league this season.
MacDonald: 7.5 – Maybe could’ve done a bit better with the first, but nothing he could do about the second. Excellent whenever called upon and a very good backup.
Cameron: 6.5 – Solid overall and showed a great range of passing but was caught out for the first goal from a simple long ball. Should’ve scored from a header in the second half with the scores level.
Niate: 8 – An absolute unit. Won every ball in the air and most on the ground. Great player to have in the middle of a back three.
Sendles-White: N/A – On the pitch for 12 minutes and picked up two knocks. Replaced by Essuman.
Davis: 7.5 – Very solid defensively but didn’t offer much going forward. Never seems to put a foot wrong.
Edwards: 8 – A real handful as he set up the first two goals. His end product was excellent overall as well.
Andrews: 7.5 – Despite scoring a screamer was a bit off the pace and slow to the ball at times. He does have a great range of passing and did more to help than hinder the cause.
Hall: 7.5 – Captains performance from Asa. Used the ball well and commanded the troops excellently.
Kalala: 8.5 – Excellent debut for the young Frenchman. More on him later.
Janneh: 7 – Good in the air and worked hard but nothing really came off for him.
Reid: 9.5 – Ran himself into the ground and scored a hat trick. Best performance I’ve ever seen from him.
Essuman: 6.5 – Was all at sea when he first came on and looked very uncomfortable in the back 3. Was much improved in the second half as he seemed to understand his responsibilities better.
Keating: 6.5 – Worked tirelessly to hassle defenders and kept the home side on their toes to help close out the game.
Williams: 7 – Won the penalty and showed great strength to hold the ball up. Needs more of that if he wants to win his place back in the side.
Man of the Match:
Jamie Reid, of course. Was there ever going to be anyone else? Despite a quiet first half, he came to life in the second half with his movement causing problems and his finishing sublime. He also used the ball much better than I’ve seen him, playing the easy option and not hanging onto it for too long. His third goal was the pick of the bunch as he calmly slotted the ball past the onrushing Smith to seal the win in added time. Could Johnson finally make him the player we all know he can be?
Opi Edwards was excellent. Had a hand in the first two goals and was a constant thorn in the home sides defence. Never wasted a ball and won countless corners to keep the pressure on. Tracked back brilliantly when needed to as well.
Niate was a monster in the middle of the back three. He won every header, commanded the defence brilliantly and kept Eastbourne at bay. Caught out for pace a couple of times but made a great recovery tackle when need be. Like Exodus Geohaghon, but French and actually half decent.
United lined up in a 3-4-3 formation, with Cameron and Sendles-White either side of Niate. The midfield comprised of Davis on the left, Edwards on the right and Andrews partnering Hall in the middle. Up front, Kalala and Janneh flanked Jamie Reid. The Gulls went for it today but were left exposed at the back numerous times. This was most obvious in the first half, as they struggled to keep hold the ball going forward. They tried to counter but to no avail as too often a poor pass meant that the move would break down. In fact, Eastbourne’s first goal came from a sloppy pass when breaking. However, in the second half, they used their pace to devastating effect. For the first two goals, the Yellows broke so quickly and, in such numbers, that Borough couldn’t handle them. If we can sort out the back three, then this could be the formation to carry forward.
Eastbourne are a good side. They were well disciplined, kept the ball nicely and were a handful up front. They lined up in what looked like a 4-5-1 with Leyton Orient stalwart Dean Cox lining up on the left and the skilful Alfie Rutherford up front on his own. Their game plan was to break at pace and give the ball to Cox, whose delivery was exceptional and caused problems time and time again for our back line. They were solid defensively when the pressure built up but were all at sea when teams broke on them with pace. Based on today’s performance, I reckon they’ll finish comfortably mid table. Fun fact: their manager, Jamie Howell, made three appearances for us in 1997. The more you know.
Gary Parsons was fine. Made a few odd calls here and there but had no real impact on the game. Missed a couple of nasty challenges by the home side, one in particular on Hall that could’ve easily been a red. The penalty was soft but correct, which at the end of the day was the only decision that mattered.
In a game of 6 goals, 5 in the second half, there can only be one key moment. Half time. I have absolutely no idea what Johnson said to the boys during the interval, but they looked like they were ready to storm the beaches of Normandy after it. Two League games in a row now where Johnson has engineered a second half come back, with the boys giving us a completely different performance. If only he can get us playing in the first half as well so as to avoid the stress. But where’s the fun in that?
After only signing for the club yesterday, Kalvin Kalala was brought into the starting line-up, playing to the left of Reidy. The Frenchman with second longest name in the squad was excellent. He seemed to glide past players with the ball, always beating the man with ease and picking the right pass. He was instrumental in the second half as the game opened up as he found space time and time again. Really looking forward to him being fully fit, as I’ll think he’ll be a real asset to us.
Away Day Overview:
Who doesn’t love a bus replacement service? I certainly do. Especially when it turns a 90-minute train ride into a 3-hour train and bus extravaganza. This must be what purgatory is like, a bus replacement service to Eastbourne. Explains why so many old people go there to die, they don’t mean to, it just takes them that long to get there. Anyway, I digress. After an encounter with the 15-year-old Borough Ultras in the centre of town, who very proudly announced that they’d all been banned from Spoons, I finally made it to the ground after 4 hours of travelling from London.
Priory Lane is literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s not even technically in Eastbourne, but it’s a nice little ground with every stand covered. The pitch was 4G, which meant the ball bounced funnily at times, but it looked new and the staff were very friendly. £13 for entry and £3.5 for a burger was fair enough for what was a good day out.
My first taste of Gary Johnson’s Yellow Army is one I’ll remember for a long time. I had only seen the 0-0 draws with Chelmsford and Slough this season, both summing up everything that was wrong with Owers tenure in charge. We played with so much more confidence today than I’d seen us with in a long time, taking our goals well and putting Eastbourne to the sword. Our goals per game ratio under Johnson is through the roof!
However, it was far from the perfect performance. We looked shaky defensively at times and gave the ball away too cheaply in terrible positions. We also didn’t turn up in the first 45 and could’ve been 2-0 down at half time if it wasn’t for a combination of poor finishing and great keeping. A better team, such as Billericay or Woking would punish us, but does that really matter right now?
5 games in, Johnson is unbeaten, and Jamie Reid is scoring for fun. We’re eighth in the league and one game away from the First Round of the FA Cup. Let’s enjoy the moment while it lasts and let Johnson iron out the creases, which I’m sure he will.