Ben Currie – @bencurrie8
Torquay sought for a reaction to Tuesday night’s disappointing draw at bottom club Weston with a six-pointer against league leaders Billericay at Plainmoor. A win would close the gap between the two to 4 points, a defeat would extend Billericay’s lead to 10.
Opi Edwards missed out with a thigh strain – Ruairi Keating took his place, and Ben Wynter came in for the injured George Essuman as United reverted to a back four. Sami Nabi was able to take his place on the bench whilst the appeal of his suspension is pending.
After a sloppy, error-strewn opening Torquay settled quickest and deservedly took the lead when Niate stabbed a loose ball home from a corner. United then dominated the rest of the half with some nice passing combinations down the flanks whilst Billericay really struggled to offer much threat at the other end.
Saikou Janneh doubled the Gulls’ lead on the stroke of half-time with a neatly improvised acrobatic finish, again from a corner, as Torquay looked good for their 2-0 lead.
You could be forgiven for wondering just how Billericay are top on the basis of their first half showing but, just as they did on Tuesday, they rallied from two goals down to get something out of the match.
First, some indecision between MacDonald and his centre-back presented Pennington with the opportunity to lob the ball into an empty net from distance which he duly obliged with a skilful finish. Then, after cranking up the pressure on their hosts, Pennington rose highest to nod home from a corner to level the scores.
Had Billericay not then had a man sent off for 2 bookable offences then they might well have found a winner, but that decision stopped them in their tracks and they shut up shop and used all the tricks in the book to run the clock down as Torquay struggled to create that glaring chance to snatch all three points.
MACDONALD 6. Possibly at fault for both goals, distribution disappointing with the wind taking most of them out of play.
WYNTER 7. Steady at the back, offered good support down the wing, end product needs to be improved.
YVES-NIATE 7. Won everything in the air, passing out from the back assured. Getting better with every game.
CAMERON 6. Looked shaky at times, first touch a bit sloppy. Possibly equally culpable in Billericay’s first.
DAVIS 7. Consistently impressive. End product improving from last season.
DICKSON 7. Best I’ve seen him this season. Good to get 90 minutes under his belt.
LEMONHEIGH-EVANS 7. Ran the show in the first half, struggled to exert same authority in the second half as Billericay upped their game. Set-pieces generally good.
KALALA 6. Some decent link up play, strong running with the ball, decision-making lets him down.
KEATING 6. Tireless worker but missed two glaring chances which would have made all the difference.
JANNEH 6. Superbly taken goal, tired markedly in the second half and struggled to make an impact.
REID 6. Looked a threat whenever he got on the ball which sadly wasn’t too often in the second half, possibly stymied by ridiculous early booking.
WILLIAMS N/A Barely touched the ball when he came on.
Man of the Match: Connor Lemonheigh-Evans
Lemonheigh-Evans was the pick of the players in the first half. His sensible use of the ball and range of passing set us on attacks as we took the game to Billericay and both goals were scored after confusion from his corners. None of our players really stood out in a poor second half performance but, as he showed last season in a higher division, Evans has the ability to stretch teams and open them up with precise passing and good decision making.
NIATE is really starting to put in some consistent performances, looking dominant in the air and trying to make that centre-back spot his own. It was good to see RYAN DICKSON get 90 minutes under his belt in what became a scrappy, combative second half. With Hall and Andrews to come back it looks like a strong midfield with plenty of options. After some indifferent performances I thought BEN WYNTER looked assured at right-back. He perhaps needs to be constantly spoken to with guidance throughout the match but I see potential there worth persevering with.
We started with 4-3-3 and in the first half it caused Billericay all sorts of problems as they failed to cope with overloads down both wings. Passing was quick, accurate and along the floor and we got in behind the opposition on plenty of occasions. Playing with the wind in the second half was a different story as we failed to replicate the passing combinations of the first and when Billericay got themselves back into the game we panicked somewhat and reverted to long ball which was toothless with the wind taking most of them out of play.
As Billericay got themselves back into the game I thought GJ might sacrifice a striker to try to shore up the midfield and retain possession better, but instead he threw on another striker and continued to attack. It is refreshing to see a manager throw caution to the wind and try to keep the team on the front foot at all times.
It was difficult to see how Billericay could possibly be top after their first half showing. We played them off the park and but for better finishing they should have been out of the game. However, the sign of a good team is not knowing when they’re beaten and for the second time in 4 games they came back from 2 goals down to get a result. They didn’t give up, and despite all their bluster and infamy, that is a very good characteristic to have. It is frustrating that we gifted them a way back into the match; up until then they had barely threatened but we had little or no answer to them as they cranked up the pressure on us, they may well have completed the come-back had they not had a man sent off.
After the sending-off Billericay showed no real interest in winning the match and were more intent on keeping hold of their point which they achieved with a full array of time-wasting and gamesmanship. Despite the circus that seems to surround them constantly, Billericay should be respected and will be there or thereabouts at the top come the end of the season.
Made a rod for his own back with a quite unbelievable early booking for Reid for “diving” meaning every decision thereafter was to be compared to that shocker. Inevitably, his decision-making was erratic and by the end of the match had completely lost control of proceedings to the point where he could not even oversee a substitution properly (it took 2 minutes).
As per every referee in this country, he failed to put a stop to blatant time-wasting, only booking the goalkeeper in stoppage time after he had spent 20 seconds over every goal-kick for the past 15 minutes. Frustrating, but not the reason why we dropped 2 points today, we only have ourselves to blame. As always, the standard of refereeing is commensurate to the standard of football we find ourselves in. Want better referees? Get promoted.
Player Spotlight: Shaun MacDonald
Shaun MacDonald might well come in for some criticism for 2 goals conceded today, indeed he might have done better on both. Here we have a learning curve for a young goalkeeper who so far has performed brilliantly for us. His shot-stopping and handling on Tuesday at Weston was outstanding, his distribution is normally excellent and he commands his area well. Today he did not get enough purchase on his clearance for the first, I believe the decision to go for it was correct, and for the second he was second best in the air from a very poorly defended corner.
I hope that we keep faith in MacDonald because he has a lot of potential and he will learn from days like these. Five minutes after Billericay’s first goal MacDonald once again came a long way out of his area in order to intercept another through-ball, this time he cleared it out of play. This showed me a positive reaction to conceding the first goal and a confidence in his own ability and decision-making. I hope we continue to work with Shaun, if he was already the finished article he wouldn’t be playing at our level.
A case of two points dropped today, first half we looked superb and dominated Billericay by playing good football, and had Ruairi Keating not contrived to miss from two yards out we would have been out of sight. Once we opened the door for Billericay though they showed what a good team they can be by pushing us onto the back foot. We must not forget that we were missing 3 or 4 first team players who could have made a difference today. It is a mark of how far we have come in a short space of time under Johnson that we are disappointed with a 2-2 draw against the league leaders. That suggests a change in mentality instilled by a new manager.
The unbeaten run under Johnson continues, but that’s only a good thing if we win more than we draw. Five points from nine is a decent return from a tricky looking set of three fixtures. It keeps us ensconced in the play-off picture as we take another short break from league action and look forward to another potential money earning FA Cup tie next week at home to Woking.
View from the Editor:
How do I write this bit without saying “a game of two halves”…oops. Once United (and their assorted bright boots!) had got to grips with a new formation and a fast pitch, they were a joy to watch as the team pressed up the flanks and took a deserved two goal lead into the break. That should have been enough, but in a vital five-minute spell Ruairi missed a sitter and defensive jitters allowed a lifeline for the away team. Keating had two great chances and missed the target on both occasions. I love the effort and commitment the striker puts in, but if RK wants to make it as a professional footballer then he must start taking those opportunities.
After that kick in the teeth we lacked the necessary composure to manage the game, letting a rejuvenated Billericay dictate play and take advantage of some worrying defensive frailties. One to learn from for all concerned and a reminder that the squad still needs fine-tuning with quality and consistency if we want to get out of this league. If a determined Billericay Town are the benchmark we have nothing to fear that is for sure. TUFC remain an ongoing ‘work in progress’, but for once we are in the right hands and my full trust remains in Gary Johnson to find the right formula. Dom