Joseph Pope – @JPopeTUFC
In the face of another difficult test of our promotion credentials, it was a few moments of quality that sealed a crucial 3 points to see off a battling Slough side and pile even more pressure on 2nd placed Woking.
On paper, Slough were always going to provide a tougher fixture than Truro or Gloucester, and for large parts of the game they did just that. The inclusion of experienced duo Lee and Sam Togwell marshalled a robust and disciplined midfield. They set the tone early on with a crunching tackle on leading marksman Jamie Reid and the constant harassing of midfield maestro Connor Lemonheigh-Evans. The opening exchanges of the game confirmed what a strong side they were, with Torquay clutching for a long ball to the energetic Saikou Janneh as the sole salvo going forward. Evans struggled to impose his usual exuberant self on the game, with the first shot of the contest being a long-range effort from Andrews after good work from Janneh to dispossess the impressive Mark Nisbet.
United continued to look for the lively Janneh and Reid as the out ball, with another effort from distance by Jamie Reid after 25 minutes made light work for Rebels keeper Turner. The best chance of the half fell to captain Asa Hall, whose stooping header from Kalala’s cross went over the bar. Then the key moment of the first half, and arguably the match occurred. A ball forward from Lee Togwell to Ben Harris was intercepted by Liam Davis, who was scythed down by Harris to the ensuing uproar from the Plainmoor faithful and a resulting yellow card from referee Jason Richardson. With seconds to go in the first half, a dubious gesture from Harris to the Pop side was enough for Richardson to wield a straight red card and left Slough a man light with now a mountain to climb.
The second half was much better, with the Gulls having more intent and purpose to our play and a marked improvement on the first-half showing. United deservedly went in front after 48 minutes, with a goal worthy of winning any game. A ball in from the left from Andrews was headed out into the path of Wynter, whose Pavard-esque strike nestled into the far corner to give United the lead. In truth, the goal was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It gave United the impetus and confidence they needed, with Kalala and Janneh looking lovely and forcing two corners in quick succession before Andrews won and calmly dispatched a free kick left of centre to make it 2-0.
Keating’s introduction did much to consolidate on the applied pressure, poleaxing Lee Togwell and failing to convert a pull back from Reid his early contributions. But United were playing with the freedom and expression that has become trademark under Gary Johnson, and a rasping long-range effort from Andrews went close to adding a third. The introduction of highly-rated Dobson for Slough did little to start a Slough response, and instead Torquay went from strength to strength. After a disallowed goal from successive Slough Player of the Year George Wills gave the Rebels fans a momentary false hope of a fight back, a good move from Kalala saw Keating get his goal to make it 3-0 before captain Hall added a fourth from a Wynter cut back. A late miss from Reid did little to dampen Torquay spirits, as United held on in what was a thoroughly professional performance and a crucial 3 points heading into a difficult away trip to Bath.
MacDonald – 6: Didn’t have anything to deal with but improved distribution from the keeper and another clean sheet.
Wynter – 9: What a difference a good manager makes, a vast contrast to the forlorn figure dragged off before half time in the reverse fixture back in August. He has transformed immensely under Johnson. An all-round good display and a sublime goal to cap off a superb performance.
Sendles-White and Cameron – 7: Out of the centre halves we have, I think this just pips it as the best combination. They both look assured and dominant both in the tackle and in the air, Cameron especially looks like a real player.
Davis – 7: A steady performance from the left back. He didn’t offer as much attacking threat in the second-half, but solid yet again.
Kalala – 8: His footwork and direct attacking style is second to none, and a real quality addition to the team. He continues to improve and was unlucky not to get the goal he deserved.
Hall – 10: A true captain’s performance. While his miss didn’t come back to haunt us, he offers a physicality and leadership in midfield that is vital at this level. I have not seen a player win so many headers and he got the goal his play deserved.
Lemonheigh-Evans – 7: He came into his own in the second-half and managed to show the qualities we know he has. A good technical performance and a constant threat going forward.
Andrews – 7: Another solid performance from Andrews. The unselfishness he showed to put the ball on the plate to Reid shows what a good team player he is.
Janneh – 8: A constant threat in behind and shows the energy and desire that will always endear him to the Torquay faithful.
Reid – 8: He deserved a goal for his hard work and good play going forward, and nearly got it. Another good performance, and it is amazing what happens when you play for a manager that plays you in your actual position.
Keating – 7: Missed a great chance but got his goal. He showed his usual hard work and graft that maintains his usefulness from the bench.
Dickson – N/A: Not on for long enough.
Man of the Match: Asa Hall
It had to take a good player to take the captaincy off Kyle Cameron, but what a player Hall is. He is a natural leader and is vital to our midfield with the balls he wins in the air and breaking up play with his trademark recovery tackle. He was a vital part of Johnson’s Promotion race for Cheltenham in the National League, and he continues to be a huge part of ours.
Ben Wynter has come on leaps and bounds under Gary Johnson and capped off a superb performance with a goal of the season contender. Kalala also gets a mention for the footwork and trickery he shows, a real pleasure to watch and when he’s on form, he’s a real handful.
Attack, attack, attack! Whilst we were limited with our chances to do this in the first half, the quality and quantity of chances we are creating under Johnson is relentless. With the technical ability of the players we have in the squad, this wins us games all by itself. A quality finish from Wynter today, a class goal by Reid against Truro on New Year’s Day and a selection-box of finishes straight from the top draw against Truro on Boxing Day.
It is evident why Slough are where they are in the division. To have the second-best defensive record in the league after United (having conceded only 21 goals prior to this afternoon) is a good showing, and Nisbet looks like a real quality centre half. Sam Togwell was a crucial part of Barnet’s success in the National League, and offers the leadership needed to win games. The bare bones of the matter, however, is that they don’t score enough goals and I think they are a good striker away from a promotion push next season. Overall, not a bad first season in the National League South and a brilliant away following that made themselves heard throughout.
While he constantly seemed to have the whistle in his mouth, he got the big decision right for me. The tackle was deserving of a yellow card, and in fairness the petulance from Harris rightly resulted in a red. It would be nice, however, to get a referee that let the game flow.
The first goal from Ben Wynter. While the sending off of Harris was an important factor in the game, I didn’t feel they offered much attacking threat even when he was playing. However, the first goal from Wynter was vital; I feel under Johnson that if we get one goal, it is only a matter of time (with the quality we have in the squad) of when we get another and how many.
Player Spotlight: Saikou Janneh and Jamie Reid
You can’t not have one without the other. These two work tirelessly each game, and it seems they are having their own personal goal competition with 25 goals between them. They are a constant threat going forward, and a real handful for defenders.
We have been reborn under Gary Johnson, and the attacking football we are playing is a joy to behold. Reid has found real form, now that he is being played up top as opposed to as a winger, and we have a good blend of youth and experience that is trademark of a promotion side. This two-week break has come at a good time for us, enough time to nurse Jean Yves-Koue Niate and Opi Edwards back to full fitness and to provide strength to an already impressive squad as we enter the latter half of the season and look to consolidate our lead at the top.
View from the Ed:
“4-0 doesn’t quite tell the whole story of this game – the first half was a frustrating one as an organised (and well supported) Slough Town stubbornly held their ground and only the wonderful skills of Kalvin illuminated proceedings..until that sending off, a moment of madness that made The Rebels no.9 very unpopular on the coach journey home I’m sure. The Popside are officially the 12th Man (as if we didn’t know!). After that the goals had to come and they did. Ben Wynter’s transformation from scapegoat to trusted right back is complete as he drilled home the first. After that it was just a case of how many as the United wasps buzzed around in style to earn our 10th win in a row. It’s not all been perfect over the last five games, but with the likes of Cam, CLE and Reidy leading the way we are primed and ready for a promotion push. Two weeks to recharge then we go again”. Dom
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