Jonathan Jones – @jonny__Jones
Blockbuster-billed, Billericay Town vs Torquay United was no classic. However, a double substitution on 70 minutes was enough to spark a victory for the Gulls. A massive result in our pursuit for the title.
The hosts, who despite falling to defeat at East Thurrock 7 days ago, had seen an upturn in form since the return of gaffer Harry Wheeler from Maidstone. They had been bolstered on Friday by the re-signing of the prolific ex-Gull Jake Robinson, also from the Stones. Wheeler was joined in dugout by Owner Glenn Tamplin, back from, er, holiday, but suitably dressed for a quick getaway to The Matrix.
United made one changefrom last Saturday’s mare at home to Weston, with Ruairi Keating replacing Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala on the right side of midfield.
The first half saw Torquay attacking the Blunts Wall Road End, housing the 257-strong Yellow Army. Clear chances were few and far between, with both sides battling hard for everything in the swirling wind. Nothing wrong with the pitch here though.
The game had clear shades of Welling, East Thurrock and Weston. Billericay were halting United’s tempo at every opportunity and fair challenges would be greeted by some kind of theatrics. United were marginally the better side, but lacklustre and toothless in the final third.
It took nearly 40 minutes for either side to fashion a shooting chance. United’s Connor Lemonheigh-Evans slipped through Saikou Janneh, only to have his shot blocked by Ricay’s on-rushing Joe Kizzi.
Yellow hearts were in mouths though, right on the stroke of half time. Shaun MacDonald dropped a free-kick under pressure from Non-league journeyman Ross Lafaytte. While forcing away the loose ball, Robinson went to the floor. No penalty thankfully. From our end it looked like the sort of penalty you get given against you if you’re a Torquay fan. These just seem to happen. Not today.
The second half began in similar vein to the first. Jake Andrews on United’s left side had surely been told to spray his signature diagonals in search of Keating at every opportunity. Despite the Ricay left back, ex-Gull Michee Efete, having all sorts of problems dealing with the ball’s trajectory, Keating remained unable to take full advantage.
United dealt with a 15-minute spell of Ricay pressure, and Gary Johnson, sensing that the game was crying out for some quality on either wing, made a double substitution on 68 minutes. Keating and Andrews making way for Kalala and Ryan Dickson, respectively. And what a change it proved to be!
United started to click into gear, the passing was crisper, 50:50 balls were falling to a yellow shirt and the home side were beginning to be pegged back.
Lemonheigh-Evans forced Alan Julian into his first meaningful save of the match, tipping a 25-yarder around the post, before both Kalala and Asa Hall headed Dickson crosses wide.
But in the 80th minute United got their noses in front.
Dickson was set free down the left, and after going through Hall and Reid, the ball made its way to Kalala at the back post. The Frenchman took a touch before firing a shot across the keeper and into the bottom corner. It was “combination play” Gary Johnson craves, and it sent us all running to scrum MacDonald behind the goal in celebration, great stuff.
Torquay weren’t finished. A couple of minutes later, Janneh found Reid in the area, who checked back, wrong footing the defender, before firing across the keeper. Trademark Reidy. 0-2. I think MacDonald enjoyed celebrating with us as much as the first!
In a game void of notable action for 80 minutes, the last ten more than made up for it in terms of drama. Two goals down, Billericay lost their heads. Wassmer was sent off for, what the official report says, as a headbutt. I’ll go for “handbags”.
Into six minutes of added time (six?!), Kalala and Ben Wynter went down, rather exuberantly. More spats. I’m not sure how much contact there was for either challenge, but one thing I’ll say is, it’s nice to see us game managing as well as we did today, you have to be able to win ugly.
The game was done, a win in the bag, it was just a case of waiting for Johnson’s customary fist pump before embarking on the journey back around the M25 with a smile on my face.
Att:1324 (257 Gulls)
MacDonald – 7: Didn’t have a notable save to make. Was assured on crosses and dealt well with a couple of dodgy balls over the top (unlike at Welling). May have been fouled by Lafaytte when dropping the free kick in the first half. Great celebrations with the Yellow Army for both goals!
Wynter – 7: Defended well, looked solid throughout.
Cameron and Niate – 7: Both improved from recent weeks, but got the wrong side of the attackers on a couple of occasions. Having said that, both Robinson and Lafaytte had quiet games
Davis – 7: Didn’t get forward as much as I’d like. Dependable at the back
Keating – 6: Not his day today. Remain to be convinced he’s a wide player, I’d have him as an option for up top!
Hall – 7: Combative, kept things ticking over, used the ball well and involved in the opener
Lemonheigh-Evans – 6.5: By his high standards, not a great game. Need him to pick those passes, game was crying out for his class today
Andrews – 6: Quiet game. Did pick out some lovely cross-field passes to Keating, but like, CLE, not firing on all cylinders
Janneh 6.5 – Worked tirelessly to make himself available. Assisted Reidy for his goal. Although, did snatch at a chance late in the first half
Reid 7 – Feeding off scraps for the most part but still managed to grab a goal; great finish. Involved in the build up for the first too.
Kalala 8 – Game-changer. We just seemed to click into gear when he came on! Beat his man every time. Scored the first goal. Vital.
Dickson 7.5 – Did very well. We needed a calm head, and Dicko brings experience. Always made himself available for the ball. Was instrumental in the opening goal. Could be in the side again after today!
Vincent N/A – Not on the pitch long enough
Man of the Match: Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala
Only on the field for 15 minutes but has to be Kalvin! A joy to have a player of such quality in a Torquay shirt.
Ryan Dickson must be frustrated following injury and with limited game time. Everything he did when he came on was measured and composed. His impact on today’s result can’t be understated.
For 80 minutes it looked like we needed a Plan B. Longballs were being played too often, but following the changes our passing improved. The home side looked tired and we had too much quality for them in the end.
To be honest, I’d expected more from Billericay. Yes, they were competitive but they lacked any star quality where it mattered. Credit to our backline for keeping Robinson et al quiet all afternoon though. Apart from a 15-minute spell in the second half, you always felt United had another gear to shift into, it was just a question of if they could do it.
Made some very strange decisions. Notably booking Reidy for a 50:50 challenge with Julian, which looked more like a United penalty. I could probably write a page on the inconsistencies, it’s unfortunately becoming part and parcel of this league. I can’t comment on the penalty incident, and I don’t really care now!
A hard-fought win against a decent side for this level. Despite the “circus” that precedes them, Billericay are composed of hardened, experienced players; their league position reflects that. A nice little ground as well, one of the best in this league for sure. Although, it’s not an arena.
A big 3 points for us, clean sheet, still top of the pile, get in!
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