“Where The Lemon stands out for me is his ability to stride through opposition midfields with the ball at his feet” – Matty on Connor Lemonheigh-Evans
Matty Hayward discusses and (in TT fashion) rates the TUFC squad, as we head into the 19-20 season:
Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96
We start the 2019/20 season with two decent, experienced goalkeepers – both reasonably vying for the number one shirt. This is a luxury which we could not afford last term after Alex Bass departed, and I think it’s something that’ll be hugely beneficial. Shaun MacDonald has proven to us that he’s a good keeper. I’d possibly venture to suggest that he was under-rated last season. While far from consistently flawless, the Geordie pulled off some key saves at key times and is excellent at distributing the ball to start a counter attack. I expect him to start in goal this Saturday as a result.
Battling with him, however, is our new man: Lucas Covolan Cavagnari. You won’t see many Brazilians in South Devon this year! Anyway, back to Lucas. I’ve only seen him play about fifteen minutes at Bideford but he looks tall, confident and athletic and he comes highly recommended. He’ll put a lot of pressure on Shaun this season.
We start this season pretty much as we finished the last, in terms of defensive options. In fact, don’t be surprised if we start the Boreham Wood game with a back four comprising entirely of players who we had last season.
Ben Wynter has gone from “Oh, he’ll be the next Owers signing to be released” to one of the first names on the team sheet since Christmas. He’s very fit and no slouch going forward (as he showed late on at Woking last season!) but it’s his defensive qualities that have ensured his place in the starting eleven this weekend. If he isn’t quite there yet, Wynts certainly will be a Football League standard right back and I’m excited about his future.
If you’d asked most Torquay fans last weekend where we need to strengthen before the season starts, they’d have said centre back. Personally, I’d have been comfortable going into the Boreham Wood game with Cameron and Niate as first choice, plus Wynter as Hall as possible backups. Kyle Cameron was the best defender in the league last season and I expect him to be putting out similar performances this time around. Jean Niate wasn’t as good, and he has a lot of proving to do. But I think the Frenchman is a decent defender and deserves his shot at National League football.
Relax, though, Jean-Yves-sceptics. On Tuesday, young Joe Lewis joined on loan from Swansea. I’ve tried my best to find out as much as I can about him, but information is few and far between. He’s 19, nearly 20, which makes him YOUNGER THAN ME (which is utterly unacceptable). He’s played five times for Wales U19s, three times in the EFL Trophy for the Swans’ U23 side as well as 13 times in the Premier League 2. This is his first loan, though one Swansea fan posted on a forum that he “is definitely ready for senior football”. I guess we’ll just have to trust Gary on this one, but he seems to be a versatile defender with a good character and I’m certain our Gary wouldn’t have signed him if he wasn’t good enough.
At left back, we’ll begin the season with Frankie Vincent. It’s clearly not his natural position but, from what I’ve seen, he’s good enough to fill that hole. Hopefully it won’t be long before Liam Davis returns from his injury so that Frank can play in a more advanced role and cause some damage going forward. Davis has proven his complete competence at left back, both defensively and in attack. I expect that to be no different this season. Ryan Dickson, Joe Lewis and to a lesser extent Jake Andrews can also do a job on the left-hand side of defence if we have a calamitous injury crisis.
I had planned to write this earlier in the week, around the Tuesday or Wednesday before the Boreham Wood game. At that time, I’d have said our midfield looked good and we had a decent number of options. Andrews, Keating, Hall, Little, Kalala, Vincent, and Buse on trial and looking like signing. Today (Friday 2nd), we have signed Buse, along with two midfielders who are far too good for this level. Opi Edwards and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans have joined on loan and – my word – our midfield is looking strong now.
Let’s start in the middle. Asa Hall is brilliant. He is a destroyer, a player who breaks up play as well as starting it off. Strong in the tackle, good in the air. All this depth in midfield will lead to the suggestion that Hall should be dropped, but he is a key cog in our side. There may be games where a more free-flowing, possession-based midfield duo will be preferred, but I’d like Hall to start more games than he misses.
One of those creative midfielders is Armani Little. I’m trying not to get too excited about this lad, so here’s some realism. He was at fault for Plymouth’s goal in pre-season. He gives away too many fouls for my liking – I reckon he’ll get booked a few times and will get sent off if Gary’s not careful with his subs (though I’m sure he will be because he’s a genius tactician). Ok, now for the good stuff. He takes a free-kick as well as Nicho or Luke Young – you can almost bank on him hitting the target from a dead ball and that is something we missed last season. His passing range is also ridiculous. You’ve heard that apocryphal story about Paul Scholes hitting a bin from 80 yards away: I reckon Little could actually do that. Our best permanent signing this summer.
Connor Lemonheigh-Evans. When your son gives you Lemons (on loan), make Lemonheigh-Evans. This is an obscene bit of business. For me, and I’m happy to be corrected on this as the season goes on, CLE is a bit better than Little. Set pieces? Not as good. Passing? Similar. But where The Lemon stands out for me is his ability to stride through opposition midfields with the ball at his feet. It’s a real skill. I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays as a winger at times too. I’m not going to predict which of these three central midfielders will start tomorrow, but they’ll all get their chances through the season.
Matt Buse, now. Technically another new signing, though he’s been on trial since the beginning of time. He can do a job either in the middle or at right back. As referred to on the Torquay Talk Pod, he’s like a love child of Damon Lathrope and Luke Young. Great engine, good passer of the ball, a good player. Will be a very useful squad player for us.
Frank Vincent. Crikey. He’s played at left back since signing in pre-season and we expect him to start there tomorrow, but naturally he is a midfielder. He can play on either wing or through the centre and, to be fair, he’s way too good to be this far down the pecking order in the middle. He’ll get a good chance too, though, and he’ll provide great depth and competition.
Jake Andrews, remember him? Recent news suggests he’s likely to play most of his football on the left-hand side this season, though he’s perfectly capable as a central midfielder too. Did well last season, expect him to do well this.
We’ve got plenty of other great options out wide too. Kalvin Kalala has probably been my player of pre-season and, on his day, will be the best player in the league. He’s exceptionally talented and still young. Players of his age and ability tend to have a breakthrough year when they set the world alight – don’t be surprised if this is Kalala’s. I’d love to write more about how much I love him but this article is already getting out of hand with adoration.
Opi Edwards. Another returnee from Johnson Junior FC. Didn’t really get a chance to showcase his talent much last season due to injury, but when he played he was brilliant. Whether it’s from the start or from the bench, this lad will have a serious impact I expect, as long as he stays fit.
Ruairi Keating. Bless his heart. Probably the only person in Torquay today who isn’t dancing on the ceiling at today’s new additions. I think he’ll find it hard to secure a starting position in this line-up, with such depth on the wings and up front. In his favour, though, he can play in two or three positions and he’s arguably the most energetic player we’ve got. He’ll get chances, there’s even more pressure on him this season to take them.
I should mention Ryan Dickson, too. When he picked up an injury in pre-season he probably thought he’d be a well-used squad/utility player. He’ll return to the dressing room in a couple of weeks to find himself surplus to requirements. It’s harsh, and a shame, but he is the weakest of these players and will probably end up out on loan before long.
Rating: 9/10, for me. (I can’t give them 10, that would just be silly)
Have I missed anyone? Genuinely starting to lose count! Think I’m free to move on to the…
This, at least, is more manageable. We go into the season with five forward options. One is Ruairi Keating, and up front is probably more of a natural position for him than wide midfield – we’ll see how many opportunities he gets there. The other four are Reidy, Duku, Olaf Koszela and new signing Mo Touray.
Jamie Reid. Crikey. Didn’t think I’d have to defend Reidy again but after a season when he scored 32 goals and got 14 assists, he’s come in for some criticism again. He’ll do the talking on the pitch far better than I can in this piece, but just trust him. He will score 20+ again this season and goals are only one part to his game. Honestly. I promise.
Manny Duku, now. Of the reports you’ll have read of him, my thoughts will be more critical than most. I’m not sure his first touch is great and I’m not sure he’s much of a finisher. He also really doesn’t challenge enough in the air for my liking – Gary said after the Swansea game that he expected far more from him in the first half and so did I. That said, his movement is very good and I’m probably being overly pessimistic because my midfield roundup sounded too positive. I predict he’ll score 13 this season, which would be a decent return for The Duke (that’s what I’m calling him).
Olaf Koszela is another who has slid down the pecking order due to recent transfer activity. That said, he’s a good young prospect and he’ll get a run out this season as well as possibly a loan spell to gain experience. There are pros and cons to both loaning him out and keeping him on board, my word-limit is too tight to go into them.
When we said “we must sign a replacement for Saikou Janneh”, I’m not sure anyone specified that he had to be the same nationality. However, Mo Touray becomes our third Gambian-born player, though he has played for the Welsh youth sides. He had a successful loan spell at Barry Town United (that appears to be their actual name which is ridiculous), helping the Welsh side to a Europa League place. According to Johnson, he plays in a similar way to Janneh, which cannot be a bad thing. I’m hoping he’ll put pressure on Duku and Reid to perform on a regular basis. Having to choose two from those three, and four from our midfielders, is a good dilemma for Gary to have.