Ben Currie – @bencurrie8
And so to the big one at a resplendent Plainmoor, still sparkling on a warm and cloudy August afternoon: perfect for football. In the lead-up to kick-off there was a real buzz around the ground, a mix of expectation, optimism and careful confidence, nothing beats the first day of the season. Torquay lined up in yellow shirts – with 1899 proudly emblazoned on their chests – and blue shorts, shooting towards a deserted away end In the first half.
So often last season Torquay started quickly in order to gain an early advantage, that was nearly the case today as Jamie Reid dragged a shot wide after only ten seconds. Boreham, all in white, were undeterred and set about trying to set the tone themselves, they had the better of the early exchanges and found joy down the flanks, Frankie Vincent in particular having a few problems at left-back. It was an early indication of the much improved standard of opposition that we will be facing this season.
Torquay struggled to find any fluency against a strong and well-organised Boreham side, the one or two positive moments were provided by Kalala but we were struggling to give him the ball regularly, Reid and Duku looking increasingly frustrated by their lack of service too.
The first major incident of the season occurred after 29 minutes when the away side were reduced to ten men following a disgusting two-footed challenge on Duku by Fyfield. Our new number 9 had been subjected to rough treatment throughout the first half with the referee appearing to miss a couple of off-the-ball fouls, but showed no hesitation in brandishing a red card for what was quite clearly serious foul play.
Playing with a man advantage would have guaranteed United a victory in most matches last season but Boreham continued to attack and in Tshimanga and Murtagh they had two dangerous outlets who were gliding through our midfield with ease. With the score 0-0 at half-time it was in no way certain that Torquay would go on to win, especially as they had yet to create a clear-cut chance of note and looked increasingly prone to a defensive error at the back.
Into the second half and Boreham set their stall out to waste as much time as possible, slowing the game down at every opportunity. Gary Johnson had clearly asked for more tempo in our play and some nice interchange finally saw Duku get a shot away which the keeper was equal to, Armani Little blazed the free ball well over. It was the Yellows’ first real shot of note.
Johnson made a bold double substitution after 53 minutes, taking off Andrews and Duku for returning Bristol duo Lemonheigh-Evans and Edwards, and the impact was immediate with every player appearing to have an extra bit of time and space on the ball. Ben Wynter made use of this space, trying his luck from distance and unlucky to see his powerful drive cannon off the crossbar. It was the wake-up call the crowd needed: they didn’t need to wait long for the opening goal.
Evans, playing as a link between the midfield and Jamie Reid, found a bit of space further up the field, he played a delightfully weighted through-ball which sliced the Boreham defence open for the first time all afternoon. Reidy still had a lot of work to do as he twisted and turned his marker smartly to allow himself some space, he shaped up to shoot but instead played an intelligent ball square to the unmarked Opi Edwards who prodded it into the roof of the net for the all important breakthrough.
You could see the confidence return to United and now we were attacking with real pace and purpose. Little did well to win a high-ball and find Jamie Reid who, with a clear sight of goal, thumped an unstoppable shot high into the top right-hand corner of the net. It was an absolute screamer and the perfect way to salute the start of a new season. Lift off in the National League!
Torquay were now threatening to run riot and were attacking in waves against a beleaguered Boreham Wood, Little, Reid and Keating (on for the quiet Kalala) all going close to extending the lead. United were guilty of trying to walk the ball into the net at times and it was a combination of poor decision-making or a poor final ball that kept the match as a contest.
In time-honoured TUFC tradition there was a nervy finish after Boreham pulled a late goal back. Niate was caught in possession in his own box, the ball was eventually squared to ex-Gull Tyrone Marsh who neatly found the net via the inside of the post. With a man advantage Torquay should have seen the game out easily but a nasty habit of needlessly losing possession crept in and in the end it was a massive relief when the referee final blew the full-time whistle to seal United’s first three points of the campaign.
MACDONALD 8 – Very solid performance, quick off his line to smother the ball, excellent distribution and a safe pair of hands catching those high balls. Having an able deputy will push Shaun harder and further, this was an impressive start, unlucky to lose a deserved clean sheet.
WYNTER 8 – Looks like he will make the step-up to the National League with ease. Always seems to be in the right place, some crucial blocks, and the ability and fitness to join the attacks at the other end. This guy gets better and better.
CAMERON 7 – Won a lot of aerial battles and seems a calming presence in the back-line. Another who continues to improve and should have no problems at this level.
NIATE 6 – Had a bit of a nervy opening 15 minutes which brought about his very avoidable booking. Looked solid for most of the match before his late error gifted Boreham a lifeline. These errors happen all too often and need to be stamped out against savvier teams this year. I have faith that he can be a valuable member of this squad if he can improve his concentration levels.
VINCENT 7 – Battled manfully playing out position, but the sooner Davis is back the better. Vincent had a torrid time in the first half so it would have been relief to him when Boreham were reduced to 10 men. Great engine to get up and down the wing. Can’t wait to see him further up the pitch.
KALALA 6 – Was our brightest spark in a prosaic first half, displaying his trademark tricks to manufacture himself some room. Was starved of the ball in the second half so was no real surprise when he was taken off. Still our most exciting and dangerous player.
HALL 7 – There will be a lot of chat about midfield combinations but Hall for me is a must. Does the dirty work well and quite often sets the attacks up by playing the sensible ball. Captain, leader, legend.
LITTLE 7 – Covers every blade of grass and provides consistently decent dead-ball deliveries. Final decision let him down at times today but he is going to excel in this team.
ANDREWS 6 – A quiet game today, not a fan of left footers cutting in on the right-wing. No lack of effort as usual, we know what he can offer,
DUKU 7 – Wearing the scars tonight after a physical afternoon which may have facilitated his early exit. Very mobile, important not to compare him to Saiko Janneh, both completely different players but both excellent partners to Reid.
REID 7 – Struggled to get into the game in the first half but changed the direction of the match with some intelligent play to set up the opener and then scoring a thunder-bastard of his own minutes later. Picking up from where he left off last season I am expecting another 20+ goal return.
EDWARDS 7 – Provided the injection of pace against a tiring defence just when we needed it. Scoring our first goal of the season should do wonders for his confidence. Constant threat in the last half hour. Forgotten just how fast he is.
KEATING 6 – It’s hard to come on and tune into he pace of the game when the team is running rampant such as it was, Keating’s passing and decision making tended to lose possession at a time when we just needed to hang onto the ball. There is no bigger team man than Ruairi and I know he has a massive part to play this season.
LEMONHEIGH-EVANS 8 – MAN OF THE MATCH See Below.
Man of the Match: Connor Lemonheigh-Evans
Completely changed the whole tempo and dynamic of the match when he came on. His knack of knowing when to release the ball and when to hold onto it dictates the amount of space others find themselves in. It’s no surprise that we pushed Boreham back further upon his arrival. His pass to Reid, though simple, was the first defence-splitting pass all afternoon. This guy is far too good for non-league football, astounded and delighted that we have him. He has to start.
SHAUN MACDONALD was very alert to snuff out a couple of dangerous through-balls in the first half and his catch in the last minute, under pressure, brought one of the loudest cheers of the day. After inexplicably copping some stick in the friendlies, it was great to see JAMIE REID answer back in the best way possible.
4-4-2, quick, accurate passes, spread the play, high-intensity, high-pressing. And it will be forever thus. We were frustrated by a resilient Boreham Wood in the first half which negated our usual high-tempo starts but with a man advantage we eventually wore them down. Even when plan A was not working we didn’t resort to too many long balls which is pleasing. There are more than enough skilful footballers in this team to unlock any defence, with a bit of patience.
Boreham Wood looked a very useful side, causing us problems early on with a full complement and still carrying danger when a man down. Indeed, the last 10 minutes were a nervy affair as Boreham managed the game well and smelt a very late equaliser. Luke Garrad has recruited well to ensure another season of struggle does not occur. This match was certainly within their reach but they were let down by poor discipline. There seemed to be a concerted effort to rough up Duku and this reached the boil when Fyfield was deservedly sent off for a vicious lunge on the forward. I think BorehamWood will be a bog-standard mid-table team this season. In Tshimanga they clearly have genuine quality.
Missed the two off-the-ball incidents which saw Duku laid out on the grass. The referee appeared to guess at the decision of the second foul and issued a yellow card. Got the sending off spot on for what was a shocking challenge and displayed his red card straight away. I actually thought the referee had a decent game and barely noticed him after the match somewhat calmed down following the sending off.
The double substitution changed the game and once again demonstrated why we are so lucky to have Gary Johnson as manager. You’d think a like for like replacement with Duku would have been the order of the day, especially playing against ten men, but instead he puts on Evans to play as an advanced midfielder- and it paid dividends. Evans’ ability to carry the ball and unload at the perfect time, coupled with Edwards’ electric pace against a tiring defence, swung the game in our favour. With a very strong squad I am expecting similar impacts from substitutes throughout a long and arduous season.
Getting three points on the board early on is a nice feeling and sets us up nicely for a busy period of matches, but it was disappointing to throw away a clean sheet from such a careless error. This should have been a routine victory but poor decision-making and a lack of conviction stopped us from adding to our lead despite creating numerous chances to do so. Last season we would have romped home but, playing in a better league, we were so nearly punished today: we need to see games out more clinically.
This was a good test though and when playing at our best we looked by far the better side, a positive sign to take forward. With genuine competition for places in the side now there are no guarantees of a starting place so we must hope that this pushes each player onto bigger and better performances. There can be no place for sentimentality. A crowd of 3100 is an excellent start and we must hope that many stay for the next one. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s certainly going to be an exciting season. We’re on our way.
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