Rachel Malloch – @RachelVillavox
A late afternoon Plainmoor basking in the summer sunshine with a pitch looking sleek and verdant welcomed the cameras in for live coverage of the game; inviting the nation to see what this young Torquay United team under Gary Johnson’s tutelage are made of against an Aldershot team who had attracted an impressive following of over 200 supporters and prior to kick off only 3 points separated these 2 teams. Gary Johnson in the build-up had asked for the Torquay to “set their recorders and come down to Plainmoor” but the inevitable smaller crowd still played their part in making plenty of noise, replete with drummers from both sets of supporters.
The game saw a home debut for Torquay goalkeeper Lucas Covolan and a first home start from the returning Liam Davis. Torquay started attacking towards the away support end and with the game not even a minute long had the referee pulling out a yellow card for a crude challenge on Opi Edwards. Torquay soon settled into the game, looking comfortable on the ball, early free kicks from Andrews and Little came to nothing but Torquay had taken the early initiative and plenty of possession. Attacking moves saw a decent shot from Davis, then Reid had a good attempt blocked before some lovely build-up play saw the ever impressive Connor Lemonhaigh-Evans strike a sublime curler that went inches wide.
As the half wore on Aldershot started to gain some momentum, but with every build-up and attacking move, the Torquay defence dealt with it well and keeper Covolan wasn’t unduly troubled. Kinsella a former Aston Villa academy player was getting some space down the left wing. Then Aldershot defender Finney went to ground and having kept a close eye on Reid limped off to be replaced by O’Dwyer.
Torquay were by now getting into their fast, slick passing game and a one-two between Reid and Evans saw a strong but high and wide shot from the midfielder. The game came to a halt as Torquay captain Kyle Cameron received a knock on the head but he was soon back up following treatment. The movement in the middle of the park with Evans and Andrews together, plus the wing play of Opi Edwards and Kalvin Kalala really was quite lovely to purvey. A half full of intent and some really high quality football. As the 4th official held up the board for 3 minutes of added time, Cameron plays the ball long out to Jamie Reid who controlled the ball, checked and turned the defender and unleashed an absolute barnstormer from 20 yards leaving the keeper helpless and letting the national audience know what Torquay fans have known; that this is one heck of a good footballer. 1-0 and the referee blows for half time.
The second half begins with one change for Aldershot and no substitutions for Torquay. The game starts as quickly and with pace as the first half, with both sides playing fast attacking football, and a quick attacking break from Edwards for Torquay sees his shot saved. Then from the resulting keeper’s throw an Aldershot break finds Edwards tracking back and defending well. Aldershot have a shot wide of goal and then a strong run from Kalala sees his shot take a helpful deflection into the path of the oncoming Opi Edwards who calmly slotted in for 2-0.
Aldershot were still pushing forward, the impressive Kinsella finding a good shot held firmly by Covolan. Niate is next to receive treatment for a blow to the head but is soon up and back in the game. The match is very much end to end but with Torquay looking assured and comfortable at the back, Evans in midfield at the heart of everything United do and having a tremendous game.
With about 15 minutes remaining, goal-scorer Opi Edwards made way for Ruairi Keating and Kalala for Frankie Vincent. Then the industrious Jake Andrews leaves the field with forward Manny Duku entering the play. Immediately Duku is involved in the action, showing lovely control and turn winning a corner for Torquay. The forward shows more delightful movement and strength to gain a further corner, but this comes to nothing. A free kick in a dangerous position for Torquay sees Armani Little stand over it. The ground bristles with expectation and while it was well hit, the ball swerves just over the bar.
Aldershot have the final attack of the game but once again, Covolan holds onto the ball comfortably. Referee blows for full time and ends what had been a compelling, enjoyable game of football from two sides who both enjoyed pushing on with an attacking style of football.
Covolan 7.5 – Very accomplished, calm performance. Impressive (see Player Spotlight).
Wynter 7.5 – Rarely put a foot wrong.
Davis 8 – So good to have Liam back in the team. He really is a class act.
Niate 9 – Superb. solid, both on the ground and aerially. a great game.
Cameron 8 – Another strong performance, our defensive pair were solid today.
Edwards 7.5 – Took his goal well and covered a lot of pitch, going forward and tracking back to defend.
Little 7.5 – A steady game from Armani.
Andrews 7.5 – Busy as always, looked good.
Kalala 7 – Always looking to push up and take on players, will have better games but certainly did little wrong.
Lemonheigh-Evans 9 – He’s here, he’s there he’s every flipping where……a brilliant display from a player who oozed skill and class all game.
Reid 7.5 – Well-marshalled by the defence but he only needs a moment and a sight on goal, and what a beautiful goal that was.
Keating 6 – Looked rusty, found it difficult to get into the game.
Vincent 7 – Looked sharp, eager.
Duku 7 – It may only have been 15 or so minutes but in that time, he looked very, very good. His movement, strength on the ball, very encouraging from the forward.
Man of the Match: Connor Lemonheigh-Evans
A tough call as Niate had a brilliant game but Evans ran the show today. He never stopped creating, pushing forward, controlling the match. He has so much quality in his game, an engine in the middle of the park and today he really was sublime.
4-4-1-1 with Andrews moving centrally and Opi coming in for the skipper. CLE allowed freedom to roam behind Reidy.
While the game didn’t suffer too much from stoppages or pedantic decisions, the referee ignored some blatant fouls and ankle-biting tackles but on the whole, didn’t affect the tone of the game which was being played at a good pace by both sides.
Player Spotlight: Lucas Covolan
There really is a zen like quality, an air of confidence about the Brazilian goalkeeper. He dealt with everything Aldershot had today with ease. While Aldershot showed plenty intent and bluster, the keeper wasn’t called upon to make too many saves, helped in some measure by Niate’s towering display and ably assisted by captain Kyle Cameron. But he does look supremely confident and what a boon for the club to have two very good keepers in the squad.
Barnet (A) – The Hive, 3pm Kick-Off