Dom Roman – @DomRoman
After a defeat to lowly Chesterfield FC last Saturday, the injury-hit Gulls flew back to their Plainmoor nest in the hope of getting back on track. The good news before kick-off was that four of those injured players – Jake Andrews, Joe Lewis, Ruairi Keating and Jean Niate were back and ready to boost a slightly beleaguered squad. The bad news – no Armani Little or Opi Edwards yet – but room for optimism as we sipped our pre-match pint of Gulls Ale (not a bad drop) in the busy Gulls Nest.
The line-up included young Matt Buse for his first competitive start, and the formation unveiled itself as a surprising three at the back (not normally Gary’s favourite…well not this Gary anyway), with Wynter and Davis the wing backs. Upfront under-fire Manny Duku dropped out (and never dropped in), meaning Reidy in the lone striking role with Ben Whitfield and Kalvin Kalala looking to provide support. Another week, another change in personnel and formation!
The first half at a cloudy but warm Plainmoor, started with a sharp and physical looking Dagenham team pushing up and looking to strike the first blow, whilst United’s XI attempted to make sense of the new formation – with mixed results. It made for an enjoyable if not enthralling 45 minutes, as the Daggers pushed harder territorially – but United looked dangerous on the counter attack. A half of toing and froing if you will.
Torquay’s first half-chance of the game came from a Vincent corner, and fell to Joe Lewis who half-volleyed the ball wide. No offence to Joe but we did not exactly rise in expectation of that bulging the net! A little later on another opportunity presented itself, this time for Matt Buse. Alert work from Vincent and the energetic Whitfield on a short corner, saw the ball pushed into the box for Buse to latch onto. The ex-Taunton man did the right thing and struck it first time, unfortunately he dragged the shot wide left of the post.
Apart from that it was a very even game leading up to half time, Jamie Reid frustrated with a lack of support around him and shackled well by Manny Onariase – whilst up the other end ex-Gull Joe Quigley did an efficient target man job for the Daggers. Around the half hour the away side had an excellent chance to break the deadlock. For once the defensive three of Lewis, Cundy and Cameron were caught napping with a far post cross, and with the goal at his mercy the otherwise impressive Angelo Balanta left footed the ball wide. On his other foot the result may have been different and it was a let-off for United.
Half time and a welcome snack of chunky kitkats awaited, so did the arrival of one Ruairi Keating, who made his keen entrance in place of Joe Lewis. A change of formation entailed back to a more traditional 4-4-2, and instantly the enthusiastic Irishman made a difference; winning some headers, charging into challenges in usually swashbuckling style and generally making a nuisance of himself.
Unfortunately whilst the change had given the Gulls some more attacking intent, it also opened the door for the Daggers to find their own space going forward. Skilful midfielder James Dobson found too much of that space in the United half and hit a wonderful curling shot from outside the area, but Lucas Covolan was equal to it. Pulling off an acrobatic save to tip it to safety, a top drawer save from the Brazilian.
United had not heeded the warning and five minutes later a corner caused all sorts of problems in the box, and a header from Harry Phipps beat everything apart from the crossbar. With Covolan slipping over it was a certain goal, so a big let-off and sigh of relief on Bristow’s as the ball was scrambled hurriedly to safety.
Back came United as the game stretched a little and a goal appeared more likely. A through ball found Keating darting into space on the right-hand side of the box, a desperate lunge came in from the defender and Ruairi went crashing down. Cue massive appeals from the Popside for a penalty, but an instant no from the referee. From my viewpoint the lunge may just have caught some of the ball and replays don’t look totally conclusive but favour the referee. A lucky escape for the Daggers on a decision that could have gone our way and rewarded RK’s endeavour, but not to be.
After that the game continued to ebb and flow, with the Daggers looking more likely to score – but Covolan in no mood to let anything pass. United meanwhile flattered to deceive in attack, with Reidy anonymous and Kalala frustratingly lethargic a goal seemed unlikely. The arrival of Jake Andrews for Kalvin with 20 minutes to play improved matters, however the away goalkeeper remained annoyingly under-worked.
Just when the game reached the point where a nil-nil became inevitable (and acceptable), a silly foul on Keating presented a free kick to us just outside the box. Who would take it? Jake Andrews definitely. The young midfielder licked his lips, steadied himself and drove a left foot shot promisingly over the wall. Over the wall but eventually over the goal as well after agonisingly clipping bar, it was almost a magic moment to send us all home happier – not this time. Game over, one point a piece and a gentle ripple of applause from the Plainmoor faithful (who had been fairly quiet during the afternoon). The Gary Johnson fist pumps will have to wait until Tuesday night…
Lucas Covalan 8 – MOTM – See Below
Ben Wynter 6 – Not at his best today. Unlike LD he hasn’t played at wing back and it occasionally showed. A little hesitant at times, but did enough in defence to keep the Daggers at bay.
Kyle Cameron 7 – Kyle had a reasonably solid game, some minor mistakes here or there – but the Geordie generally kept his focus and also strided out purposely from defence with the ball a couple of times. More of that please big man!
Robbie Cundy 7.5 – Very accomplished – See Player Spotlight
Liam Davis 7 – Liam had a decent game with the odd defensive blemish. Making the tackles, quietly winning battles and pushing up in attack whenever possible.
Joe Lewis 7 – Sympathy for Joe, he seems to play in a different position every time he pulls on that 1899 jersey! In the defensive three he did his job well, before being substituted at half time.
Matt Buse 7.5 – Buse showed no sign of nerves in midfield. Winning the ball back, keeping it simple in possession and supporting the attackers. An impressive showing from someone who has had to bide his time for a chance to shine, well done Matt.
Frank Vincent 6.5 – Frankie looked more comfortable in the 1st half, bright touches and positive movement – before struggling a little to impose himself in the 2nd. A mixed bag.
Ben Whitfield 7 – This guy has got bags of energy and positivity to spare! Always on the move and looking to cause the Daggers problems, just not quite the end-product. Attitude-wise spot-on and an example for KLK to follow.
Kalvin Kalala 3 – Speaking of Kalvin… I don’t give a 3 rating with any enjoyment but it has to be done. Briefly lively in the 1st half, absolutely abysmal in the 2nd. Looked dis-interested and gave the ball away lazily on several occasions. I’d imagine Gary Johnson is livid with that performance, I certainly am.
Jamie Reid 5 – Poor Reidy just wasn’t involved at all today. The Daggers defence were aggressive and limited his space, whilst he just lacked a dare I say it Janneh-type (there I said it) to work off. We cannot depend on JR19 every game, others need to step up.
Ruairi Keating 7 – I’d never question Ruairi’s attitude going into games, he’s always ready to battle tooth and nail for the team and today was no different. Throwing himself into challenges and trying everything to help the team, Ruairi did his best.
Jake Andrews 7 – The team craved some creativity to break down the stubborn (and solid) Daggers defence and Jake almost provided it with a wonderful (if not quite accurate) free kick.
Man of the Match: Lucas Covolan
I gave Lucas an 8, it would have been higher but for some initial nervy goalkeeping (rushing out unnecessarily Grobbelaar-style early on) and some shaky distribution (kicking too long). However, apart from that Cov was excellent, pulling out a marvellous save early in the second half to keep us level and grabbing every shot and cross the Daggers could muster. An excellent performance from the Brazilian and one to reassure any doubts lingering from last week.
I can confirm that Matt Buse’s first start for United will not be his last! Is the ex-Taunton good enough to play National League football, on this performance the answer is yes. Otherwise the defence looked like it was finally finding it’s feet and the partnership of Robbie Cundy and Kyle Cameron could be a winner. A second clean sheet of the season is not to be sniffed at!
Three at the back to start with (which worked well), but further forward I have to be honest, I’m not sure what you would class the formation as during the first half. Reidy on his lonesome and the midfielders rotating, confusingly! I can confirm it moved to a standard 4-4-2 after the break, with the introduction of Ruairi to the fold.
The Daggers were pretty much what I expected them to be, but with less away supporters (those who travelled were quiet). Peter Taylor has them well-organised and they looked like a settled team, with a settled style of play. At the back Manny Onariase barely put a foot wrong and didn’t give Jamie a sniff, Angelo Balanta pulled the strings cleverly in midfield and Joe Quigley did a steady if unspectacular job upfront. This is a team who will be tough to beat, but may need to find more va va voom to be promotion candidates.
The officials actually had very little to do until the 60th minute, very few free kicks or off-sides to award and the referee looking like he’d just finished university (yes I am getting older). The big decision then came and went as Ruairi was tumbled in the box. The ref had a clear view and believed that the defender got some of the ball, and I believe he got it right. Apart from that very little to report as both teams played the game in good spirit, well until a post full-time spat involving that man Keating! All much to do about nothing.
Two key moments, one the decision to not give a penalty (and allow us the chance to miss a penalty!) and the Daggers header hitting the crossbar down the other end a little earlier. From quite early on it felt like a game that one goal would win, and in the end both defences just about stood firm.
Player Spotlight: Robbie Cundy
This young Bristol City defender loanee looks like a proper player. Tall but graceful, quick for a big man and making the game look fairly easy at times! If Robbie can keep his concentration and continue to firm up his game alongside Kyle at the back, then today’s clean sheet will be the first of many. Very promising from the centre back.
Was this a bad point? Definitely not. Playing a Daggers team high on confidence and pushing up the table was never going to be easy, especially with our frustrating injury problems (yes I am still gutted about CLE) and the away team had more chances than us to take home the three points. With Reidy quiet, United just didn’t have the imagination, decisiveness or most importantly quality to score, whilst different formations and personnel have muddied the waters since the start of the season, we continue to be very much work-in-progress. It may still take time for Gary Johnson to iron out these inconsistencies and make us real contenders, but he will get there I am sure. Meanwhile, we need more noise from the Yellow Army, way too quiet at Plainmoor today. Onwards to Tuesday night versus Eastleigh. COYY