The TT Match Verdict: TUFC 2-3 Eastleigh FC, 24th September 19

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Matt Hayward – @MattyHayward96

Match Summary:

If you take the lead twice at home and don’t win the game, you’ve only got yourselves to blame. That was the story of United’s defeat against Eastleigh this evening. Torquay passed up some good chances upfront; were open at the back; and largely vacant in the middle of the park. You won’t win many games when that’s a fair assessment of your performance.

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Despite a consistently subdued atmosphere, the game started entertainingly with chances at both ends. Buse had a huge opportunity which he headed straight into the Eastleigh goalkeeper’s hands. Cameron and Davis also forced good saves from Stryjek. Quality of the final ball was lacking. Step forward Ben Whitfield, who curled a beauty of a strike into the top bin from a short corner. Torquay took a deserved lead into the break.

Not long after the second half began, a scuffed header from either Cameron or Cundy (they are way too similar looking for my liking, can one of them wear a pink hat or a different shirt?) fell to ex-Gull Danny Hollands. His shot would’ve been comfortably saved, had it not been for a deflection off the leg of Ben Wynter. Covolan was deceived and Eastleigh had their foot back in the door.

A few minutes later, United looked to have shut that door again. A delightful cross from the excellent Ben Whitfield was met by the less excellent Jake Andrews. I’m pretty sure his finish went in, but Ruairi Keating belted in the rebound in case of any doubt.

Andrews found himself with a brilliant chance soon afterwards. His shot from inside the six-yard box was dragged wide to the disbelief of himself and everyone else in the ground. Would’ve killed the game.

After that the match slowed down. Covolan, wrongly, tried to waste time. In doing so, he sucked the life and all positive momentum out of the game. The only excitement in this period was a ball over the top where Whitfield was clearly off-side but Keating clearly on. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the winger from Yorkshire took it upon himself to collect the ball and finish well. He certainly could have left it to Ronan’s nephew, but perhaps he didn’t trust him to score. Nonetheless, it has to go down as a chance missed.

While most of the Popside was applauding Whitfield as he wandered around the pitch after being taken off, Eastleigh struck. Seemingly, I was as distracted by Whits’ departure as the players. A defensive mix-up gifted Barnes the ball and he impressively lobbed our Brazilian ‘keeper from range.

At 2-2, The Gulls had another enormous chance as Kalala, on for Whitifield, swung in a delightful ball from the right. To the Frenchman’s despair, it beat everyone – Keating and Andrews were a hair’s width away from a crucial header.

Just as it looked as if the game was winding down (and I tweeted that it was nailed on to be a draw), Eastleigh scored. Obviously. From my perspective it was a very well-worked goal – as opposed to a sign of any defensive frailty – but it served as a real kick in the teeth to the Yellows faithful.

And that was that. A smattering of boos emanated from the Popside (and, I think, elsewhere) without real justification. It was a game that Torquay did enough to win but did everything possible to lose. Another very frustrating defeat and one win from seven is beginning to look like a very poor run of form.

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Player Ratings:

Lucas Covolan 5 – Made a couple of good stops but his distribution in the second half was well below par. Slightly hampered by the wind, for sure, but he wasn’t good enough tonight. If he hadn’t been the best player on the pitch against Dagenham, I’d be dropping him for Stockport (a).
Ben Wynter 6 – Urr, fine? Hard to give him stick because I barely noticed him.
Robbie Cundy 5 – Again, didn’t really notice him. But the defence (as a unit) was at fault for at least Eastleigh’s first two goals. More on him below
Kyle Cameron 6 – See above, really. Passed the ball quite well (especially for our second, his fizzed pass out to Whitfield was fantastic) but didn’t defend brilliantly. Gets the extra point because of that pass.
Liam Davis 8 – Was caught out of position once, maybe twice, but had an excellent game. Smart, Eastleigh’s winger, looked very sharp but Davis made a number of great tackles and would walk into the MOTM stakes had it not been for Whitfield’s performance
Ben Whitfield 9 – MOTM – Scored a beauty and made the other. More below.
Matt Buse 5 – Sorry, he isn’t good enough (yet?). Decent energy but dived in and was left out of position way too often. His passing was OK, but he had the best chance of the game and wasted it. We really really miss Hall, Little and CLE in midfield. Just makes me want to get on the Buse.
Frank Vincent 6 – Really not sure how he got man of the match. Marginally better than Buse in that he didn’t miss a sitter.
Jake Andrews 6 – Poor from him tonight. Squeaks a 6 for the goal (though I’d have fancied myself to score), but he missed a really good chance and passed up a couple of other good attacking positions. He is much better than his performance tonight.
Ruairi Keating 6 – Ruairi is a limited footballer. Tonight he played to a level very close to his limit. He worked his socks off, was decent in the air and held the ball up pretty well. Unfortunately, he ain’t that good at football. If he had, for example, Brett Williams’ ability he’d be playing in the Championship. But he doesn’t, so he’s playing for Torquay. In his defence, though, I think I’m right in saying he’s not played more than 45 minutes in a game since Chelmsford at home – maybe give him a bit of a break.
Jamie Reid 6 – Fine. Not bad. He’s had better games in terms of build-up play etc. but he simply didn’t have the opportunities to stamp his authority on the match tonight. Had one half-chance in the first ten minutes which forced a good save. Perhaps he went searching for it a bit too much tonight (maybe he’s got used to have a number ten behind him, so felt the link between midfield and attack was missing so tried to make up for that?) but it didn’t help him. He’ll get his 50th goal soon.
Subs:
Kalvin Kalala 6 – Nowhere near his best again. Doesn’t suit a cameo role at all. Put one or two brilliant crosses in though
Manny Duku N/A – I’ve been kind to him here. He must have played for about ten minutes but I’ve deemed him to not have been on the pitch long enough to be graded. His only impact was to make us look less like scoring and to make the crowd even more exasperated. Lady Hale would describe his performance as “void, and of no effect”.

Man of the Match: Ben Whitfield

Without question, the answer is Ben Whitfield. This boy is a fantastic signing. His goal was sublime, his ball for Andrews’ goal was just as good, and he could’ve had another goal if he’d stayed onside and another assist if our front line was a bit more clinical. How many of our players are guaranteed a start, even with everyone fit? The two full backs, Whitfield and Reid are the only ones. That’s some impact for someone who has only just signed.

Honourable Mentions:

As mentioned, Liam Davis was fantastic. He made one unbelievable last-ditch tackle and stole the ball from young Sam Smart a number of other times. That was a great battle in the first half which Davis won despite the Eastleigh winger looking very dangerous.

Nobody else put in a noteworthy performance.

Tactics:

It was back to 4-4-2 tonight. Ruairi Keating was given just his second start of the season, his first as a centre forward. The midfield comprised of Andrews on the left, Whitfield on the right, and Buse partnered Vincent in the centre.

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The Opposition:

Eastleigh are alright. They’ll be mid-table. They had a couple of exciting forward players, a couple of decent defenders and a solid, experienced midfield. Second and third goals were taken very well.

The Officials:

Very hard to complain about any decisions today. Eastleigh reckoned they had a good shout for a penalty in the second half (I assume for a handball) but the ref confidently waved it away. I think all of the Popside ire towards the linesman was out of frustration at an annoying performance rather than him actually having a bad game. Arms were raised towards assistant referee Stacey Pearson when Eastleigh scored their winner, but I fear that was more out of desperation than belief.

Key Moment: 

Less of a key moment, more a key period. In the ten to fifteen minutes where we led 2-1, we really ought to have scored a third. That would have taken the wind out of the Spitfire’s sails wings and killed the game off. Instead, we fluffed our lines and let them swoop in and snatch three points from under our noses.

Player Spotlight: Robbie Cundy

He was under the TT player spotlight at the weekend for good reasons. On tonight’s performance, however, I’m not so sure. Are we certain he’s good? He looks alright, he passes the ball well, and is generally composed. But is he actually a good defender? Is he better at defending than Niate? Perhaps it’s one of those situations where I’ve not been blown away by him making brilliant tackles or towering headers because he’s clever enough to get into positions where that is not required – that is, after all, Pep’s philosophy. But he’s no Aymeric Laporte or Gerard Pique. This isn’t me saying Cundy isn’t good, it’s more a brainstorming session about whether he’s as good as we think.

Conclusion:

Can you prorogue a season? Just until our key players are fit again? Put Hall, Little and The Lemon in that team for Buse, Vincent and Keating and we win that game. It is that simple. We especially missed Asa’s organisation and guile in the middle of the park. Buse and Vincent aren’t bad players but, when in the same team, are very limited.

Some criticism has to be levelled at Johnson’s substitutions. To take Whitfield off seemed strange, given that he was running the game. Also, to bring Duku on for Andrews and shift Keating to the left felt odd, considering Ruairi must surely be short of match fitness and was relatively ineffective in the second half.

This defeat wasn’t down to Gary, though. If we’d taken our chances we’d have won the game. If our first choice midfield was fit or our backup midfielders were good enough, we’d have won that game. If our back five were more experienced and less prone to errors, we’d have won that game. Johnson cannot legislate for at least three chances being missed nor for at least three of key midfielders being out. Responsibility has to fall at the players’ door. Some of the lads in the dressing room will, rightly, be fearing for their place in the side and arguably for their Torquay United careers.

That said, please, for goodness sake, can we calm down? Booing at the end? Social media talk of a relegation battle and Johnson being out of his depth? Yes it was a frustrating evening but please don’t be ridiculous. We should have won today, and if we had we’d be outside the playoffs on goal difference. We’ve had a disappointing start by our own expectations, and we’re still mid-table. Relax. Take a deep breath. Tweet about Brexit instead – I’m sure that’ll be less irksome for you. This bad run will come to an end and it won’t be long before you’re singing “Reidy Is A Shagger” and “Gary Johnson’s Yellow Army” again.

Social Media:

Next Up:

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Stockport County (A) – 28th September, 3pm KO – Edgeley Park
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TorquayTalk.com – @TORQUAYTALK 

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