“When a big Yellow Army away match comes knocking, we are falling frustratingly short”
The Ed blogs about the latest from the world of Torquay United
Dom Roman – @DomRoman
“Big away days do not equal big performances” is something I tweeted on Saturday afternoon (well something like that anyway). Not much has gone wrong since Gary Johnson took charge. 101 points, glorious goals, wonderful football and a whole club immediately improved by this grand master of promotion – however when a big Yellow Army away match comes knocking (673 travelling support is amazing), we are falling frustratingly short.
Weston-super-Mare, Bath, Woking in 18-19 – all dreadful performances for the most part and you can now add Notts County (a) to the list. The lads mindset is to do their jobs in these fixtures of course, but are we too keyed up to play well? Is this youthful team lacking the composure to control their emotions and handle their nerves…maybe. If we want to achieve anything substantial this season, then something will have to change – Gary Johnson and Aaron Downes will be plotting how best to achieve that.
Notts County are a revitalised team on the march, so Saturday was always going to be a test of our metal and a loss wasn’t a major surprise or in reality a major set-back, more a stumble along the road to success! The disappointment came from conceding so early and losing our concentration again on a set piece. The long range belter gave Lucas no chance, despite unfounded suggestions that he could have done better. But initially we allowed their attacker a free shot at goal, before not clearing it properly and standing statuesque as the ball rattled in the corner. Another avoidable goal for the 19-20 scrapbook and we never truly recovered.
As a defensive unit we have to manage these moments better. TT’s Matty Hayward remarked to me the other day that “bad set piece defending is normally a team problem rather than the fault of individuals”, something that makes perfect sense. Focus, concentration and communication are three key words (amongst others) – keep on your toes, stay with your men and attack the football with aggression. Easier said than done! AFC Fylde should have really taken us to the cleaners on set pieces the other week, winning cross after cross but not taking advantage. The warnings are not being heeded and opposition teams are taking notes and planning to exploit these weaknesses if they can.
As a team we’re not the biggest and have as Andy Charles described “a soft underbelly”. I think we just lack enough leaders to cajole players into the right positions, and muscle their way out of sticky situations. After all, a ruthless streak to go with the attacking zest would make us real contenders. The return of Asa Hall should help. Asa was criticised for his form at the start of the season, but when fit the veteran slots straight back into the line-up. The skipper leads by example and is a guy that others look up to in difficult times, we don’t have many of those. For that reason the midfielder remains a key cog for United.
Apart from Asa slotting back in, I cannot think of many changes I would make – it’s not a squad with many weak links these days, such has been GJ’s evolution from the likes of Brett, Banton, Regis and Wright to what we have now. We have a lot to be thankful for when you think back to those dark days (and nights)! One concern I have is the goalkeeper position, it doesn’t keep me up at nights (our one year-old does that instead) but defensive errors and United’s inconsistent season have gone hand in hand.
As a former five-a-side keeper, I will always tell you that the man between the sticks is one of the most important players on the pitch! I’m sure many would disagree but a mistake from the goalie generally means a goal. What more influence can you have on a game?! It’s no coincidence that the best teams so often have the best keepers and at the moment I feel that in Shaun Mac and Lucas, we have two guys with plenty to prove at National League level.
Mac was excellent in 18-19, then flapped at a few in August and hasn’t returned since. Lucas…well he started with confident aplomb, then worrying indecision crept in and so did uneven distribution. The nervous nature of our defence hasn’t helped, but Cundy and Cameron would be aided so much by a more positive approach behind them; someone barking orders constantly and taking charge. Personally I’d be tempted to put Shaun Mac back in. The Geordie is more vocal and proactive – prone to the odd error but potentially a better bet than the Brazilian.
Going back to the Notts game, as a unit it just wasn’t good enough. Match verdict writer Luke Hunter threatened to gives everyone 5 or under on the player ratings, but eventually relented! My sympathy goes out to the wonderful numbers of Yellow Army who turned up, but not necessarily to the small minority who shout abuse at players when anger kicks in during an off day. One of the players in question can probably be guessed without me mentioning his name, but it’s someone who’s low on confidence and needs support to push him on. Frustration is understandable but chucking expletives at him won’t help with it?
No time to sulk, we’ve got a big game next Saturday. Okay at the moment a FA Cup 4th Qualifying round V Boreham Wood doesn’t feel like one to circle three times in your calendar and I’m expecting Plainmoor’s lowest crowd of 19-20 so far, despite a small decrease on the ticket prices. It is big though, because a cup run can unlock the door to extra finances – a windfall to perhaps increase GJ’s squad budget, give us memories to cherish for years and remind the whole country of Torquay United!
Alright, alright I hear what you’re saying…with the history of Yellows cup draws, we could climb to the 3rd round proper and still be pitted against Rochdale away (and lose) – but there’s always a chance of unforgettable glory and Boreham Wood are the first hurdle. The support-shy outfit looked a decent bunch to me in August; a physical top half team who could perhaps do better if things click into place. A silly sending-off tilted the balanced 90 minutes in TUFC’s favour, so I imagine it will be a close game this time around. Better get those set pieces sorted hadn’t we, fine margins and all that… I’ll be continuing the match preview Q&A series with BW supporter Steven Pye this week, so watch out for his views on Friday.
FINAL WORD – One man who can tip the scales in our favour before too long is Saikou Janneh. His name had become a stick to beat Manny Duku and Ruairi Keating with this season, “I wish that we had Saikou Janneh back” being the standard comment! His shadow has loomed large over Manny especially, a guy who desperately needs something to prove the doubters wrong. Nothing has been confirmed yet in regards to the loan arrangement, though the Bristol Post reported it confidently so it sounds like a done deal. The Janneh/Reid partnership exploded in the National League South and there’s no reason why it can’t give NL defenders nightmares. Saikou’s stretched defences, showed no fear and found a place in our hearts with his enthusiasm and swagger around the pitch – I can’t wait to see him in a yellow shirt again.
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