“Even a manager as terrific as Gary can find the loss of so many key players difficult to overcome”
The Ed blogs about the latest from the world of Torquay United
Dom Roman – @DomRoman
Another Saturday, another loss and another injury, equals another slightly downbeat TT blog from the Editor! I’d warned last week that lowly Sutton may not be whipping boys for United, and so it came to pass. Two goals, given away with calamitous defensive lapses, allowed Sutton an advantage we just could not reduce in an increasingly desperate 2nd half. Back to the drawing board for Gary Johnson and the boys.
Criticising (Sir) Gary Johnson is almost like taking a swipe at the Pope (and I don’t mean Joseph), but I’ll do it anyway! It was not a good day for the manager, in fact one of his poorest since taking charge of United. To start with, the change in formation was a surprise as we approached kick-off, as despite the struggles at Maidstone I expected (along with most) that Kalvin Kalala would come in for the injured Jake Andrews. Instead in came a rusty Jean Niate to form a 3 man defence with Cundy and Cameron, leaving Smith and Wynter the wing backs and Whitfield/Janneh behind Reidy.
Bulking up the numbers in midfield after the limp display at Stones was perhaps the order of the day, and unfortunately it didn’t work as Sutton profited from uncertainty throughout the Gulls XI. At the back Robbie probably had his worst game in a yellow shirt (he can do a lot better we know that), whilst Jean mis-kicked plenty and also missed a vital header as Sutton threatened. Meanwhile Kyle should have done better for their frankly silly 1st goal, but showed aggression in everything he did and tried to play out from the back. A mixed bag for the skipper. That’s 32 goals conceded in 21 games, and only four teams in the NL have shipped more. Not a stat to crow about and GJ was understandably spitting feathers on the touchline.
It was not just the centre backs who struggled; overall the shape just didn’t suit the team, and players appeared a little lost around the football field as they tried to adapt. No-one encapsulated this more than Saikou Janneh who was fired up to get involved right from kick-off, but had more touches near the halfway line – meaning his influence on the game and link-up with Reidy was minimal. And after injury had struck Frank Vincent, the balance of the team was completely lost and this translated to a disjointed and ragged 2nd half. Players like sub Kalvin and Whitfield looked a little lost in midfield and understandably struggled to match up physically with the Us’ (KLK noticeably shrinking away from 50/50 challenges, although he did win a rare header!). Nothing GJ can do about injuries of course, and he must be thoroughly peeved that they keep occurring.
To cap off the gaffer’s (and our) day, Ruairi Keating stripped off ready to have a go as the minutes ticked away and then for some reason returned to the bench, as Olaf entered the fray instead. This is man-management totally at odds with GJ’s usual calm handling of affairs and I have a lot of sympathy for the striker, who just loves having a go for the Yellow Army. This is a strange and disrespectful way to treat a player, and it’s another kick in the teeth for the popular Irishman – someone who has not played much football for weeks and was clearly relishing the chance for some action back at Plainmoor. Keep your head up Ruairi.
Back on the pitch and overall the formation and tactics just appeared unnecessarily complicated from the boss, with the only comfortable player being Ben Wynter, someone who looked a class above the other Gulls on Saturday. The Johnson/Downesy partnership has had so many brilliant afternoons since arriving, so I can of course forgive them this blemish and back them to the hilt. I have absolutely no doubts in my mind that they’re taking us in the right direction (League Two football). And heck even a manager as terrific as Gary can find the loss of so many key players difficult to overcome; this spate of midfield injuries is just unbelievable.
Early season I had doubted whether Matt Buse would get a game at all, but by Saturday at 3.30ish he was our only midfielder left standing! I don’t like to make excuses – Sutton United played with admirable spirit and purpose, deserving their win – BUT place any three out of Asa Hall, Jake Andrews, CLE, Frank Vincent, Liam Davis, Opi Edwards or Armani Little into that XI for the 90 mins and I’m convinced the game is ours. One of the latest casualties Andrews was a miss especially; his composure and excellence around the box has created so many chances this season – plus he’s always likely to bag one himself. Here’s hoping he returns very soon, with TUFC’s bluffers guide to injuries your guess is as good as mine!
All in all I think the main thing is to steady the Yellows ship and keep within the pack at the moment. We are fortunate that the league is a very average one – consistency is rare and teams are all beating each other, meaning we currently sit only 3 points off 1st place. Top team Barrow are bucking the trend; 10 wins out of 11 – the only defeat at Chez Plainmoor. The likes of Bromley, Halifax and Yeovil have all lost some games recently, and I’d say this league really is up for grabs. One of my pre-season tips Solihul Moors seem to be coming into form after a stuttering start, but my advice is don’t bet on anything National League-related (my other tip was AFC Fylde) – TUFC included.
It feels like Torquay United have always been more likely to beat a top team, than a bottom one – stats may or may not back this up, but Sutton was another classic example. So in that context this Saturday is concerning! Away at Chorley FC. Chorley have only won two games this season (drawn 10), but one of those was last Saturday, as an exciting 3-2 win away at Chesterfield increased their points total to a slightly less meagre 16, and gave their relegation hopes a glimmer. Realistically though it’s a great chance to reverse our recent fortunes and take our goals tally past 40, whilst rediscovering some attacking verve as Saikou regains his valuable match sharpness. Much depends on how we start the game and whether we can win the arm wrestle in midfield. As a team we are much better if we strike the first blow – so the first goal could be key.
Our preview series continues this week, as Steve Harris scribes his now regular mini-match preview and Chorley Supporters Trust answer our questions on ‘The Magpies’. Steve is a proper journo who loves picking over the facts and stats of his beloved Torquay United (check out Steve’s website and his latest article on the Sutton game –https://southwestfootball.blogspot.com/2019/11/five-things-we-learned-from-torquay.html), so he’s a very welcome addition to the TT team. Another contributor Thomas Kelly will be reporting back from Victory Park, whilst social media whizz Luke Hunter grabs the Groundhopping mantle away from the clutches of the Haywards. No matter what the results, we’ll be there game after game. Our first full season at TT was Owers 17-18 after all. If we can deal with that s##t, then we can deal with anything. In fact this campaign of inconsistency interspersed with sparkling entertainment is a bloody breeze!!
FINAL WORD – One debate that keeps bubbling along on our TT WhatsApp group, apart from “Would you rather have the super power of invisibility or be able to fly?” or “Is TT pod man Marcus Arscott short or just average height?” is the goalkeeper situation. I’m frankly quite bored of hearing about it…but after another frustrating performance from Lucas Covolan on Saturday – poor on one-and-one keeping for the goals but some decent stops to keep Sutton out – the debate resurfaced this week. I’d like to politely demand the reinstatement of Shaun MacDonald to the line-up. His most recent outing was a rare 19-20 clean sheet for United against Wrexham and I think his vocal presence is a better option at the back. I’m not saying the Geordie is a big upgrade on LC, but potentially he can be the real deal for United, starting at Chorley.
*If you would like a TT mug, as modelled below, get in touch using the Contact TT option on the website or through Twitter/Facebook, and I’ll come back to you asap.