The TT Match Verdict: Eastleigh 3-2 TUFC, 26th November 2019

3-2

Sam Jones – @samuellejones

Summary:

Ah November, famously the 11th month of the year. The leaves are starting to turn, the nights are getting longer and football seems to be on everyday of the week. What’s not to love? I was so looking forward to my trip down to the South Coast as I hadn’t seen us play in over two months. But for 45 minutes I was regretting every decision I had ever made that has lead me to that point. The Gulls messed up, tried to recover but ended up being downed by the Spitfires in a topsy-turvy game.

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The funny thing is that Torquay started the match as much the better side. They held their shape well and created a couple of good chances. A cross from the lively Whitfield should’ve been put away by Keating at the near post. Then Janneh headed a cross back across the face of goal that was begging to be put away. Eastleigh had hardly got out of their own half.

But then disaster struck. A cross from Eastleigh apparently hit a United hand in the box, and the penalty was given. Rendell was a mile offside in the build up, but I’ll get to that later. The former Gull duly dispatched the penalty and the home side were 1-0 up.

Have you ever seen that bit in Lord of the Rings when Helms Deep gets blown up? The rest of the half was a bit like that. The Gulls had a massive breach in their defence and Eastleigh capitalised.  Home skipper Hollands curled the ball home after some pinball in the box to double their advantage. 6 minutes later and the game was over. A fairly innocuous ball into the box hit Andrews and squeezed passed the despairing Covolan. 

We did muster a couple of chances before the break, but half time couldn’t have come quickly enough. Thank God that I wasn’t in that dressing room, Gary would have been furious.

The second half was more like Gandalf returning at morning the night after the siege. But only if Gandalf had fallen at the bottom of the hill rather than lead Eomer’s army to victory. Within 5 minutes, the Gulls had pulled themselves back to only one goal behind and the miracle of Eastanbul was on.

Keating got the first (on his 100th appearance in yellow) as he converted an outstanding cross from Wynter with a nice header at the back post. Jake then got the Yellow Army dreaming as his curler from distance found the bottom corner. But that was as good as it got. Our midfield went missing again and Eastleigh wrestled back control.

Saying that, we did have our chances to equalize. Keating forced a top save from home keeper Stryjek from a sumptuous Andrews free kick, as well as putting one wide when free in the box. Eastleigh created very little but defended resolutely enough to close the game out.

Another loss for Gary’s men as the losing streak stretches to four games. We really need our injured players back.

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Player Ratings:

Lucas Covolan – 6: Even though he conceded 3, he didn’t have much to do. He couldn’t have done anything about the goals and did his job when called upon. 
Ramarni Medford – Smith – 5.5: The Reading loanee did well enough on his third appearance. Was competent defensively and showed glimpses of quality going forward. 
Kyle Cameron – 5.5: Apart from the 10 minutes of madness, he had a solid game. His passing was off, but did his defensive duty well.
Robbie Cundy – 5.5: Could really be a copy of Cameron’s score. Did well enough at the centre of the back 3 and had slightly better use of the ball as he kept it simple.
Jean Yves Koue-Niate – 6: Probably the best of the back 3. Made an outstanding recovery tackle in the first half when Eastleigh looked clean through.
Ben Wynter – 6: Solid throughout, and excellent going forward. Put in a couple of outstanding crosses that should’ve been put away. Was completely bamboozled for their second goal so loses some points.
Matt Buse – 5: So much effort was put in by the youngster, but didn’t really do enough. Bit lucky not to have been sent off for a nasty challenge in the first half. Could do with a break.
Jake Andrews – 5.5: Wasn’t at his sharpest, but still looked good in the middle of the park. After his booking he lost a bit of bite, but was good from the set piece and took his goal well.
Ben Whitfield – 6.5: Man of the Match. See below.
Ruairi Keating – 5.5: Was abject in the first half, and maybe touched the ball once. But in the second half he was a man possessed. Took his goal really well too and could’ve score a couple more.
Saikou Janneh – 5: The Gambian King looks like he’s adjusting to the National League. He battled so hard but nothing came off. He needs Jamie Reid back, but don’t we all?
Subs:
Joe Lewis – 5.5: Not really sure where he was playing, but looked good on the ball. Made a fantastic crunching tackle too.
Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala – 4.5: Did nothing apart from hold the ball up too long. I miss last season’s Kalvin.

Man of the Match: Ben Whitfield

Ben has had a dip in form recently, but looked very sharp today. He was at the heart of everything good we did and constantly tried to make things happen. Playing in the hole behind the strikers is probably his best position as he seemed to be the only player to find space. When on form, he is such a dangerous player at this level.

Honourable Mentions:

Ben Wynter further enhanced his reputation as the League’s best right back. His crosses were sublime and he rarely gave the ball away.

Jean Niate came back into the side and had a very solid game. Was very good in the air and on the ground. Unlucky to be hauled off for Lewis.

Tactics:

God I hate the 3-5-2. It reminds me of the Owers days, and those terrible jumpers he wore. We were too narrow and had no midfield for most of the game. Buse and Andrews are very good players, but do not work together in a midfield two. In the first half, Ruairi and Saikou could get nowhere near the ball and they kept having to come deep to get a touch. Our back 3 kept playing long balls forward, which were easily gobbled up by the home sides towering back line. We missed Reid’s physicality today, as he would have been able to hold his own against the monstrous back two. A return to the 4-4-2 on Saturday please Gary.

Opposition:

Eastleigh were very poor, apart from the 10 minutes where they scored 3 goals. Our full strength team would’ve ripped them apart easily. Their back line was well organized, and the wide men of Barnes and Smart were dangerous all game. But their midfield was very poor and really didn’t have many ideas or creativity. Scott Rendell is just a big lump upfront who didn’t do much, but they still managed to beat us. If they play like that for the rest of the season, they’ll be looking over their shoulder.

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Referee:

Dreadful. Absolutely shocking. I don’t like blaming officials usually, but oh my word they were awful. The penalty should’ve been flagged for offside, as Rendell was offside in the build up. He then blew the whistle for the handball, even though there was no way he could’ve seen it. All game the crowd and the home players seemed to get in his ear and really affected him. 

This wasn’t just an isolated incident too. The calls were shocking all game, as offside weren’t flagged and non existent fouls were blown up. A number of times our attacking moves would break down as the ref would blow for a foul where nothing seemed to happen. Genuinely have to question the eyesight of the linesman on the far side from the away fans. He missed so much and probably raised his flag twice all game. And one of them wasn’t even offside. 

Key Moment: Eastleigh Penalty

I’ve already rambled on enough above about how the penalty shouldn’t have been given. But it was, and we should’ve moved on. But after that, we really did not recover at all. For the next 20 minutes, Eastleigh looked like they were going to score every time they went forward, and we can count our lucky stars it was only 3. The way we crumbled was unacceptable, and it all started with that damn penalty.

Player Spotlight: Ramarni Medford-Smith

First time I’d got to see the newbie live, and to be fair he wasn’t bad. He’s built like Liam Davis, and plays like him too. Defensively solid and decent enough going forward, he looks like he could be a good addition to our squad in the short term. Once he gets used to playing with our back three, he’ll be a threat. The only issue is he is not Liam Davis.

Conclusion:

We were the better team for 65 minutes today. We created chances, we had them chasing shadows and we scored 2 fine goals. The problem was we were awful for 25 minutes and they scored three goals. With a couple of our first team back, we would’ve won today, easily. It’s the sort of performance that shows how much we miss Reid, and how he is perfectly suited to Johnson’s system. Keating and Janneh are good players, but they are much better when the Prince of Park Lane is along side them.

The bizarre thing is, no one played that badly. Everyone ran themselves into the ground and gave their everything. There were no clangers, no stupid decisions, we just looked lost in the formation. The blame for the defeat has to lie with Gary. The 3-5-2 doesn’t work. We don’t have enough width and the midfield is non existent. Really hoping we see a change in formation for the next game, as this one isn’t working.

I love Gary Johnson, and I’ll probably name my firstborn after him (regardless of gender) but the great man got it wrong tonight.

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Stockport County (H) – 30th November 2019, 3PM Kick Off

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