TEAM OF THE DECADE
Matthew Roberts – @MatthewVA438
When considering how I should approach the topic of the best strikers to feature for Torquay this past decade, I read Andy’s excellent article on centre backs to have donned the yellow shirt since 2010. I was struck by just how many names there were, many of whom I had completely forgotten about, some for very good reasons. I thought that there were about a dozen names to choose from, but from my exhaustive research it seems that we’ve fielded almost 40 forwards since 2010. I apologise to those I’ve missed out but you should’ve done something more memorable, like score 29 goals in a season or just straight up walk out on the club with no notice.
Didn’t make the cut
Torquay have had some very good strikers this decade. Torquay have also had some very bad strikers this decade. First I’ll have to disagree with one point from Matty’s excellent wingers article when he said that the signing of Jennison Myrie-Williams was peak Owers recruitment. I present to you Guy Gnabouyou. This might be slightly unfair to Guy as I’ve no idea if he was any good at all, he came in and then left a week later having played about 10 minutes, something Gary Owers called “disrespectful”, bemoaning the amount of time he put in negotiating with his agent to get the Frenchman to sign. We signed 18 year old Alex Fletcher on loan from Plymouth as a replacement, and that worked well.
Another player I could never quite work out if he was talented or not was Ashley Yeoman. He scored a great goal at Morecambe once, but did precious little else. For about five years we waited for him to burst onto the scene, alas he never did. Speaking of bursting onto the scene, that’s the exact opposite of what Karl Hawley did in 2013/14. Signed as a replacement for Rene Howe, he contributed two goals in 27 appearances. The years following saw a good number of strikers arrive at Plainmoor but believe it or not, the likes of Enoch Showunmi, Shaquile Coulthirst, John Campbell (who?), aspiring international footballer Rory Fallon, and the perpetually angry Josh McQuoid were not particularly successful.
Worth a mention
Not terrible but not good enough to almost make the TT team? Come on in Taiwo Atieno, our first and to date only Kenyan international, who was never going to force Howe out of the team. He did chip in with a goal when needed, most notably at the Paul Buckle derby in August 2011. Speaking of Buckle, he signed some decent strikers. After Elliot Benyon left for Southend in January 2011, players like Chris Zebroski and Gavin Tomlin comfortably filled the void.
Another Buckle signing, Billy Kee, had to wait until he left Torquay in 2012 to show what he was truly capable of, and has played in the Football league continuously since. In recent years he’s opened up about his battles with depression and anxiety, one of few footballers to talk openly about what must be an incredibly difficult subject. What an inspiration he is. We wish him the very best.
I feel like I should mention Ryan Bowman, our top scorer in 2014/15 but I’m at a loss what to say. That whole season is one of the most forgettable for me this decade, probably because we came mid table. He got 12 goals for us but left at the end of the season for Gateshead. He’s moved onto better things these days and is currently at Exeter City.
A player who had plenty of talent was Brett Williams. He scored the goals which helped keep us up in 2016/17, particularly after Nathan Blissett left, netting 11 in 39 appearances. He left after the end of the season, with rumours that he didn’t particularly get on with the Nicholson. The next season, however, he was back! After the raft of strikers signed by Gary Owers to halt our slide down the league had all failed, fans were stunned by the return of Williams in January 2018. His first game back was Macclesfield away and the anticipation was palpable. “We’ve got Brett Williams” went the chant. We did indeed, but unfortunately after coming on he offered nothing. Granted we had a mostly awful team but Williams’ lack of goals, just four, were a big reason why we went down that season.
What better way to reward this poor return of goals next season in the Conference South? Make him captain of course! This was one of Owers’ most bizarre decisions and after failing to find the net completely he was soon benched. Williams didn’t hang around long after Johnson came, and now finds himself down at Weymouth with the aforementioned Josh McQuoid.
Saikou Janneh was one of Johnson’s first signings and immediately formed a great partnership with Reid, something Williams could not do. Janneh and Reid’s partnership was frighteningly effective in the sixth tier, with the Gambian scoring 16 goals in just 28 appearances. Signed again on loan this season, we’ve yet to see what he can really do. Hopefully, a run of games with a fully fit Reid will see him find his scoring boots again.
Now more known for his run ins with the law and very publicly cheating on his girlfriend, it can be easy to forget that Chris Zebroski was a very good player for us in the early part of the decade. Top of the scoring charts in 2010/11 but also top of the disciplinary table too. His career has nosedived somewhat over the past four years and he now finds himself at Chippenham.
Almost made it
A great servant to the club being one of Buckle’s first signings in 2007. To quote an often used, and awful, football commentary cliche, he just loved to score goals. Benyon often didn’t need a second chance to convert, probably the best example coming in the FA Cup second round match against Stockport at the Moss Rose in 2009 (yeah I know its not in this decade). Owain Fon-Williams took a disastrous goal kick which went straight to Benyon who was alive for the possibility of a goalkeeping calamity. He rounded Fon-Williams and slotted it into an empty net. We won the game 4-0.
By the middle of the 2010/11 season he had scored 14 goals and a transfer to Southend soon beckoned. Benyon’s time at Torquay was the pinnacle of his Football League career, and he returned to the club for another two spells, firstly on loan in 2013 after which the deal was made permanent. He couldn’t replicate his previous form though the second time round.
Kieffer Moore is the subject of possibly the biggest ‘what if?’ question of the decade. What if the Ipswich loanee (and now Welsh international) had stayed longer than the five games he was with us in the Autumn of 2016? Would we have reached the play-offs possibly? Would Kevin Nicholson still be in the job, or perhaps at least have kept his position longer than he did?
According to the fountain of knowledge that is Torquay Fan Stats, Moore has the second highest goals per appearance ratio of any Torquay United player in history at 1.25 goals per game. Yes, I know he only played five games before he was whisked back to Suffolk, but his class was immediately obvious when he joined us. Objectively, he is probably the best striker to have played for us this decade given what he has gone on to achieve. The only reason he does not make the final two is his limited run of games.
An inspired signing by Nicholson in January 2016, Blissett made an immediate impact and went on a goalscoring run of four goals in four games that lifted the club away from the relegation zone. At the time he said the move had “reinvigorated his career” after failing to find regular game time with Bristol Rovers. By the end of the season Blissett had scored eight times in 17 appearances, forming an effective partnership with Shaun Harrad. Plymouth Argyle signed him in January 2017 and he forged a decent career for himself since. Now at Solihull Moors, I’d have him back straight away.
The chosen two
Who else did you expect? It’s difficult to imagine a player so utterly transformed during his time at Torquay. First arriving in 2014/15 on loan from Exeter City, Reid had some awful seasons under different managers when he was in and out of the team and often stuck out on the right wing. It turns out that he’s not a winger, something Gary Johnson immediately realised when he joined in September 2018.
The turnaround was instantaneous with Reid looking like a completely different player, finishing the season with 29 league goals. It’s amazing what playing week in week out and in your correct position can do for a player’s confidence. At the first game this season there were some on the Popside who before the game questioned whether Reid had the ability to step from the Conference South to the fifth tier. He answered these questions almost immediately, scoring in that game and going on to get 15 by time of writing. He is a thrilling player to watch, able to get himself into goal scoring opportunities with such ease. Probably the best example being at the Aldershot game a few months ago, back to goal but with some ingenious footwork leaving the defender for dead, he let fly from from some way out giving the goalkeeper no chance.
I hope Reid will be with us for a long time to come but given the inevitable level of interest in him if he continues on his current trajectory, a big money move will surely be on the cards in the foreseeable future.
I thought I’d put Reid first to try and build a bit of tension. This was genuinely a tricky decision as after doing this article I realised that we’ve had some really good strikers this decade. Signed by Martin Ling in the summer of 2011, to replace the outgoing Chris Zebroski, the new manager described him as someone “who has spent his career in a caravan” and “the type we need – he’s big and strong and can score goals”. It was a risky signing as Howe had been unable to find any sort of consistency with clubs before his move to Torquay. He repaid Ling’s faith, however, netting 14 in his first season (equalling Lee Mansell’s tally for the season).
It wasn’t just his goalscoring ability which earns him a place in this team though. His physical presence allowed him to hold the ball up and bring others into play, something Ling stressed was essential for the modern striker.
Howe is a player the likes of which we’ve lacked at Plainmoor since he left, significant physical presence but skilful and had an eye for goal. None of these things applied to his replacement, Karl Hawley.