Rachel Malloch – @RachelVillavox
Any route to Wembley is a welcome one and with the FA Cup exit at Maidstone triggering the gulls downturn in fortune in the league, today was another chance to re-discover form, bolster confidence, pick up some pride at Plainmoor and re-calculate the TQ1 to Wembley way on satellite navigation.
With 2 new faces in the line up, a journeyman defender and a recognised highly rated left back installed, there was cautious optimism abound. It started promisingly. The usual Bristow’s perch was swapped with a spot on the Popside terraces, the cheesy chips and coffee received a high rating of approval and a pitch-side view where you could pick out everything from captain Asa Hall’s flowing blond locks to keeper Lucas Covolan’s colgate bright white teeth! 4 seasons sat up in the higher reaches of Bristow’s has more panoramic views. I doubt the view would have been so enriching today.
A murky afternoon of sweeping mizzle lit up by the Plainmoor floodlights shrouding Dartmoor and St Marychurch spires. Down in the lower reaches of the Pop terraces a most impressive Halifax flag that covered most of the away seating allocation, with the 30 or so Halifax supporters who had made the long journey from Yorkshire to South Devon. Halifax of course having won this competition recently, back in 2016 beating Grimsby in the final, much to the chagrin of my friend Richard Mills who being a Grimsby lad remembers it well and furnished me with the information!
The game too started promisingly; some neat interplay from the midfield, an assurance at the back with the introduction of Gary Warren alongside young defender Robbie Cundy. Some probing runs from the busy Aaron Nemane, a lovely move early on that found Jamie Reid in some space but the hapless Reid couldn’t quite control it and the ball went out harmlessly. This would be a theme of the afternoon. Ben Whitfield, Nemane, Conor Lemonheigh-Evans and make-shift right back Joe Lewis all probed and pushed forward, all finding a lot of possession and made attempts to find our number 19 only for the ball to bounce off, roll above or just find him leaden footed, or for Reid to dwell too long and the attack would come to nothing. The Halifax goal was peppered with crosses in from Evans and Hall, but all dealt with comfortably by their keeper and defence.
The first half saw chances for Hall and Evans, both having shots blocked. A corner looped over but Reid somehow couldn’t make contact. On the half hour mark Torquay produced some lovely play involving slick passes between Hall, Evans and the ever busy Nemane that found Reid who well-placed struck the ball wide of the post, when he should have scored. A debut half to remember for Jackson Longridge who looked every inch the left back we have so sorely missed since Liam Davis’ long term injury. He really was very impressive.
The first half was a totally dominant Torquay display, but while there was much endeavour, nice build up interplay, shots on goal and countless corners somehow Torquay had nothing to show for it. This teed up the second half with hope and some belief to hopefully continue pushing on.
Time for a second round of coffee before the second half started, with the swirling wind and rain making it prudent to keep the ball on the ground. Pity then that Torquay employed too many high balls hoofed forward! Unsurprisingly when Torquay did play ball to feet it almost paid off. A lovely move involving Nemane found Evans, who in some space could only find the safe arms of the Halifax keeper.
Out of nowhere Halifax took the lead. Their first attacking attempt, a goal-mouth scramble and a tap-in by Sho-Silva. Torquay continued to have the brunt of possession and a great chance from loan defender Warren was blocked on the line, with the follow-up shot inches wide. The referee at this stage of the game had handed out more cards than a mortgage advisor and had lost count of how many Halifax players were on a yellow. Nemane with some neat forward play found Reid who completely mis-controlled the ball, Halifax gratefully received the mistake and a strike from Staunton with very little power from 20 yards took a deflection and trickled past Covolan to make it 0-2. Their 2nd real attempt on goal.
Torquay did manage to reduce the deficit, and what a peach of a goal it was. Lemonheigh-Evans dancing around the Halifax defence and striking the ball low and placed passed the keeper. Torquay continued to drive forward and the introduction of Ruairi Keating for Cameron, then Jake Andrews for the fading Asa Hall saw Reid take on the captain’s arm-band for the final 15 minutes. More pressure without an end result from Torquay and with 5 minutes of added time, a piledriver from the energetic Andrews saw a great save from the Halifax keeper.
And that was it. Much endeavour without that final bit of quality. A resolute defensive display that conspired to let in the only 2 attempts on goal Halifax mustered. Tireless performances from Whitfield and Nemane and Lemonheigh-Evans, but as the expression goes, close but no cigar. All chips and no cheese. And Torquay United have had their chips for this season in the Plainmoor trophy cabinet, barring the Devon St Lukes Bowl that is. All about the league now and a climb up that Conference table.
Covolan 6 – Barely had anything to do all game. His distribution could have been better (and quicker) but competent.
Lewis 7 – Did well in the right back position that has been asked of him. put in some fine crosses too.
Cundy 6 – Fairly solid though caught out a couple of times for pace.
Warren 6 – As above.
Cameron 6 – Like the whole defence, fairly untroubled but for the 2 goals. subbed for Keating.
Longridge 7.5 – An impressive debut from the recognised left back. A quieter second half but definitely looked the part. See MOTM.
Lemonheigh-Evans 7 – Lively and so much effort, stepped up second half and scored a quite exquisite solo goal.
Hall 6 – Started well, despite a few loose passes, faded midway in the 2nd half and was subbed.
Whitfield 7 – The human ever-ready bunny, so much energy and just lacked that final ball quality, but gives so much.
Nemane 7 – Diminutive in stature but not short of effort and endeavour, just lacked that touch of final ball quality. He was very good first half but frustrated more in the second.
Reid 5 – A poor game from our favourite forward. Lacklustre, leaden footed and static.
Keating 6 – Within minutes of coming on for Hall tackled and won the ball then misplaced a pass. Ruairi is Ruairi. Mr 100%.
Andrews 7 – Definitely injected some urgency and produced a great save from the Halifax keeper late on.
Man of the Match: Jackson Longridge
Out of the 3 performers today who really stood out for me; Ben Whitfield, Aaron Nemane and Jackson Longridge, I would go with Longridge, who slotted in the team like he’d started the season with us. An impressive debut, very good on the ball, made some great runs and with what is a tough position to command, encouraging to finally have found a player to fill Liam’s sizeable boots for the moment at left back. On today’s performance he certainly should make a difference to future league performances, with his positioning and understanding of the game in a position that has been so lacking in our run of poor league form.
Halifax were unremarkable and yet came away the victors. They literally had 2 shots on goal, a goal-mouth scramble and a grass cutter that took a sharp deflection. Good luck to them in the next round.
Started fairly anonymously, then suddenly decided to grab attention by not allowing advantage play. Seemed to like dishing out yellow cards fortunately Halifax’s way but like so many officials, too inconsistent.
Player Spotlight: Jamie Reid
Is he carrying an injury? Has all this transfer speculation affected his mindset? The usually confident number 19 cut a frustrating figure today. His movement was stilted, static, marshalled too easily by the Halifax defence, who were easily reading his game style. So often Reid has relied on his ability to back into and turn his marker, but at the moment this merely finds him struggling to control and hold up the ball. It’s his lack of movement though, Reidy was never the fastest forward but the beauty of his play is drawing the marker in to spin around and unleash a shot or retain the ball and release quickly. Perhaps he is missing a partner, a Janneh of last season who was both his foil and his provider. Right now the prince of Park Lane does not look like he is enjoying his football and has lost his spark.
On today’s display we should have enough about us to push on in the league, certainly to retain the mid-table position I had predicted back in August. The 2 new loan additions should bolster our defence and with the returning Armani Little adding bite and industry in the middle. Our forward options are somewhat limited, the ever-willing Keating and Jared Lewington the only competition to Jamie Reid, who right now is going through a dip in form. Whether Gary Johnson will be bring many more loans in we shall wait and see. The usual flare and fluency has deserted our style of play in recent months but there were signs today that we have a lot of endeavour. We just need to get that winning mentality imbued back in the squad psyche and that’s over to you Messrs Johnson and Downes.