A Match in Time is a new feature on TorquayTalk, where we look back at some of the biggest games recent memory. To kick us off, Ben Currie reflects back on one of the biggest games of our title winning season.
Ben Currie – @bencurrie8
There has always been something extra-special about evening matches at Plainmoor. I remember the excitement at school, time ebbing away so slowly, knowing that, in a few long hours, I’d be on the Pop, cheering on my heroes. Forget the classroom chatter of the Champions League on ITV, nothing beats being there, feeling it live.
Even now it retains its magic. Driving over from Brixham, the coruscating floodlights dominate the landscape of the bay; beacons of light in the darkness. Football is here!
Years later, I still get excited about going to the football; keen not to let that ten-year old version of myself down, keen to keep the dream alive. Oh how I miss it during this horrendous, uncertain time!
These days I have swapped the hustle, the bustle and the closeness of the Pop-Side for the elevated view in Bristows Bench, wrapping up warmer than ever before, tonight is a cold one. The heart still pounds as Robert Miles fills the air and the boys emerge from the tunnel onto the field of battle.
We are on a great run. Four tight, hard-earned wins on the trot have put us four points clear at the top of the table and confidence is soaring. Tonight is our game in hand against Chelmsford – twice postponed and re-arranged – eyebrows have been raised about slotting this fixture in just four days before our supposed title showdown against that silly little team from Surrey.
A poor result could kill our momentum stone dead, suspensions and injuries could prove costly. Chelmsford, who got as far as Westwards Lane before the match was previously called off, have an axe to grind; they would love to piss on our parade. Nothing is set in stone yet, there is a lot at stake tonight.
Our meagre squad is fully stretched. Dynamo striker Saikou Janneh is injured so Ruairi Keating gets a rare chance to lead the line alongside the league’s runaway leading scorer Jamie Reid. We can only name four out of a possible five subs and three of those are what you would describe as decidedly inexperienced. Gary is keeping calm and carrying on.
The crowd is larger than usual for a Tuesday – as you would expect with promotion on the horizon. Evening crowds usually make a better atmosphere and tonight Plainmoor is loud when United have the ball and nervously quiet when we don’t. We’ve come so far, let’s not f**k it up, like we so often do!
So often this season we have seen Torquay start at scintillating pace and push the opposition back with fast, pressing football; many matches have been won by half-time. Here, Chelmsford prove a difficult nut to crack. Keating, relishing his chance up front, is winning plenty in the air and trying to make things happen but the Clarets are organised and resolute: nothing doing.
After an even and incident-free opening twenty minutes the deadlock is broken when Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, with that easy and fleet-footed style of his, slaloms through a couple of challenges and rams the ball home in front of a deserted away end. The tension lifts slightly, a second goal would offer breathing space.
Normally, one goal would lead to two for Torquay but Chelmsford are one of the better teams to have visited Planmoor this campaign and they equalise just seven minutes after falling behind. It’s a well worked goal too. A delicious through-ball bisects the Gulls defence, allowing Lee Reynolds to run through and neatly chip the ball over the on-rushing Shaun MacDonald to level matters. At half-time you can not argue that it’s not a fair score.
This feels like a massive half of football. Torquay are not playing at their best but you feel that taking a seven point lead to Woking on Saturday is absolutely crucial. We need to win this match, someone needs to put their hand up and play a starring role.
Just minutes after the restart, enigmatic winger Kalvin Kalala bursts through a flurry of Clarets and is floored in the box. Out of nothing, the mercurial Frenchman has plundered a penalty. Jamie Reid, inconsistent from the spot, stands over the ball; Plainmoor expects. His well struck shot brings a fine save from the keeper who tips the ball onto the post and away from danger. It feels like a massive miss: on those sort of moments entire seasons hinge. How do we react from this?
In previous seasons the crowd would have got on Reidy’s back – a polarising figure for three years now – but this crowd is different. As Torquay’s leading scorer traipses back to the half-way line the Popside roars him on ‘REIDY, REIDY, REIDY’ this crowd believes. Reidy’s time will come again.
Just after the hour Kalala releases Keating in acres of space on the right-hand side of the box. The popular Irishman delivers the perfect cross; early, low, pacey, Reidy doesn’t have to break strides as he meets the ball at full-pelt and emphatically thunders his finish high into the roof of the net. Plainmoor erupts, you never forget the sound of that roar, the split-second feeling of punching the air. Sometimes the most simple of goals are the most beautiful. 2-1 to the Yellows, Reidy did not let his head drop.
United make the game safe ten minutes later when the indefatigable Keating completes a hat-trick of assists, this time Jake Andrews is the beneficiary. Once again, Kalala sends him clear on the right wing – via an imperious lofted through-ball – Keating loops the ball into the goal-mouth where Andrews is waiting to gleefully stoop and nod the ball home. Three points in the bag and it is Ruairi Keating who has answered the call to get this game won.
There is still work to do to secure promotion however – a seven point lead only serves as a comforting safety net. There is certainly no time for complacency; which makes a back injury to talismanic skipper Asa Hall all the more worrying. After several minutes lying flat on the floor, the captain tries manfully to play on despite barely being able to move- this tells you all you need to know about the character of this side. (Whilst he does manage to start against Woking, he is not seen for the rest of the season after The Cards kick him off the park after twenty minutes)
United see the game out with little alarm. With the final whistle approaching the Popside crank up the noise and when the referee signals the end of time ‘WE’RE ON OUR WAY’ reverberates around the ground. Gary Johnson, as is now his tradition, bounds across the pitch to salute the Yellow Army. As he appeals for silence,the noise quietens. Every punch of the air by the gaffer is met with a jubilant cheer from his adoring troops as the entire terrace bursts into song. The players stay out an extra bit longer to savour the feeling, the players and fans are united; this one feels extra special.
Fans will reminisce about this night for years to come. It’s a well-worn cliche that the crowd can be the twelfth man but tonight, after years of anger, dismay and regression, it’s true. I can’t remember an atmosphere that so noticeably spurred the players on in many a year. The passion of the crowd, the quality of the goals, the togetherness at the end, it was the perfect fusion. We kept the dream alive.
My ten-year old self would approve.