“Opposing teams who found us a soft touch last season will know they’re in for a sterner battle this year”
Dom Roman – @DomRoman
Four wins out of five, 12 points out of 15 – it’s been a bloody good start for the lads hasn’t it! Hands up, I had started to fear the worst as the season eventually made it’s entrance. With a couple of mixed performances versus Stockport and Eastleigh, plus injuries rearing their ugly head my annoying negative senses were tingling. I’ve realised since that it wasn’t particularly football sapping my optimism but the emotionally draining period that is 2020. This crazy year was catching up on me as we head into the colder and harsher October weather, I was feeling subdued, rather tired and in need of recharging. Even Stockport (h) was bittersweet, I can’t even remember the last time I wasn’t present at the first game of the season – it felt very strange.
Well a couple of months in Barbados soaking up the sunshine on a sunbed and sipping on cocktails would be nice, but instead I’ve taken other realistic steps; including trying very hard to not be a slave to my phone and all-consuming social media (this is very difficult!), spend more time enjoying the company of my family and focussing on the positives that life still holds. One of those is TUFC football. The last minute winner from Wynts versus Chesterfield was hardly life changing, but it helped cast aside what had been a dreary start to last week! It might be a stretch to say Football can transform your mental health, but the feelings of celebrations and enjoyment, allied to family time makes a big difference to me. Who else has given GJ a thumbs up in the post-match merriment? Not just me surely…
The win on Saturday was just about the most comfortable we’ve enjoyed at Plainmoor since the NLS part timers were being regularly despatched/thrashed in 2018-19. Dover were pretty much as advertised, a new squad lacking confidence and cohesion, trying to find their way into the season. No time for mercy though from the Gulls and after a slow-ish start, United began to find their rhythm from back to front and went about turning the screw. A win was just inevitable after Kyle Cameron’s first header nestled into the net and the only disappointment was not banging in 3 or 4 as some chances went begging. As Matt Roberts mentioned in his match verdict, it was a relaxing afternoon on the sofa!
Let’s talk about Kyle Cameron first shall we! I’ve always had great faith in the Geordie, and not just because we sponsor Kyle, because of the tools he’s got as a footballer. The big man is tall, strong and possesses a nice turn of pace – what he lacked last year was the experience and maturity to handle National League strikers on a regular basis. What we are seeing now is a player coming into his own and not only looking increasingly assured at the back, but also terrorising defences at the other end. Terrific stuff from a terrific lad.
Set pieces were key on Saturday and there’s been a real improvement in that area already this season. In 19-20 we rarely threatened defences on corners and free kicks, and it became a frustrating thread as the season ebbed away to mid-table mediocrity. Now there appears to be more quality, more precision and more movement on offer and it’s paying off. At any level set pieces can be the difference-maker in successful seasons, I’ve seen enough teams take advantage of these situations at Plainmoor to know this first hand!
One man integral to this upturn is Connor Lemonheigh-Evans. I was somewhat surprised at the low-key reaction to Connor joining us permanently in the summer. Sure the midfielder had a tough 19-20, beset by injuries and a drop in form…but he is simply a quality player, able to control and manipulate the ball with ease, find a pinpoint pass and notch the odd goal. Players like that are always welcome at Plainmoor. You can tell CLE has worked hard on his fitness over the summer and his partnership alongside Adam Randell is looking very promising. Randell is just a baller. Spreading play with a drop of the shoulder, driving into tackles and making things happen. What a prospect.
At the other end of his career is Dean Moxey, but how brilliant has the ex-Grecian looked slotting in at left back. In two games he has barely put a foot wrong, exuding supreme confidence in defence and also getting forward where possible to help out Whits. The option to bring him in was probably the biggest no-brainer signing Gary Johnson has made at the club, as Dean could surely still be playing in League Two. The defender has proven quality and experience that will hopefully help United keep plenty more clean sheets as the months edge forward.
Overall the team’s attitude impressed me most. Eager from the first whistle to the last, chasing and closing down Dover, we just looked hungry for 3 points and it’s that sort of desire that can win you many matches. Kalvin Kalala is one of our most talented players in recent years, but players like Ben Whitfield and Aaron Nemane give so much more to the team. Witness Whits sprinting 20 yards to prevent a clearance or Aaron busting a gut to help out his full back – that is unselfish work ethic and professionalism encouraged and drilled in by GJ. Opposing teams who found us a soft touch last season will know they’re in for a sterner battle this year. Early days still but so far so good, and with players returning the squad may just improve as we go on. Positives everywhere you look.
I think the Dover situation is a reminder that we should allow credit to Clarke Osborne and the stewardship of Torquay United this year. Whilst the Kent club cut finances and ended up losing a large proportion of what was a decent squad, we basically kept ours…well apart from that Reidy fellow. At a time when panic could have set in quickly, Gary Johnson received backing to assemble what is a very solid squad for 20-21, with continuity, a sprinkling of new signings and three talented loan stars to boot. We don’t have a football club high on fans engagement or communication and I’m not sure when that will change, but there is a stream for games, sparkling new shirts, a top manager and optimism on the very well kept Plainmoor pitch – for that we should be thankful.