“Torquay United 5 Crawley Town 6 was a timely reminder of football’s undying ability to entertain”
Matty Hayward – @mattyhayward96
The dust has just about settled on the absolute chaos of last Sunday’s FA Cup exit and, with no midweek game to tuck into, the option to stew and worry is tempting. Scoring five goals at home and losing is obviously infuriating, throwing away 2-0, 3-2 and 5-3 leads is worse, but there are more reasons to be cheerful than not in the aftermath of that game. We’re top of the league, we’ve scored 14 goals in the last three games, and we were – at times – way too good for League Two Crawley.
Before analysing the game itself, it’s important to contextualise it. This was an FA Cup game in a season where progress in the FA Cup would be the least enjoyable it could possibly be. Aside from the financial benefits (which themselves would presumably be curtailed by a lack of crowds), there would be nothing more upsetting than drawing Man United or Liverpool and not being able to go.
Without the enticing prospect of a massive third round tie, the FA Cup is basically just an enormous competition that Torquay United stand very little chance of winning. And even if we did get anywhere near winning it, our enjoyment would be heavily dampened by only being allowed to watch it at home through a lagging stream.
The other contextual factor is we’re top of the league and playing fantastically sexy football. While I usually hate this line of thinking, the FA Cup is – if we accept that it’s a massive tournament that we can’t win – just a distraction. This campaign, more than ever, will be sapping on the legs. Our pre-season preparation was poor, our fixture list truncated, and perhaps the occasional weekend off will help our more senior players manage their fitness. Asa Hall, Dean Moxey and Danny Wright in particular are so crucial to our title chances and keeping them from the brink of exhaustion could be the difference between us being back in the Football League and not.
Onto the game itself, the glass-half-empty take from this weekend is that Torquay conceded six times and failed to capitalise on numerous important leads. This take is, of course, right. And we lost the game. That’s annoying, and I – like many – took a while to get over the disappointment on Sunday afternoon. But this take should be counterweighted by the equally valid glass-half-full argument that we scored five and went toe-to-toe with (and at times completely dominated) a team who are in the top-10 of League Two and looking upwards.
In particular, this weekend further proved that our attacking quartet of Ben Whitfield, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Aaron Nemane and Danny Wright is a brilliant one. They were arguably our four best players on Sunday, and the two wingers’ goals wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Champions League.
We already knew about Whits’ enormous ability, but Nemane deserves singling out as a cause for optimism. After displaying his blistering pace and tidy finish for the opener, the young Frenchman grew in confidence and turned provider for his Yorkshire-born teammate with a delightful flick. If he can find that sort of form on a regular basis this season, we’re sure to continue in our bashful, high-scoring vein as the league campaign goes on.
We also saw glimpses – albeit momentary, and he’d be the first to say Sunday wasn’t his best performance for the Gulls – of Armani Little’s return to fitness. The Marnham Road Messi will, when firing on all cylinders, elevate our midfield to a higher plane and provide Randell, Asa and The Lemon with important competition for places.
As for our weaknesses this weekend, namely the defence and goalkeeper, the cause for optimism is that we know they’re all much better than that. Kyle Cameron has been sensational this season so far, Sherring understated, Moxey assured, Wynter superb, Covolan solid. They have all proved to have more ability than they showed against Crawley: when we (completely deservedly and correctly) criticise them for a poor performance against an arsenal of Football League forwards, let’s bear in mind how they’ve got on in seven league games (where they have just conceded five times).
It’s important to see this game for what it was, for how it made us feel throughout, not just how it felt after the final final whistle. This was (about) one-hundred-and-forty minutes of elite, unscripted escapism. We stopped worrying about our invisible enemy and the economy and whether we’d had enough fruit to eat this week and whether poor kids would’ve had anything to eat this week if it wasn’t for the campaign of a sportsman and those appalling people who – despite everything! – still think it’s acceptable to spit in the street and the title character of The Hoosiers’ song Worried About Ray. Enough of that. This was a fantastic afternoon of entertainment: a shard of light through the curtains of bleakness that have cast their shadow across 2020 so far.
Aside from about twenty minutes in the second half, the game was a bare-knuckle duel of Attack Vs Attack between two sides of a relatively similar quality. It was a FIFA match where neither player has quite mastered tackling, a boxing bout where neither competitor could bob nor weave, a sports car without brakes.
If football were just about the result, we’d end up with turgid, bus-parking, clean-sheet football. That’s fine, there’s a place for that, but football must also be about the raw enjoyment of the spectacle: the minutes on the pitch, the clashes of the players, the movement of the ball, the sheer joy of Ben Whitfield’s penalty-area pirouette, the everlasting beauty of Dean Moxey shithousing the softest free-kick known to man by his own corner flag to get the team out of trouble, the industry of The Lemon as he ploughs his furrow between the lines in a position that so clearly suits him well; not just the numbers on the BBC Sport website at the end. Yes we lost, yes a few quid and another game on the telly would’ve been nice, but Torquay United 5 Crawley Town 6 was a timely reminder of football’s undying ability to entertain and Gary Johnson’s Beautiful Yellows’ ability to rip decent teams apart.
Now, let’s go and win the league.
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