It all started so well on Tuesday night. 15 minutes of end to end action; two good teams pushing for the first goal; 5 or 6 shots of various quality…and that’s where the entertainment pretty much finished! Not that I was too disappointed in the eventual result, with a spirited riposte from 10 men pushing Sutton back at times. But from a selfish perspective in this uneventful lockdown January, I would have loved more fun and frolics to have me on the edge of the seat rather than reclining backwards…unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
Let’s discuss five talking points shall we…
1 – MISSING DANNY
How many strikers have we had at Plainmoor over the years who are properly adept at playing upfront on their own? Rene Howe I hear you say? Yes definitely. Chris Zebroski in his second spell? Tim Sills? Anyway it’s not many. Well Danny Wright suited this role down to the ground, with his experience and intelligence to bring others into play and his strength to win headers and fight off opponents. Unfortunately Danny’s deputy Josh Umerah just doesn’t have enough of those characteristics to prosper in the same position. It’s not for want of trying as he desperately pushes to make something happen. But his woes from Notts County continued into the Sutton game and unless we are going two upfront I can’t see it working at the moment. Time will tell, but the baton appears to be passed onto Rob Street now after the half time substitution. Let’s hope the Crystal Palace man finds his feet in the next few games. Whoever get’s picked by Gary Johnson, let’s be positive and get behind them – with the Gulls top we have little reason for negativity at the moment do we?
2 – STIFF DEFENCE
Last season the Gulls would have probably lost to Sutton (and Notts County). This season the Gulls are a different animal and much of that revolves around our defensive resilience. It’s not always been perfect and over the Christmas period there were wobbles, but Tuesday night saw the defence in no mood to let the U’s score. In the middle of it all was the stand-in skipper Kyle Cameron who clearly enjoyed having Sam Sherring back in the centre with him, and Joe Lewis slotted into the back four like he’d never been away! What impressed me most was the high line we kept throughout, which meant the team never retreated back. Much of this is down to Gary Johnson and Aaron Downes refusing to become overly defensive, even with only 10 men on the pitch. Over the years I’ve seen Gulls teams blindly panic and move backwards towards their goalkeeper more times than I’d care to remember…these lot are made of sterner stuff.
3 – MIDFIELD DYNAMO
The red card was obviously concerning on Tuesday night, a moment of poor discipline from Dean Moxey (I thought the first challenge was a booking too..) making the final 40 minutes or so look like an uphill struggle. But in adversity the Gulls found strength. Suddenly players found an extra 10% and we were pushing forward like we had the extra man, a super show of character from the lads even if the final ball or shot was generally lacking. No-one epitomised this spirit more than Aaron Nemane, who Thomas Kelly awarded as our TT Man of the Match (see below). Aaron’s fitness is superb and he is just so combative. He was billed as a small speedy winger when he joined us last season, but appearances can be deceiving as he’s proving to be so much more than that! At one point he appeared to win three tackles in a matter of 10 seconds, and when he did lose the ball occasionally, he’d instantly dig in to claim it back. Speedy winger? More like Midfield Dynamo. A great example of why you shouldn’t pigeon hole and write off players before they’ve been given time to find their form (we’ve all done it!).
4 – ARMANI AND CLE
One thing that is clear this season is how highly Gary Johnson rates Armani Little. As soon as the injury hampered midfielder has been fit, he’s been placed back in the starting line-up as soon as possible. On Tuesday night it didn’t quite work out for Armani, but it wasn’t for want of trying as he probed and pushed around the field to get involved. All that’s lacking is some sharpness before he comes good I’m sure. The only thing I would say is that Connor Lemononheigh-Evans really needs to be playing behind the striker this season, his form demands it and the goals he has scored and created have been hugely important. I think we missed that on Tuesday night as the Lemon got a little bogged down in the midfield battle. With Asa Hall perhaps out for a little longer the midfield just needs to readjust and find it’s own balance – the quality is there.
5 – STATEMENT OF INTENT
The Yellows love a pre-match signing don’t they! The return of Joe Lewis came a little out of the blue on Tuesday night, and the big Welshman settled back in with ease. Seeing the young lad in the flesh last season made me realise just was a strong physical presence he has and his ability to play at centre back and full back just improves our excellent squad even further. Being a permanent signing as well shows a statement of intent from the owners and proper backing for this Gary Johnson-inspired title charge. The steps we have taken with our squad since last March to improve have been impressive, and now is the time to push on at Barnet (A). Let’s hope for some merriment to finish January, a month more than any other that needs cheer.