TT MATCH VERDICT
Ben Currie – @bencurrie8
Amid continued uncertainty it was business as usual in the National League as Torquay travelled to Barnet, top played bottom, The Bees vs The Gulls.
After two hard-fought draws which maintained a cosy 9 point gap, United looked to extend their lead against a side who hadn’t won since October 13th and had dropped to the foot of the table on Tuesday following a 3-0 reverse against fellow strugglers Dover.
With Dean Moxey suspended, Torquay switched to a back 3 with Nemane and Whitfield at wing back and Asa Hall returning to captain the side, Rob Street made his first start as a lone striker on what was a wet, windy and miserable day in North London.
The Gulls, playing in their all-white strip, nearly took the lead in the first minute when a looping ball to the back post evaded the goalkeeper and caused an almighty goalmouth scramble that saw 3 different players try their luck, with Barnet throwing bodies in the way and just about thwarting the danger.
United didn’t have to wait too long to break the deadlock however, when, following a glorious 4 man, first-touch, passing move, Ben Whitfield got on the end of a sumptuous Asa Hall through-ball to rifle home into the corner of the net across the goalkeeper. It was a goal of real beauty and emphasised the quality that we possess when we get it right.
You might be forgiven for thinking that we would steamroll the opposition from here but that was as good as it got in the first half as it manifested into a very scrappy affair- owing in part to the conditions. United did get in behind Barnet on a couple of occasions but the final ball, especially from wide areas, was lacking. Armani Little saw a shot from distance rather easily saved by the legs of the Bees’ keeper but Torquay really struggled to eke out any gilt-edged chances.
The home side struggled to create many opportunities of their own, Shaun MacDonald was a virtual spectator, but they did send a warning shot on the stroke of half-time when an inviting cross was headed over at the far post by JJ Hooper. Several United players were convinced that there was a handball in the build-up; you’re never too good to remember to always play to the whistle.
Into the second half and United switched to their more customary back four as they aimed to play with the ball a bit further up the pitch. Barnet appeared to sit deep and for long periods Torquay failed to get in behind. You always felt a second goal was needed in order to make the game safe but chances were still at a premium.
United’s superior fitness was telling as the home team’s stubborn resistance slowly dwindled. The Gulls went for the kill and created two decent chances in the 68th and 69th minutes that really should have seen them double their lead. First, Whitfield was put through on goal by Little but saw the goalkeeper equal to his curling effort. Then, seconds later, Rob Street latched onto a long, bouncing ball over the top but could only poke his effort the wrong side of the post.
Was it going to be one of those frustrating afternoons that we’ve all witnessed so many times before? Billy Waters and Jake Andrews were introduced to inject fresh energy into proceedings and it was the latter who killed the game in a livewire 15 minute cameo: finding space 25 yards out, the midfielder lashed a crisp drive into the far corner of the net for his first goal of the season. Two bits of quality, two goals, and with no alarms in the final 10 minutes Torquay had got the job done.
MacDonald 6. Feels harsh to give him a 6 because he didn’t put a foot wrong- but he had absolutely nothing to do. 4 clean-sheets in a row is excellent progress and there seems to be a real confidence about him and his defence which hopefully will have shut up any naysayers in the wake of the Weymouth game.
Lewis 7. An excellent signing at just the right time. Slotted back into the team seamlessly and looked equally comfortable at third centre-half and as left-back.
Cameron & Sherring 7. Forging a really strong partnership together (and as a three with the goalkeeper). It was a day for full concentration in what were tricky conditions but in truth the whole defence looked untroubled. There has been a massive improvement in defence from last season and this run of clean-sheets will only add to that confidence.
Randell 7. As impressive at right-back as he is in the centre of midfield. Does a lot of very unfussy work. Gets stuck into the muck and nettles side of the game and looks strong carrying the ball up the pitch.
Hall 7. Always feel so much more comfortable with the skipper in the team. His experience and know-how is an important counterpoint to the rest of a youthful midfield. Rarely caught out of position, strong in the air, and a pivot for the more creative players to build around. Beautiful through-ball too.
Nemane 6. Full of effort as per usual and excellent defensively too. Final ball is infuriating though and wasted several promising situations by poor execution in the final third.
Evans 6. Struggled with his decision-making today and a few things he tried didn’t quite come off, ultimately a frustrating afternoon but when he is on his game he is very often head and shoulder the best player on the pitch. Much prefer seeing him as linkman further up the field.
Little 6. Trying hard to regain confidence and match-sharpness, another culprit of wasting the ball when in good positions. I wonder whether he is trying too hard to get involved at times, nothing quite came off for him. Got to be patient with him, after a string of injuries because on his day he is a genuine matchwinner.
Whitfield 7. Our most dangerous outlet all afternoon and took his goal nicely with a superb early strike which set us on our way. Should have made the game safe with his chance in the second half.
Street 6. Worked hard in a rather unforgiving role as lone striker in difficult playing conditions. Didn’t really use him as a focal point in the first half and was a victim of poor delivery from wide areas. Clear to see that this is a bit of a step up for him but I am hopeful that he can produce given a bit of patience.
Waters 6. (on for Street) a continuation of Street’s role. Starved of decent service but useful running against tiring legs.
Andrews 7. Injected vim just at the right time and played higher up the pitch than I have seen him recently. Lovely drilled finish to make the game safe.
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Man Of The Match – The Defence
Bit of a cop-out but I am going to give it to the defence as a whole. Barnet were unable to create a single clear-cut chance and that was down to an organised back-line both as three and a four. An excellent platform for the rest of the team to build on.
Back three in the first half with our two wing-backs pushed high up the field. The aim was to create overloads in wide areas but our final ball was too often ineffective. Reverted to a back four in the second in an effort to better retain possession and play higher up the field with the ball and break quickly on the counter without.
Both goals were scored at crucial times and both were genuine moments of quality. That’s what separated the two teams today. Both will be well worth a second look.
Barnet did not create a single goal-bound shot, they have only scored 13 goals all season so it is no surprise to see them rooted at the foot of the table. There was no lack of effort and as they showed recently, in a narrow 1-2 loss against Altrincham, they are capable of raising their game against stronger teams so today might well be seen as a banana skin avoided. Two bits of genuine quality separated the two teams but you also felt that if Torquay could find that extra gear to their play it would have been a far more comfortable afternoon than it transpired.
It was not a dirty game, and the conditions on the day led to a series of niggly fouls which punctuated the flow of the game; he was fair for both teams. I felt he handled it well with only needing to get his yellow card out once.
Three points today make those two recent 0-0 draws look like excellent results now. With rival teams dropping points, we have been able to extend our lead instead of seeing it narrowed and that is the name of the game from now until the end of the season. After a mini-run of three matches without a win (and two without scoring) a victory today will be confidence boosting as the matches continue to come thick and fast.
With the defence now looking somewhat settled and increasingly hard to breach, attention must turn to the top-end of the field and whether we can get our forward players firing. With so many creative, dynamic players in the midfield we will always create chances so it is important that our forward players are on the same wavelength in order to finish them off.
As always, there is no time to rest on our laurels, and there are always improvements to be made but today was the sort of game that we have seen us come a cropper in so many times so it was heartening to do the basics well and get the game won with few alarms. With very little time in-between, changes might well be required to keep the team fresh for Tuesday night’s encounter against Altrincham. 7.45pm kick off.