My head said the postponement of yesterday’s game at Woking was a good thing. With injuries decimating the squad (again) and the team struggling to recapture the rhythm of 2020, it’s a chance to regroup and maybe reload for the visit of Halifax next Saturday. However, my heart said something differently! With the weekends bereft of anything else interesting to do (and a walk to Co-op and back being one of the highlights), a spicy fixture with the Cards could have made things at least interesting! Let’s face it though, Alan Dowson would have been licking his lips at getting one over on Gary Johnson and it would have probably been ugly and physical – so maybe it’s a bullet dodged.
In the end Saturday was a day that put football very much into perspective, as very sad news filtered through that we had lost of our Bristow’s Bench mates Paul Rockett. Paul passed away recently from COVID. He will be a huge miss at games, someone who was always there when we made it to our seats, rarely missing a game despite travelling down from Somerset. Paul was an instantly likeable and outgoing chap, always full of fun and banter, even on the murkiest days at Plainmoor. Always quick to offer any cakes or chocolate bars that were going spare, and always full of good humour that helped make matchdays a pleasure. His presence will be hugely missed and I send my deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Paul was one of those many people who are football friends and part of our Yellow Army. I’ve tried my best to enjoy the streams this season and have punched the air on many an occasion in celebration when the Yellows have scored. But nothing can replicate being there and sharing the joy with others. From the pre-match pint and greetings in the Gulls Nest; to the jokes; the ups and downs and the shared experience. Life without Plainmoor afternoons and evenings leaves a hole that is impossible to fill. In recent matches, it feels like the team have missed the noise, the spark, the push from the United faithful. Without fans in attendance what is football? Soulless and missing it’s heart.
The Gulls simply have to find a way to reverse their momentum at the moment. The Wealdstone game became more frustrating by the minute, and my patience was being tested by our wasteful final balls and shooting. But then a last minute goal and some positivity to take away (especially welcome considering I was penning a rare match verdict). Looking back at the match, we were unlucky not to score at least 2 or 3 goals and considering the horrendous weather conditions we played some nice stuff. Let’s not go overboard, much of it was dross, but I think the 2nd half performance threw out some positives and showed that United are still very much engaged and hungry in this promotion push.
Much has been made of Danny Wright’s absence and the striker remains missed for all he provides to the team. But other players and difference makers are missing and it’s always going to be tough dealing without them. Ben Wynter is one of those players. Early season his keen overlaps and ability to create something were perfectly illustrated at Hartlepool and Bromley, add to that the recent injury to Aaron Nemane and the right hand side suddenly becomes a non-event – although Olaf did make an impact as sub on Tuesday night. Suddenly all the attacks head down the left and the opposition can concentrate on stopping that side, which after the first 15 minutes they pretty much achieved.
Without CLE and Armani Little the Gulls also lost the ability to play in between the lines and find gaps in the Wealdstone defence, making for a rather predictable offensive approach and a difficult evening. Different avenues to attack are the hallmarks of any good team. If you have the width to hurt teams, whilst also the skill to find a way through the middle then you are in business. Balance that out with defensive resilience, speed of feet and thought, and the league is there for your taking.
All is not lost though, far from it. The team remains perched at the top of the table, and players will return soon, CLE from suspension and injury wise Wynts very close to action by all accounts. That’s a good start! The length of Aaron Nemane’s absence is a mystery but we can but hope he returns asap. The energy and pace he provides United makes us harder to cope with. Apart from that your guess is as good as mine on others, the ‘TUFC official secrets act on injuries’ can only be overcome by asking the players themselves!
Our chances are still good, but the cakewalk that many were predicting in late 2020 is very unlikely. Was this ever going to be easy? This is Torquay United after all! With all the ups and downs we’ve experienced, a bumpy ride is assured. Nothing can be taken for granted and every point will be hard earned from now on. With Gary Johnson at our helm we’ve got the perfect man to steer the ship into League Two – trust in him to get this right.
In the meantime RIP Paul, taken far too early. Bristow’s will not be the same without you.