I have been reading this book for a long time and I’m almost frustrated at myself for thinking that the next chapter could be any different – seasons come and go, but Torquay United will never change – we do not and won’t ever, do things easily.
It was a windy night in Devon, where the BT cameras descended to showcase the best of National League football – as Halifax manager Pete Wild quipped in his pre-match interview – they weren’t here to see him, or his team, the pressure was on United. Plainmoor looked beautiful in the setting sun, as always, whilst the melody of Robert Miles creeped in through the airwaves. With the Yellows up against a struggling Halifax team, and earlier results generally falling in our favour – I felt optimistic we might find ourselves back on track.
The opening 30 minutes marginally fell to United, we dominated the possession count but lacked the clinical edge up front to make it count – occasional half chances dropped to each team, whilst a hamstring injury bestowed Kyle Cameron in the 13th minute – cause for concern as yet another Gull limped off clutching a muscle. Ben Whitfield was the most likely to make something happen and despite not really troubling the Halifax goal, we at least looked comfortable.
And then… The architects of our own downfall. A woeful Torquay freekick instantaneously turned into a Halifax counter attack. They broke quickly down the right where Jeff King delivered a troublesome cross that completely perplexed Macdonald who could only punch it into a mass of retreating players, it found its way into the United goal courtesy of a helpless Sam Sherring. 0-1.
Fortunately, United showed a little bit of resolve. No fewer than six minutes later, Whitfield darted in from the left and succumbed to a reckless challenge from Jeff King just inside the box, time stuttered still and the referee pointed to the spot. Asa Hall stepped up and dispatched the ball professionally past Sam Johnson in the Halifax goal. 1-1: Half time.
The Gulls never really came back out in the second half. Similarly, the opening 30 minutes passed by quickly, but this time Halifax enjoyed the share of proceedings, increasingly, they grew into the game whilst United shrunk away; our midfield struggled to string passes together or find cohesion, the forward line offered little to nothing. The Shaymen smelt blood; Campbell missed two clear chances whilst a number of promising set pieces failed to find the net.
The visitors didn’t take those chances and suprisingly, were abruptly punished. Against the run of play, man-of-the-hour Jeff King dealt with a United cross by wrestling Billy Waters to the ground – United penalty. Again, Asa stepped up and calmly slotted it away. An underserved 2-1 lead for Torquay in the 71st minute, suddenly, we had a chance of taking the spoils.
However, Halifax were not deterred and even still it felt like this game was there for them if they wanted it, which is probably the most damning part of United’s performance. Ten minutes later, calamity at the back ensued, a ball wasn’t cleared and Jack Earring fired home past a flailing MacDonald and a sea of struggling United defenders. 2-2, 78′.
I would have taken a draw for most of this match but we wouldn’t have deserved it – in the 88th minute there could only be one man to claim all three points. From the edge of the box, him… again… Jeff King, slotted home – his placed effort pushing the palms of an outstretched MacDonald away. 2-3. 88′ and a buoyant Halifax bench erupted.
The game slipped out of sight from here. The Halifax players earned their lot, a solid unit which managed the game exceptionally. As for United, that performance troubled me. We were toothless up front and both the midfield and defence really struggled in what should have been – at least on paper – a game where we at the very least, matched our opponents.
The BT circus descends on Plainmoor. Credit: Andy Charles.
Shaun MacDonald: 4 – Criminally unprotected at times but a difficult night for Mac nonetheless; arguably, he should have done better with all three of those goals.
Ben Wynter: 5 – Great to see Wynter back and 90 minutes for him is at least one positive to take from the night. Started well and looked comfortable on the ball, fell away as the game went on but running the wing for the duration was a big ask and he came through.
Sam Sherring: 4 – The O.G wasn’t Sam’s fault, wrong place at the wrong time. See Joe Lewis comments for a summary of defensive performance and rating.
Kyle Cameron: N/A – Can’t comment on Cam, but more broadly, I do wonder whether he would have been worth at least a point – we missed his leadership at the back.
Joe Lewis: 4 – It wasn’t so much individual errors that cost us defensively, but more that the back line completely failed as a unit – was this because of the formation, the loss of Cameron or a culmination of everything else?
Ben Whitfield: 6 – Even at our collective worst, Whits still stands out. Increasingly teams are reacting to that quickly and I’d like to see a little more flexibility in his game and role to counter that. Possibly could have opened fire a few more times, not looking quite as confident as matches past.
Adam Randell: 4 – Very quiet from Adam, he had a couple of half chances but neither memorable; struggled to make his mark and struggled to get going throughout.
Asa Hall: 6 – An extra point for putting away those penalties; credit where it’s due, Asa tried to get us moving through the middle, but I did think he cut a frustrated figure.
Connor Lemonheigh-Evans: 4.5 – CLE has to be better utilised, he’s a significant factor as to why we’re top in the first place, but much like Adam, he seems lost at the moment – wasted out wide. Extra .5 as it was CLE’s cross that troubled Halifax prior to the second penalty incident.
Josh Umerah: 4 – Works hard and chased every ball but we have to get a frontline together that starts scoring and this partnership is not it; nothing is sticking up front at the moment, be it long-balls or balls played to feet, it bounces around and comes straight back and that’s been our most notable demise in the last few weeks.
Billy Waters: 4 – See Josh Umerah. An almost entirely anonymous game, one half chance early on that he did well to create from nothing, .5 extra because he won the second penalty.
Jake Andrews: 4 – Again, previous defensive comments apply. Jake is struggling for form, he doesn’t look happy at the back but our squad players have to find it within themselves to step up.
Rob Street: 3.5 – This loan has not worked and I don’t particularly think it’s helping us, or Rob, at this moment; he may well turn out to be a good player in time, but at only one year older, there is nothing to be gained in picking him over Olaf Koszela.
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Man Of The Match – Ben Whitfield
I debated giving it to Asa purely on goals scored but Ben was our greatest cumulative threat, won one of the penalties and will never stop working for this team. Eleven Whitfields and we wouldn’t have half the worries we have right now.
Not much to go at here but Asa for calmly dispatching the two penalties, I also enjoyed seeing Ben Wynter back in a United line-up, he did okay. From a Halifax perspective, the ridiculousness of Jeff King’s involvement also felt quite iconic.
Jeff King’s 88th minute winner. It was the moment to match the performance, for both teams. Jeff won’t have as an eventful match in the rest of his career.
It was quite a fluid formation – I actually think we started as a back 3 and midfield 5, with Wynter and Whitfield seemingly employed as wing-backs – it certainly looked that way on screen. After Cameron’s injury, it slipped into a more traditional 4-4-2 but the full-backs were still quite advanced and Halifax seemed capable of getting in behind us on every single counter attack.
Halifax are as much hampered by injuries as we are but they arrived at TQ1 with a fairly standard ‘away team strategy’ and were able (and capable) to execute it perfectly. I thought they were brave, they sensed our fragility and reacted at the right times, especially when they found themselves 2-1 down. They played smart and were deserving of all three points.
Steven Copeland and his colleagues had a good game I thought; he let the game run and I don’t recall any clear mistakes. Both penalties were penalties, otherwise, I don’t really think he had any enormously contentious decisions to make – only one booking for a Halifax man and I don’t actually remember it!
I’m grasping for optimism and perspective, fighting the spectre of doubt that is tapping loudly on the window – this was a really poor performance and even at 2-3, we were flattered, those goals wouldn’t have ever come from open play. However, we still have an enormous amount of football to be played, we can still make sure at this point that is a blessing, rather than a curse. The lads need to dig deeper than they have dug before; injuries and fatigue are one thing but these are the challenges championship winning clubs need to overcome, whether that is through adequate replenishments or strength in depth. One thing is for sure, we have to start delivering polar opposite performances to those of the last few weeks – and that has to start as soon as Solihull on Tuesday.
Come On You Yellows, Please!? – Luke
Asa Hall is the 65th player to score 20+ goals for #tufc
Saikou Janneh was the previous player to reach that figure, on 14th December 2019.
Lee Mansell was the most recent midfielder, finishing on 25 goals for the club.
Injuries are a problem, but so too for Halifax, we had more than enough on the pitch to win that (and Wealdstone) and faltered badly. Promotion is still achievable but we need to put a run of wins together and that currently looks a mile off. Very concerning now.