League seasons are always more absorbing when rivalries are forged, and that’s what Woking FC and Torquay United have developed in recent years. It’s an unlikely one in many ways, with an ex-league full time club from Devon and an always non league part time club from Surrey not making for the most obvious foes. Not exactly Man U-Liverpool is it. But after some clashes in the Conference, it was a National League South title race that really set the pulses racing – not to mention the big personality of Ben Gerring stirring up the Yellow Army as the season progressed!
The banter swept into social media as the supporters occasionally clashed and mocked the defeats of the other, with GIFS and tweets flying back and forwards. On the pitch, there was the glorious drama of Ben Wynter and all that, a NLS title win celebrated with a chant based around Big Ben, whilst in 2019-20 there was two eventful games with injured players and a 1-1 draw at Woking, followed by a Xmas 4-1 at Plainmoor. And then COVID! Matters closed, banter and abuse put aside as the footballing world stopped for business.
Football thankfully returned but that was pretty much it, until now. When the FA Trophy draw paired the two teams together in the quarter finals it was no surprise. Our cup draws seem to be stuck in an eternal loop of Aldershot-Boreham-Halifax-Woking! But what it has done is add spice to the game. Gary Johnson won’t want to lose to Alan Dowson, and vice versa. This game will be hotly contested and should make for a lively affair. The Cards like to play fast and physical, and will fancy their chances of over-powering United.
It’ll no doubt be a different game to Tuesday night. Solihull wanted to play out from defence, but were slow to close down United and left holes to be exploited – which Billy Waters did superbly for the second goal. The Cards will get in our faces and provide a real test for our inexperienced back four. Torquay must respond with their own aggression, keep the intensity from the Moors win and keep their composure on the ball. I’ve not been too bothered about the Trophy until now, but this 90 minutes could be entertaining…well as long as we don’t receive any more bloody injuries. Oh and assuming the goalkeeper situation doesn’t hand the Cards the tie…
The signing of Scott Boden this week was fairly predictable, as the world and his wife was calling for a new striker! Scott hasn’t played since before Christmas, so may take time to regain sharpness, but the Chesterfield man has a decent goal-scoring record at Conference level and his stronger presence could make a real difference in the coming weeks. United already had four fit strikers, and none of them could fill Danny Wright’s big shoes, though Billy Waters is clearly the most likely to bang one in the net.
Rob Street’s spell so far just shows how difficult it is to move from Premier League Under 23s football to the real world of National League. No disrespect to the Under 23s, their skill levels are no doubt higher than ours, but it’s almost non contact compared to the aggression of Conference football. You’re certainly more likely to get clobbered by a big centre back that’s for sure, and Rob has been pretty much anonymous in the games he’s played. United’s history is full of young chaps travelling down to Plainmoor from various league youth teams, you soon know if they’re ready for the fight or not, let’s hope Rob adapts before his loan ends.
As for United, Tuesday’s win was massive, and breathed some belief back into what was a thoroughly miserable Yellow Army. It’s very Torquay United to lose a match they’re expected to win and then win a game when many expect defeat. We’ve never been natural favourites and perhaps that tag has weighed heavy on us in recent months. The fun and joy from October-December has certainly seeped out of United’s play, and coupled with the injuries it’s felt like an uphill struggle. Meanwhile Sutton insist on winning games to close the gap at the top. Tuesday showed this title race is very much alive and kicking, and with many games left to play they’ll be twists and turns aplenty.
With Boris throwing out his road map back to some kind of normality this week, and the sun even shining, a little optimism fills the air. If you’re struggling to cope, enjoy the football but don’t let Gulls defeats ruin your weeks. With little else going on, it’s easy to get glued to your phone and become affected by the deluge of social media. If anything defeats feel worse at the moment, as the frustration of lockdown bubbles everything to the surface and negative posts are banded around. But keep perspective if you can whatever the result and find enjoyable diversions to boost your morale. Meanwhile our manager and this team deserve our respect and patience for what they have done so far this season. Better than a relegation dog fight isn’t it?