Is that the title gone? I’d say so. To be honest our hopes seemed to be faint a few weeks ago when Maidenhead put us to the sword, and although we perked up to beat the mighty King’s Lynn and Solihull (Moors were awful to be honest), the loss on Saturday was probably the final dagger into our chances of topping the National League. You have to credit Sutton United for the consistency they have shown in recent months and their knack of finding late goals, just two of the numerous elements that have disappeared from United’s credentials. Going to the likes of Daggers, who are not a bad team, and having to win is never ideal and although we could easily have salvaged a draw, a win never seemed nailed on from the start.
United were not exactly terrible…but if you want to win leagues you’ve got to do more. It didn’t feel like we were throwing the kitchen sink at them at any point, throwing caution to the wind and putting everything on the line. An air of caution almost hung around our play. Not aggressive or proactive enough to prise open the defence and only looking mildly lively after the arrival of Benji Kimpioka (more on him later). Maybe it was tiredness creeping in after two games of positive pressing, maybe the bobbly pitch didn’t help, maybe we’re presently just not good enough. Gary Johnson needed more fire and his team just couldn’t provide it.
Some of our troubles were down to lack of pace to frighten the Daggers. Against King’s Lynn and Solihull this wasn’t an issue as the Gulls were not pressed and allowed time on the ball to use their playmaking ability. In contrast the Daggers held a high line, confident of being able to handle Scott Boden, and often out-numbered the Gulls midfield to stifle our creativity. Without the out ball to speedy wingers like Whitfield and Nemane, the likes of Asa Hall and CLE found it difficult to pick out a pass (far too many hopeful long balls) and it made for a frustrating watch (frustrating being the most used word for TUFC-2021).
The one bright spot was Benji’s determined performance from the subs bench. I loved his intent to close down the goalkeeper right away and that no fear attitude of ‘give me the ball, I’ll do something with it’. It’s not easy for young loan players to show that sort of bravado (Rob Street proved that with his quiet displays) and he almost snatched us an equaliser. Sympathy for Josh Umerah on the line, he knew little about the shot that ricocheted off him. That moment kind of summed up our 2021 so far…agonising! But we have to move on quickly and Benji could be a big asset in the forthcoming games. He must start against Woking – no doubt about that. No disrespect to Scott Boden, but I know which striker I’d prefer to be marking if I was a centre back and it would be the Chesterfield man.
One player who struggled last Saturday was Armani Little. No denying it, the midfielder was almost anonymous despite his best efforts and intentions to get involved. But please do not write this guy off, he has suffered injury after injury, and worked so hard to get back into action. Suffering those setbacks again and again are a real test of any footballers character, and Armani has not let this keep him down. The lad has talent, we all know that, and has shown plenty of glimpses in March that he’s returning to form, so let’s get behind him. This is no lethargic and lazy chap dosing through games, this is a top lad with a great attitude and someone who Gary Johnson has clearly got huge faith in – that’s good enough for me.
Speaking of injuries, Dean Moxey returning was welcome on Saturday. Young Law has done okay mind, too wasteful with the ball against the Daggers, but who wasn’t?! Also working his way back to fitness is Danny Wright. I’m sure it’s tempting for Gary Johnson to throw the experienced striker back into the first team asap, but I’m sure they’ll be a little more patience than that. Making a comeback mid-season is not easy. You can’t rediscover the fitness and rhythm at the click of the finger…but there’s no doubt Danny will make a difference, giving us that aerial threat on crosses and helping to knit together attacks. Kyle Cameron is not far off either I believe, and when I mention lack of aggression earlier, that includes the defence. Kyle pushes the Yellow men forward from the back and it’s been much missed. There is still time for United gather themselves this season with these lads returning!
One team that was packed full of leaders was the Torquay United 2008-09 promotion heroes, and this takes me onto the Talking Torquay legends evening on the 9th April. Some of our lovely contributors Sam Druiff and Ben Currie have helped organise this event (along with the loveable and often chuckling Stephen Dixon) and they have done a splendid job. The banter is bound to be excellent with the Nicho and Mansell combo back in tandem and the event is well worth a tenner of your money, which will go to a number of worthwhile charities. The link is below so make sure you’ve got your ticket…
Meanwhile Friday afternoon brings Big Ben Gerring and his Woking mates down to Plainmoor. Ben was quick to jump on the banter bus after that Trophy defeat, so it was quite gratifying to see them crash out to Hereford! But in all seriousness, his charity work last year showed the big man has a big heart, and for all the pantomime villain stuff we know he’d rather be playing for United really! Woking are bloody awkward customers as we all know. They’ll bring crashing (and often high) tackles, dispute anything and provide a real handful from set pieces. We should have enough to win the game, and for all the talk of the title slipping away, it remains an important one. The teams below us are inching up steadily and although we remain favourites to reach a favourable spot in the play-offs, there is still plenty of work to do.
Otherwise, the weather and restrictions easing have boosted my spirits this week after what has felt like a long and testing 3 post-Xmas months. I’m even looking forward to a visit from the in-laws! Let’s hope the Easter weekend sees the Gulls in fine form. Losing to Woking in the Trophy was bad enough, but at Plainmoor in the league…no thank you. Enjoy the weather, the company people you haven’t seen for a while and (hopefully) three points on Good Friday.