TT MATCH VERDICT
Joseph Pope – @OffTheLineBlog
Torquay United made it four wins out of five as on-loan Bournemouth defender Sam Sherring scored the winner deep into stoppage-time to inflict a second successive 1-0 defeat on Wrexham.
Torquay United made just the one change from the side that edged past Woking last time out, with returning forward Danny Wright rewarded for his goal against The Cards with his first start since the 6-1 Boxing Day victory against Yeovil Town. Chesterfield loanee Scott Boden dropped to the bench in place of Wright. Otherwise, it was an unchanged eleven for Gary Johnson’s side as he looked to secure another three points and keep the pressure up on leaders Sutton United and 2nd-placed Hartlepool United.
Wrexham, meanwhile, made three changes to the starting eleven from that which lost to Notts County on Good Friday, with forward Jordan Ponticelli dropping out of the squad after suffering a hamstring injury in their defeat to The Magpies, with Daniel Jarvis restored to the starting line-up and deployed behind loan striker Dior Angus . Elsewhere, Shaun Pearson dropped down to the bench in place of Fiacre Kelleher, with their third change seeing Theo Vassell miss out after he had suffered a swollen eye socket last time out, with experienced utility player Mark Carrington chosen as his replacement.
The Dragons were forced into a late change, with regular stopper Rob Lainton picking up an injury in the warm-up, meaning that deputy Christian Dibble was called in to start. Former Salford City midfielder Devonte Redmond was promoted to a spot on the bench in Lainton’s absence, meaning that Wrexham lined up without a substitute goalkeeper, something that elsewhere in the National League caused United’s promotion rivals Hartlepool United to play for just under an hour without a goalkeeper following Ben Killip’s injury.
Alas, we digress, and The Gulls headed to Wales looking to continue their upturn in form in the league, and follow up their narrow victory against Woking on Friday afternoon. United made a bright start to the contest, with Adam Randell dispossessing former Gulls midfielder Luke Young in the opening minute and advancing towards the Wrexham goal, only to fire the ball high beyond Dibble and into the back of the stand. Regardless, it was an intense start from The Yellows, and they applied pressure to the Wrexham goal soon after, with Armani Little forcing a corner off Tyler French, choosing to take it quickly and play a one-two with Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, and it required intervention from Fiacre Kelleher to turn it behind for a second Gulls corner. From the resulting corner kick, the ball presented itself to captain Asa Hall, whose tame header was directed into the palms of Christian Dibble.
It was a bright start by not only United, but in particular Armani Little, who profited down the Wrexham right like United had done in their 3-1 victory against The Dragons at Plainmoor earlier in the season, cutting inside and playing a neat one-two with Danny Wright before unleashing a fierce strike from distance that again needed intervention from a Wrexham defender to turn it behind for yet another Gulls corner. Following a neat delivery from Lemonheigh-Evans, Wrexham captain Jay Harris sliced the ball past the crowd in the middle and towards the back post, and Asa Hall ghosted in at the far post, but could not divert a header into the unguarded net under the challenge of Fiacre Kelleher, whose sly nudge in the back of the Gulls skipper was enough to put him off.
Little was again involved after just seven minutes as United forced yet another corner, with Ryan Law showing a neat bit of interplay with Armani Little and unleashing an inviting cross into the middle, once again forcing a Wrexham defender – Reece Hall-Johnson – to stick out a leg to turn it behind with Gulls players lurking in the box. It was a strong start for The Gulls, but Wrexham managed to get themselves back into the game after quarter of an hour, with their first real foray forward seeing Young lift a ball over the shoulder of Sam Sherring into the channel for former Barrow striker Dior Angus to chase, and the former Bluebird striker managed to advance into the box, but could not get away a clean strike of the ball under pressure from Sherring, and the ball landed firmly in the hands of Brazilian Lucas Covolan.
Just a minute later, The Dragons were once again in on goal, with Daniel Jarvis breaking through in behind The Gulls’ defence and unleashing a strike towards goal – only to see the offside flag go up – but nevertheless it was another display of the hosts growing into the contest. They were nearly caught out at the other end just a minute later, with Connor Lemonheigh-Evans’ short free-kick being recycled back into the area after good work from Ben Wynter to win the ball back and from Randell to deliver an inviting ball to the front post, with the ball meeting an unmarked Asa Hall, but again The Gulls skipper could not divert a meaningful effort on target as another chance went begging for the visitors.
It again proved to be a long ball over the top for Angus to chase that brought about a chance for the hosts, with Young again the architect as he lifted the ball through to Angus and he managed to force Lewis into clearing the ball out of play for a Wrexham throw. From the resulting throw, Reece Hall-Johnson saw his cross deflected behind by Ryan Law to hand Wrexham their first corner of the game and a chance to bring the defenders up for their first sight of the Gulls goal, but target man Danny Wright proved his worth in both boxes as he managed to head away the resulting kick from left-back Jamie Reckford and the danger was cleared for United. However, Wrexham had their best chance to go ahead soon after, with Jay Harris doing well to dispossess Armani Little and was brought to ground, giving Luke Young the chance from the free-kick roughly five yards outside of the area. However, it was the impressive Jordan Davies that was handed the responsibility, and he almost answered those calls as he saw his left-footed effort from the free-kick rattle the crossbar with Covolan well-beaten.
The hosts continued to grow into the game and cause greater problems for the United backline, with Covolan called into action with his first meaningful intervention of the afternoon as he was forced to parry away an effort from left-back Jamie Reckford, who managed to get up in support of yet another ball over the top into the path of Angus who squared for Reckford, but the scores remained goalless. Shortly before the half-hour mark, United resumed their pressure on the Dragons’ goal, with Asa Hall being poleaxed in the middle of the park by Jay Harris, giving Armani Little the chance to fashion a strike on goal from the resulting free-kick, and his effort went narrowly wide of the post. Shortly before the free-kick was taken, United were made to once again rue their injury misfortunes, with Sunderland loanee Benji Mbunga-Kimpioka taken off with what appeared to be yet another hamstring injury for United, with Billy Waters coming off the bench as his replacement, in the process resuming the partnership that had seen The Robins lift the National League title.
Asa Hall was again involved in winning a free-kick on the edge of the area, edging the ball past Fiacre Kelleher before being bundled over, but the resulting free-kick was blazed over by Armani Little. Another foul by Jay Harris on Armani Little in front of the dugout earned a “final warning” from referee Andre Miller, before United fashioned the final chance of the half as Wright working the ball into Asa Hall, with Hall firing a comfortable effort from the edge of the area into the clutches of Dibble. Little was called into action to stop a counter-attack from the hosts on the stroke of half-time with a well-timed challenge in the area on Angus, but that was it for the first-half as both sides headed in with the scores at 0-0, with the hosts happier for going in level.
If Torquay had been the better side in the first half, it was The Dragons who took control of the second. It was, however, after a bright opening spell to the half from United, with a long ball forward from Lucas Covolan direct into the path of substitute Billy Waters, and Waters flicked the ball into the path of strike partner Danny Wright, but Wright could not stretch enough to bring the ball under control as it rolled through for Dibble to collect. Ben Wynter was then the next to register a shot towards the Wrexham goal, with the ball falling to him on the edge of the area and the former Palace man fired a fierce, low strike past the right-hand post of Dibble for a goal-kick, despite protests from Wynter that it had taken a touch off a home defender.
Just five minutes into the second-half, United were forced into their second change of the afternoon, with Lemonheigh-Evans going down under a challenge from Reece Hall-Johnson, and despite receiving treatment from physio Kai Hepworth and managing to get himself back onto the field, he was forced off with what looked a knock on the knee, with Jake Andrews replacing him and Armani Little moving into the middle of the midfield to accommodate Andrews on the left-hand side.
That change seemed to spell the tide for a wave of Wrexham pressure in the Gulls half, with Joe Lewis showing an uncharacteristic slack misjudgement as he allowed the ball to travel over his head, but only into the path of Jordan Davies, who noticed Lucas Covolan off his line and attempted an audacious left-footed lob with the outside of his foot, only to see his effort sail over the crossbar. It was, however, a warning for The Gulls, but it was not one that they heeded, with The Dragons well on top from here on in, with Davies again involved as he won a corner on the right. Manager Dean Keates capitalised on this increased pressure from the hosts, with Daniel Jarvis being replaced by the more experienced Paul Rutherford, with Rutherford slotting in on the right-hand side of midfield and Davies partnering Angus up top in a front two. United decided to make a change of their own, with Danny Wright lasting just over an hour as he continues his return to action. Boden came on in his place.
Boden was involved in a rare second-half chance for The Yellows shortly after his introduction, working the ball into the path of Asa Hall, and he fired towards goal. That proved to be the end of United’s pressure on the Wrexham goal for a while, with the hosts taking control of the contest as Davies was again involved as his efforts forced a corner, with the resulting kick forcing Lewis to clear an effort from Fiacre Kelleher off the line. Hall-Johnson was this time the man breaking forward, advancing down the right after being played through by Luke Young, and it was only for a good shut-out job from Ryan Law and tracking-back Billy Waters that nulled the threat he possessed. A corner from Jake Andrews with twenty minutes remaining provided rest bite for the pressure, but he saw his effort drift straight out of play over everybody in the middle.
The hosts continued to ask questions of the defence, with Angus in particular asking questions of the referee’s patience as he went to ground easily under the challenge of Sam Sherring, and Andrew Miller was having none of it as he brandished a yellow. They continued to force United back, with a succession of corners from Luke Young resulting in a strike from the edge of the area by Jay Harris, but his effort was straight into the palms of Lucas Covolan. Another delivery from Young caused havoc for the visitors, with Young’s long-ball being flicked towards goal by Kelleher and Covolan had to get down smartly to tip behind at his near post. From the resulting corner, the ball was worked to the back post and Davies could only divert his header against the woodwork. Jay Harris marked his 250th appearance for The Dragons with a customary yellow card for an accumulation of fouls with seven to play, before he intercepted a pass from Ben Wynter and advanced towards goal, but to no avail.
With five minutes of added-time signalled, Dean Keates made his final change of the afternoon, with Davies being replaced by Shaun Pearson, with the former Mariners defender being deployed up front for the remaining exchanges. It seemed as if the contest, however, was ending for a stalemate, but it was United that made the key move of the contest three minutes into added-time. Jake Andrews passed up the opportunity to take a quick throw-in, allowing Joe Lewis to come up and deliver an inviting high ball into the box onto the chest of Billy Waters, who swivelled and fired towards goal, with the ball falling at the feet of Sam Sherring and his lashed effort towards goal found the back of the net after evading the reach of Dibble, smashing low into the goal to hand United all three points. The hosts tried to deliver into the area with the remaining minutes, but United saw out the minutes with ease to seal a vital away win.
Lucas Covolan – 6 – A relatively quiet afternoon by his standards, but did well to keep his nerve to parry away Jamie Reckford’s effort and to punch away a couple of Wrexham corners lifted into the middle. Another assured performance in the main from the Brazilian.
Ben Wynter – 7 – Perhaps just taking that little bit longer to come back to his best after his lay-off with injury, we were given a glimpse of the Wynter of old here as he put in an impressive display to keep the hosts at bay and null any threat they had down the left-hand side. He got caught napping on the odd occasion by the lung-busting dart from Reckford, but otherwise a good display from Ben.
Sam Sherring – 9 – see below
Joe Lewis – 9 – see below
Ryan Law – 7 – One of the big decisions before the game was whether or not Johnson went with youthful exuberance or cautious experience on the left-hand side against a promotion-rival, but Law was given the nod and he repaid the boss well. He continues to provide a threat going forward, as well as putting in a strong defensive showing for a lad that certainly has a bit of filling out to do, and Argyle have another impressive youngster on their hands. What a difference playing a natural left-back makes!
Adam Randell – 8 – See below.
Asa Hall – 7 – The skipper continues to prove a key presence in the heart of the United midfield, and made former Gull Luke Young look fairly anonymous to say the least; it was only when Young was not being closed down in the middle of the park and not having Hall snapping at his heels (when delivering a corner) that his qualities shone through. He will be disappointed that he didn’t add another goal – or two – to his tally for the season with some good chances, but it was nevertheless another confident display from Viking.
Armani Little – 6 – In the first-half, Little was one of the key performers for United as he provided a real threat down the left-hand side and managed to cause Tyler French problems. That threat waned slightly in the second as the retention of the ball became somewhat sloppy, but he continues to show signs of improvement after his return to injury, and as he continues to be played out of position will no doubt improve with every passing game.
Connor Lemonheigh-Evans – 6 – His involvement was unfortunately cut-short due to an injury, but Lemonheigh-Evans was much like Little in that he provided a real outlet in the first-half in terms of being able to break between the lines and keep pressure up on the Dragons backline, but in the second found it more difficult to impose his passing-game on the contest, as Jay Harris seemed intent on testing Andrew Miller’s patience with more robust challenges. Hopefully, he will be available come Saturday.
Danny Wright – 7 – Like a warm blanket on a cold day, how reassuring is it to know that Danny Wright is back leading the line. A number of times the ball into him was perhaps not as crisp or sharp as it could have been, but he showed all of the qualities which we have been so dearly missing over the past few months in the way he is able to get his body in and bring others into play. A fully-fit Wright perhaps may have got a goal in the first-half with some of the deliveries, but an impressive first-half and another useful 60 minutes in the tank.
Benji Mbunga-Kimpioka – 6 – What a shame. Another injury for Hepworth to contend with, and hopefully he will also not be out for too long. He went down seemingly having not been challenged – which are often the worse type of injury – and clutching his hamstring too. He showed glimpses of promise in the first-half as he has done ever since his introduction against The Daggers, but a cut-short game for the Swede.
Billy Waters – 6 – Brought on for Mbunga-Kimpioka during the first-half, Waters didn’t have a great deal to feed off, and chances were limited. However, the fact he was able to keep the ball alive and recycle it in holding off Kelleher at the death to give us the chance to win the game is deserving in itself of recognition, and so he gets a 6.
Jake Andrews – 6 – He gets a 6 merely for his intelligence at the end to not be hasty in trying to get the ball back on the pitch as quick as possible, and have the presence of mind to step aside and allow Lewis to get the ball in. Too often, our restarts of late have been poor, but the way Andrews did not rush into getting it back into play allowed us to ultimately win the match. He could have retained the ball a bit better, as his introduction came at a time when the hosts were just coming back into the game and we gave it away too many times, but sometimes in key moments it requires players to recognise the strengths of others as oppose to their own, and Andrews did that.
Scott Boden – 5 – Brought on for Danny Wright in the second-half, and other than an early involvement with Asa Hall, didn’t really offer anything of note in the contest. Granted, most of the time he was on we were defending and struggled to get up the pitch, but there certainly wasn’t anything to write home about.
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Men of the Match – Sam Sherring and Joe Lewis
It feels somewhat harsh not to give the limelight to Sam Sherring given that he proved the match-winner, but I am giving the Man of the Match mantle to both Sherring and Lewis in this one. With Kyle Cameron and Gary Warren continuing on the treatment table, and Fraser Kerr allowed to leave for Chesterfield, Sherring and Lewis have had to quite quickly learn each other’s games and form a partnership at the back, and that is something which they continue to do so impressively as every passing games goes by.
With Dior Angus deployed as a loan striker to begin with, Wrexham had to resort to targeting the space in behind United to try and get at them, but despite allowing them in on a couple of occasions, Sherring and Lewis both managed to cope with this threat well, particularly Joe Lewis, who continues to fill-in well on the left-hand side of the defence despite being predominantly right-footed. In the second-half, Wrexham changed their approach to go with a 2-striker formation with Davies moved alongside Angus, with the duel threat of running in behind seemingly their choice of ammo. However, again they managed to keep the chances from such threat to a relative minimum.
And, in the same way that they continue to strike an impressive partnership at the heart of the defence, they linked up once more for the winner, with Joe Lewis going all Ben Tozer with an inviting ball into the middle from a long-throw, and the ball dropped at the feet of Sam Sherring, who managed to crash the ball home to secure all three points. An impressive display from both even despite the fact that you feel they are better-suited in wider defensive positions; what a job they are doing!
Honourable Mention – Adam Randell
Signed on the eve of the first game of the season, what a loan sign Adam Randell has proved to be. Central-midfield – both holding-midfield and in an advanced role – on the right-hand side of midfield and at right-back, he continues to show his class by being able to faultlessly slot in wherever needed, with that versatility particular useful given our injury woes.
He put in another impressive display on the right of midfield, a position which I feel suits his qualities better at this point in his career, in that he is able to concentrate on being able to apply pressure higher up the pitch and hassle his opposition and win the ball back – things that are central to his game – but not isolated at the base of midfield and taken advantage of, as he was a couple of times at the real low point of our downturn in form. He is continuing to strike a really fruitful partnership with Ben Wynter, and they linked up a number of times both in getting up the pitch and getting crosses into the box for Wright, but also in Randell getting back and overlapping Wynter to get Wynter out of a couple of defensive misfortunes with the rampaging Reckford. He may not get the goals, but he is as crucial as ever in this team. Surely, Argyle don’t need him back next season?
Johnson again decided to use a 4-4-2 formation, with Wright brought back into the team with a starting berth alongside Black Cats loanee Mbunga-Kimpioka and later his old mucker Billy Waters, with Little once again shoe-horned into an unnatural spot on the left-hand side of midfield in absence of Ben Whitfield and Adam Randell deployed on the right-hand side of midfield in the continued absence of Aaron Nemane. Lewis and Sherring continued to partner each at the back with Cameron still side-lined, with Law continuing at left-back despite the recent return of experienced campaigner Dean Moxey.
Wrexham were visibly suffering with what I am dubbing Torquay United-syndrome, with the players they had unavailable making them a much different opposition to the one which has steadily played their way back into play-off contention. No Kwame Thomas in the forward area meant that Dior Angus was assumed even greater responsibility leading the line – something he did well, but you assume would have been even better if his right-hand man had been in attendance – and the loss of Theo Vassell may have presented The Gulls with an even trickier task going forward in terms of being able to break down the hosts.
Otherwise, they looked a strong side and you can see why they have got themselves into play-off contention, as there has definitely been improvement on the outfit that was well-beaten at Plainmoor earlier in the campaign. They just lacked that end product and threat in the final third to cause United real problems; oh what a difference a striker makes to a side’s outlook! The Dragons will be hoping that they haven’t started picking up injuries and poor results at the wrong time, and will – in truth – feel hard done by to not come away with something from this game.
Very good in the main. Andrew Miller is a referee that we have had a couple of times, and each occasion he has shown himself to be one of the better officials that this division has to offer. He allowed the game to flow really well, and wasn’t too whistle-happy or whistle-shy in equal measure. He perhaps could have brandished a yellow card a little bit sooner to Wrexham midfielder Jay Harris, although provided us with an exemplary display of his memory as he proceeded to point at every area on the pitch that Harris had committed a foul amidst the protestations from the Wrexham captain when he received his caution. He wasn’t conned in to giving a penalty when Dior Angus seemed to go to ground easily under the influence of Sam Sherring, and all-in-all put in a strong showing.
Another big win for United, as we make it four in five and four clean sheets during that time too. We now face a key game against an improved Weymouth to that which we faced earlier in the season, before the big clash against the leaders.
While the performance may not have been the most convincing at times and they did have to ride their luck on occasion, the character and mentality of the side once again shone through as they managed to steal all three points courtesy of Johnson-time once more, and that importantly points United back within touching distance of those in Amber.
Mbunga-Kimpioka and Lemonheigh-Evans both hobbled off with injuries, and so Johnson will hope that they are alright for Weymouth or at minimum for Sutton United on Tuesday night, and perhaps even welcome back Whitfield and Warren too. A big three points for United, and they have given themselves a chance ahead of the run-in.
COYY – Joe