What a ridiculous week in the world of football! Super League? What a load of rubbish. Whatever made these owners think they could slide this idea onto the table without feeling an almighty backlash is beyond me, but when you’re a billionaire then I guess you’re used to getting your own way aren’t you. It was gratifying to see fan power win out, that’s for sure.
Back to what matters and the National League. Notts County are the visitors and in contrast to Woking and our trilogy of previous fixtures with them, it’s been a while since we regularly took on the ‘world’s oldest professional football club’ (granted, two games were scheduled last season but COVID cancelled the second). The last meeting at Plainmoor was in 2010. Paul Buckle’s Gulls had finished their first season back in League Two with a flourish, the Pickler Guy Branston bossing the back four to bring us clean sheets galore. Meanwhile Notts County arrived in the Bay as League Two champions (after a crazy season under Sven-Goran Eriksson the year before!), so the atmosphere was happy and convivial on a nice sunny day in May (get me back!).
Let’s take you back to Torquay’s line-up as they battled out a 0-0 draw with the Magpies:
Not a bad team that! Let’s be honest a team the size of Notts County should never be languishing in the National League 11 years later. The January stream made that clear, with the size of Meadow Lane impressive on the cameras (normal seated capacity over 18k), and a reminder of what a big club they are at this level. But that’s what can happen in the world of Football. Anything can happen and any club can climb up or fall down the pyramid at any point. That’s the unpredictability and competitiveness that we are used to. Eventually County will no doubt bounce back to the Football League, but they’ll have to earn it.
Indeed my memories (if I may hark back in time a little!) of Notts County go back 30 years to when they had a brief dalliance in what was the 1st Division in 1991-92. Manager was future Gulls boss Neil Warnock (check out his thoughts on the shambolic Super League below), and in midfield was future Gulls boss Don O’Riordan, whilst some other notable players included Tommy Johnson and Craig Short (all included in my pro set card collection). They unsurprisingly only lasted a season, and haven’t been back since – but that must have been fun while it lasted.
If there’s ever one man who just ‘gets’ what it means to the fans…
The 2020-21 team look on paper there for the taking tomorrow. The managerial change from Neal Ardley to Ian Burchnall has not kick-started their season, in fact it’s just made it worse and they will be lucky to reach the play-offs at this rate (6 points from the last 6 games). But that’s doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk for United. Notts skipper Michael Doyle is returning to action to lead the team and they may also have (there’s only one) Mark Ellis at the back. If picked (he was a sub versus Eastleigh), the defender will no doubt clear the Popside with a clearance at least once during the game and also get his head on a few set pieces. Mark is rarely out of the action for long! Upfront Kyle Wootton has 14 goals this season, and could trouble Sherring and Lewis given the right service.
TT PLAYER PROFILE – MARK ELLIS
Position: Centre Back
Date of Birth: 30th September 1988 – 32 years-old
Former Clubs: Bolton Wanderers, TUFC, Forest Green, Crewe Alexandra, Shrewsbury, Carlisle United, Leyton Orient, Tranmere Rovers
National League 20-21 Stats: Played 9, Goals 3, Bookings 1
I can foresee a close game to be honest, where the first goal is crucial – that’s not exactly a stab in the dark! After a stress free game at the Kingfield this has tight and tense written all over it (I hope to be proved wrong). Losing Danny Wright is a blow for us and the pressure reverts back to Scott Boden to provide the focal point that we always need. His performance at Woking was certainly good enough, I doubt he’ll find as much space on Saturday, but we’ll see.
Another squad player who did the business on Tuesday night was Matt Buse. Matt is a very solid player. Someone who’ll follow Gary Johnson’s orders to the tee, reads the game intelligently and dovetails nicely with his team mates. Any decent squad has those kind of players who will come in and do a job when required – the midfielder will just be hoping he’s not sat back on the bench on Saturday afternoon.
There is eight fixtures to go for the Gulls (5 at home, 3 away) and of course Gary Johnson will be desperate to win every one of them. So I expect to see United on the front foot early on in an effort to take advantage of County’s fragile confidence and naturally score the first goal. The key to this at the moment is the midfield double act of Asa Hall and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans. Their combination has been crucial to gaining control in games and dictating play.
The Lemon is returning to his brilliant best recently. His work rate at Sutton was unbelievable! At one point he headed away a U’s set piece and seconds later was chasing down their keeper at the other end. We needed him to return to form, causing the opposition trouble in and around the penalty area and also knocking in the occasional goal. He enjoyed that one at Woking, even bringing back the knee-slide celebration.
Whatever happens this season, the team will give it their all, I am sure of that. We’re in the zone at the moment, a zone where the team feel confident and play tough in every game. They are fit enough to outwork the opposition and have the belief that a winning goal will come. Big game after big game from now on, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I doubt any of the title contenders will win every match, none of them appear invincible and it would be no surprise if it went down to the wire. Enjoy the ride (and the game).