Well well well! The bank holiday weekend really was great fun wasn’t it, and I say that despite having my first jab. After the wonderful performance at Plainmoor, Chesterfield (a) saw a different type of game and a different side to this Torquay United promotion chasing line-up. The start was electric, with a superb pass by Jake Andrews lapped up by Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, who put the Gulls up with a swing of his left foot. The understanding these two have stems from their Bristol City days, and was too much for the sleeping Spireites defence. It had been a frantic start to a game where both teams battled furiously, but the all important first blow was dealt by us.
After that the game disintegrated somewhat, with United’s early energy tailing off and Chesterfield pushing to take the initiative and an equaliser. It looked for all the world like they had got it during the second half when a shot trickled past Lucas Covolan, but Dean Moxey heroically shovelled it off the line. Successful football seasons often hinge on big moments and fine margins. If Dean was right footed he may not have had the balance and technique to clear it. It felt like a big moment and when Billy Waters banged in the second, so it proved. Another dance of joy around the living room? Oh go on then.
Four games left now and with our destiny in our own hands after Sutton’s defeat at Notts County, next to arrive at Plainmoor is Bromley FC. Another play-off challenger and another dangerous looking opponent. Bring it on I say. Earlier in the season the Gulls went to Hayes Lane and came away with a 2-1 victory, Danny Wright scoring (you’ve guessed it) a late goal from the penalty spot. The hard earned comeback win over a decent Bromley team was an indication that Torquay United could be contenders this season, with Adam Randell scoring a belter to equalise. Maybe the brilliant midfielder is due another on Saturday.
Going back further you can’t talk about Torquay United V Bromley without revisiting the ridiculous 2015-16 season, a campaign crazy even by TUFC standards. Exhibit A occurred in September. Paul Cox had left the job after only a couple of months, and in stepped John Ramshaw and ex-Marketing Manager and current Director of Football (I use this term loosely) Dean Edwards. A defeat was inevitable! After a James Hurst opener, the Ravens responded again and again with Moses Emmanuel filling his boots for a hat trick. An embarrassing afternoon ending eventually in a 3-7 defeat. The image of Deano in his shiny tracksuit shouting instructions will stay with me forever, an absolute shambles.
Fast forward 7 hectic months and the Gulls arrived at Bromley looking to put the seal on a fantastic great escape under Kevin Nicholson. After numerous squad changes and hampered by financial constraints, the ex-Gulls legend had finally found a winning formula, with the likes of Nathaniel Blissett, Angus MacDonald and Dan Butler playing pivotal roles. With a big Yellow Army following the Gulls would not be denied, and an early header from big Angus saw jubilant celebrations in the away end. A Courtney Richards free kick was the cherry on top of a perfect away day. What a strange season that was, fun as well, but I’ll take a promotion challenge any day.
Kevin’s line-up that day was:
Moore, Butler, Verma, Gerring, MacDonald, Young (Ajala), Rees, Richards, Allen (Wright), Blissett, Harrad (Chaney)
This time around Bromley come into the 11th fixture between the two teams in fine form, with five wins out of six bringing them firmly into play-off contention. This includes away wins at Halifax and Chesterfield, and a home win this week against Hartlepool (cheers for that!), so no time for any complacency from the Gulls. The Ravens have certainly improved since Andy Woodman replaced Neil Smith as manager in March. Not many ex-Goalkeepers have become successful managers, I welcome suggestions please! Maybe Andy will strike a blow for the keepers-coaching union…just not this weekend.
If you’re talking danger men then you have to start with Michael Cheek, who has netted 22 goals in the NL this season in 38 games, making him the league’s top goal-scorer. Another player who United’s back four will have to keep tabs on is Jude Arthurs, a young lad who joined from Gillingham and has made the step up from Bromley’s youth team. Arthurs has scored in their last two games, including the winning goal against Hartlepool. On the bench is likely to be James Alabi, a striker who has certainly moved around over the years (see previous clubs)! On his day the big striker is a real handful, and if Bromley are struggling he’ll definitely be thrown on.
National League Stats 20-21: Played 32, Goals 5, Bookings 2
All in all there is no reason for Torquay to feel apprehensive about facing Bromley, but it’s important they play the game rather than the occasion. Now we know four wins will bring us league football back to Plainmoor, the pressure is amplified and the team will have to deal with it. In the past the Gulls have so often let nerves get the better of them, but on this occasion we do have a trump card in the form of Gary Johnson. After dealing with these situations so many times, the gaffer knows how to deal with matters and get the best out of his players. He will urge the lads to stay positive, stick to what they’ve been doing in recent weeks and push for another win – no panic, we’re the better team, go and prove it.
Personally I’m feeling confident with good reason. The resilience we showed at Chesterfield bodes well, and in Billy Waters we have a striker who is hitting form just in time. Waters has had a mixed spell at United since joining, with missed chances getting fans on his back and Danny Wright’s absence leaving a big hole. But Billy has been around long enough to know how things can change very quickly for a striker. The arrowed finish versus Eastleigh was one of the sweetest hits this season, and after following this up on Monday he’ll be licking his lips for the weekend. Add to that his tremendous work rate and you’ve got a guy ready to help push United to the title. He’ll be joined by Scott Boden, whose celebrations stirred up the Spireites on Monday, the man clearly knows how to impress the Yellow Army!
I may be confident but the nerves will also be jangling inside as kick off nears. A return to the Football League means everything doesn’t it? After 7 years of toil, and moments that made us believe we may never make it back, this could finally be it. We had become nobodies and NLS also rans, but Gary Johnson has dragged us back from the brink, for that I’ll always be grateful. The final push awaits, four Saturday games and four massive fixtures where our character and bottle will be tested to the limit (that fans return for Barnet (h) could be epic). Enjoy the game.