Matthew Roberts – @MatthewVA438
When the fixtures for the season were announced, supporters of both Torquay and Stockport would have picked out today’s game as a potential title decider, and they were probably right. Today was, in all likelihood and barring a catastrophic Sutton collapse in the final two games, the day when the title was all but decided.
I had hoped back in October that by the time May came around the restrictions on attendances at stadiums would be pretty much gone, and that we could take a sizeable contingent up to Stockport. Alas, Covid is still with us and Edgeley Park was devoid of fans as supporters of both clubs had to content themselves with watching from home on BT Sport.
Torquay fielded the strongest looking squad for a few months, with Kyle Cameron and Ben Whitfield making a welcome return to the bench. Billy Waters was somewhat surprisingly dropped from the starting XI given his recent form, with Armani Little coming into the team.
Stockport started the better side, controlling the pace of proceedings and having the lion’s share of possession, although Torquay burst into life after 10 minutes when Andrews scuttled forward unopposed and unleashed a driving effort which Hinchcliffe in the Hatters goal managed to parry away. Only a few moments later, Covolan denied the home side what looked a certain goal when a shot came in from point blank range. Somehow though, our Brazilian shot-stopper instinctively hurled himself to the ground and got enough force on the shot to parry the ball out for a corner. Brilliant goalkeeping.
The opener came just after the half hour mark, when Stockport’s Southam-Hales curled the ball past Covolan from the edge of the box. There was nothing Cov could do but perhaps Moxey could have been tighter on his man. Not to worry though, the scores were level only five minutes later after CLE was brought down in the box. No hesitation from the referee and Scott Boden blasted it straight down the middle to equalise, proving Hinchcliffe wrong who could be heard telling Boden that he was going to save it.
Torquay came to life and began to exert control during the remainder of the first half, with Stockport looking increasingly frantic at the back. 1-1 at half time in what was a frenetic opening 45 minutes.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first, with Stockport building some early pressure, but Torquay got their second through some comedy defending, allowing Boden to hit the bar from a few yards out, then poke the rebound in. Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last long, with a perfectly placed corner catching Covolan out, leaving an almost open goal for the equaliser. I’d be appealing to the referee though as the ball was clearly outside the quadrant when the corner was taken! Where’s VAR when you need it?
Torquay had chances through Lewis, Hall and Benji to grab a third but all went begging. As it was, the match finished 2-2 in what was an end-to-end thriller.
Lucas Covolan 7 – Made a superb save in the first half, somehow managing to get down and palm the ball away from a close-range shot. Saving it was impressive enough but pushing it with enough force out for a corner was brilliant. Unfortunately, Covolan was caught in no man’s land for the second goal, reaching for the ball but getting nowhere near it.
Dean Moxey 6 – Struggled against the pacey Southam-Hales and was probably guilty of giving him too much space for the first goal, although it was a fantastic shot. His long throws sometimes caused confusion in the Stockport box but Moxey’s attacking threat was less pronounced than usual today.
Ben Wynter 6 – Stockport focused a lot of their play down the wings and Wynter was under pressure from early on. It looked like he gave his man a bit too much time and space on occasion but also made some important interceptions and tackles.
Joe Lewis 7 – Lewis has improved steadily since his return to the club earlier this year. Himself and Sherring have formed an effective partnership and although two goals were conceded, Lewis played with a maturity beyond his years again, looking steady and assured, also being involved in a couple of chances at the other end of the pitch. I’m convinced he’s taking part in an Asa Hall lookalike competition with that hair and beard.
Sam Sherring 7 – Along with Lewis he would have expected Stockport to keep him busy. Sherring made some important tackles and looked calm under pressure. I’m not sure how Cameron gets back into the defence at the moment.
Jake Andrews 6 – Involved early on and with the first real chance but didn’t make a huge impact.
Adam Randell 6 – Wasn’t as influential as he has been of late, but it certainly wasn’t through lack of effort. Initiated some quick counter-attacking moves but Stockport did well to restrict the Torquay midfield.
Asa Hall 6 – Not as commanding a performance for the skipper as we’ve seen but Stockport did everything they could to stymie the midfield linking up with Boden and CLE up front. Should have hit it first time when he got it in the box late on, instead Hall took a further touch, and the chance was gone.
Armani Little 5 – A somewhat surprising switch for Waters. Little didn’t have a great game but improved as the first half wore on. Gave the ball away too much though.
Connor Lemonheigh-Evans 8 – MoTM (see below)
Scott Boden 7 – A difficult rating as scoring two goals in a game is impressive but for periods of the first half Boden wasn’t particularly noticeable. His penalty, however, was excellent, no fancy tricks or trying to chip it into the net, Boden just put his laces through and leathered it down the middle. His second goal was a case of being in the right place at the right time, putting the ball in the net at the second time of asking.
Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka 4 – Simply had to shoot when he was through on goal. A striker should always back himself to score from that position but instead he passed, and the chance was wasted. Benji’s confidence looks shot and I’m at a loss as to why he was chosen over Waters.
Ben Whitfield 6 – Immediately showed his quality when just minutes after coming on he jinked his way past several Stockport players with ease. Great to see him back; he’ll be crucial in the playoffs.
Kyle Cameron 6 – The carousel of positional choices for Cameron continues. Brought on as a left winger against Sutton, he was deployed as a target man up front today. His physical presence certainly made an impact and he looked comfortable in an unfamiliar position.
Do you agree with Matthew’s ratings? Have your say here.
Man of the Match
Connor Lemonheigh-Evans – CLE has transitioned from playing as the link between midfield and attack into being a full-on striker of late. His positioning was incredibly fluid, popping up out wide and cutting into the box causing the Stockport defence all manner of problems. He was unlucky not to get a goal, with a delicious chip from a tight angle brushing the post. Too good for this division.
Got to be Benji’s inexplicable pass when he looked certain to shoot. If he hits it from inside the penalty area one-on-one with the goalkeeper, you’d expect it to be a goal. That was the big chance to get the three points and perhaps the league title.
Torquay lined up in a 4-4-2 with Lemonheigh-Evans playing alongside Boden rather than in the hole. In fact, he was often found in a more advanced position than Boden. Little came back into the side for Waters, a strange decision in my mind given the form that he’s been in of late. The game marked a welcome return to the matchday squad for Cameron and Whitfield, adding some real depth to the bench. The formation ended up as a 4-3-3 with Benji, CLE and Cameron up front together.
Stockport showed why they’re at the right end of the table. They grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck early on and moved the ball about quickly, causing problems particularly down the wings with surging runs into the final third and crosses from the deep which by and large were well placed and accurate. Torquay matched them well though and for most of the game you could tell this was a contest between two sides vying for promotion.
We can take heart from the fact that we more than matched Stockport and if we do come up against them in the playoffs, we’ve definitely got what it takes to get a result, especially with players coming back from injury.
I scarcely noticed the officials which can only be a good thing. The referee called the penalty correctly, although it was an obvious decision which even the Stockport players didn’t bother to protest. It was also refreshing to see Cameron given the benefit of the doubt after he went up for a header against Hinchcliffe; far too often the goalkeeper will automatically win the foul in those circumstances.
This was a thrilling game for the neutral and a great advertisement for non-league football. I don’t really care about that though; I’d have been happy with a scrappy 1-0 as long as we got the three points. In the end, with Sutton beating Maidenhead yesterday and the failure to win today, it now looks highly unlikely that we will win the league so we’ll probably have to settle for the playoffs. Still, based on today’s performance I’d back us against any side that we could meet. For now it’s onto next Saturday when we’re finally allowed back into Plainmoor to see us batter Barnet, I can’t wait.
COYY – Matthew