“Gary Johnson will be desperate that the build up to the semi-final is spot on”
So much for making Sutton sweat last weekend! No excuses, the performance just wasn’t good enough against Barnet (at times it was shambolic) and it took me by complete surprise how poorly we played. Gary Johnson suggested the team froze on the occasion. Maybe it was a mixture of nerves, lethargy and complacency but whatever the reasons, we simply cannot afford to play like that again in the play-offs. Amongst the surprises was how hesitant and flustered the defence looked and how much space we allowed the Bees in midfield, I’m sure GJ was livid at all of these things and more.
You have to give credit to Barnet. Any suggestion that they would be in holiday mode and allow Torquay to walk all over them was quashed just after our second goal went in. Instead of retreating and allowing Torquay to dictate, they stuck to their game plan, pushed up the flanks and fed balls into the strikers. Add to that a constant danger on set pieces (with a worrying lack of marking from the Gulls) and it made for an uncomfortable afternoon. With some more composure on the counter they would have grabbed all three points in the second half. In the end some desperate Gulls defence and poor passing kept the game level.
After the energy and aggression put into the Stockport game, you do wonder how the level of performance can dip so dramatically, but that’s football I guess. Many of the lads will hopefully have learnt a lesson from the 90 minutes, and the respect and commitment you have to bring to every game. Sutton certainly enjoyed their celebrations on the Sunday and I’m sure the lads were watching with gritted teeth (I know I was). After being 10-12 points clear this was our league for the winning and it will now be the ultimate test of their character to rebound and still achieve our ultimate goal.
Before the next big game, we have one more fixture to fulfil and that brings me to Altrincham (a). The teams have only faced each other on nine previous occasions and before this season the last meetings were back in 2015-16. This takes me onto a memorable win on 12th April 2016, as the Gulls kept the great escape momentum rolling by winning 2-0 at Plainmoor. The moment of the night was undoubtedly the first goal, as Luke Young banged one in from 25 yards to score his first league goal since October 2014. After suffering injury heartache and struggling to return, it was unsurprisingly an emotion celebration from Youngy and his team mates. That set United on the way, with Shaun Harrad grabbing the second after a flick on from Nathaniel Blissett.
TUFC LINE UP – MOORE, BUTLER, VERMA, GERRING, MACDONALD, RICHARDS, REES (AJALA), YOUNG, ALLEN, HARRAD (WRIGHT), BLISSETT
Fast forward onto 2020-21 and Altrincham (h) on 2nd February 2021. The Gulls had found going tough without Danny Wright, but still remained clear at the top. So when Kyle Cameron scrambled one in after 22 minutes, the hope was this would be our night. Instead a spirited and organised Alty team rebounded quickly and by half time had taken the lead, with Hancock slotting in a penalty and Colcough bagging the second. The Gulls did their best to equalise in the second and even had the bonus of a late Alty sending off, but without enough cutting edge and missing injured players, the game frittered away. Looking back it’s one of those winnable games that cost us the title, but you couldn’t quibble on the night that the away team deserved their 3 points.
It’s difficult to know what to expect from Saturday afternoon. Games like these can be fun in the sun with plenty of goals, or they can be sleepy affairs where both teams have thoughts elsewhere. Altrincham’s season had promised much at the start of the year, but after the Torquay win their campaign never got any better. Young manager Phil Parkinson took the reins in 2017 and has done an excellent job since then, reaping the reward of a new contract only last month. He’ll want his part time team to finish on a high. Key players include winger Ryan Colclough who’s scored 8 goals, whilst midfielder Josh Hancock has notched a more than admiral 12 goals to lead the Alty goal-scoring charts.
TT PLAYER PROFILE: Ryan Colclough
Date of Birth: 27th December 1994 – 26 years-old
Previous Clubs: Crewe Alex, Wigan Athletic, MK Dons, Scunthorpe United
National League Stats 20-21: Played 27, Goals 8, Bookings 4
It’ll be interesting to see how Gary Johnson treats the game:
Option A – Put your first eleven on the pitch and hope for a morale boosting victory to build momentum gong into the play-offs?
Option B – Rest some players such as Asa Hall, CLE and Dean Moxey, whilst giving back up players some match practice?
Option C – Go all out with back up players and youth teamers, basically writing off the game as an important exercise?
The most likely line-up will fall somewhere around A to B. The danger is that giving too many 1st teamers time off will mean that they won’t play for 3 weeks, and that’s a risky approach to take. It was notable in the 2019 Champions League final how rusty the Liverpool and Spurs players looked as their season had finished weeks before and apart from practice matches, they’d basically been doing nothing apart from some rest and plenty of training. Gary Johnson will be desperate that his squad do not fall into that trap and that their build up to the semi-final is spot on. We must stay sharp.
As Ian East summarised in his talking points during the week, we are still only three possible games from promotion and of course our fate rests in our own hands. I think we’d all love to see Danny Wright, Ben Whitfield and Aaron Nemane back for the semi-final, and it would be terrific if any of those guys featured at Moss Lane. The balance in the line-up we had last December was tremendous and it’s been horribly frustrating not to see that XI fielded again. With the pace of Whitfield and Nemane buzzing around Danny Wright we’d become impossible to curtail, add to that the silky skills of CLE behind them and Asa Hall mopping everything else up, and we enjoyed some of best football I’ve seen from the Gulls in years.
We certainly could have done with all three last Saturday. Scott Boden was completely nullified upfront, as Barnet won the aerial battles, kept an aggressive high line, and we looked decidedly one-paced overall. Therefore any returns would be a big boost for Plainmoor on the 12th June, but whatever the XI I’m still optimistic about our chances. The two main threats look like Notts and Stockport County to me, but in the play-offs anything can happen. I think we’ve all become more apprehensive after the Barnet performance and whilst it’s true any repeat of that will see us remaining in the NL, I am expecting much better. We’ve got nothing to be scared of from any of the play-off contenders, instead they should be more worried about us.
Let’s hope for a fun 90 minutes at Alty and if any of the injured players get a go, then happy days. It’s going to be a long two weeks after that, so enjoy the football whilst you can and keep the faith. A TUFC season continuing at the same time as the European Championships? Strange times indeed.