TT MATCH VERDICT
Rachel Malloch – @Rachelvillavox
Match days don’t come much more exciting or tense than this; a play off semi final between 2 former league sides, both with their own rich history, one with a home advantage thanks to running the eventual champions Sutton United close all season as a ‘runner up’ slot and with capped attendance. and a fervent fan base that had sold out this tie in just over an hour, 1,700 all said, and so the stage was set. Clappers had been placed on the seating areas that caused much merriment and an opportunity to play percussion along with the pre-match public announcer’s playlist. 7 Nation Army by the White Stripes was the ruination of mine; keeping time to Jack White’s thumping monotone baseline dismantled my clapper.
Plainmoor in the mid-morning sweltering sunshine really is quite the idyll; the spires and steeples of St Marychurch and the rolling moors it’s back drop, the pitch looking verdant in the dry heat, quenched by sprinklers.
Irrespective of a capped attendance, the atmosphere from the moment of entering the ground was impassioned, palpable. Pop side drummer setting its rhythm, Babbacombe Road end a sea of yellow, Bristow’s and those clappers, the family stand too all cheery optimism and noise.
The ground had barely had chance to finish the first chorus of Gary Johnson’s Yellow Army as the ref blew to start the game, before a throw in directly in front of our seats found Joe Lewis who whipped in a stunning cross that found our returning hero Danny Wright with his head on the end of it. I made that less than a minute and Plainmoor erupted and reminding every one of us how much our season’s run in had missed our veteran marksman.
Torquay were chasing down every ball, harrying and pressing but when coming away with the ball the trademark fluidity of passing movement eluded them. County looked dangerous and were coming out on top in the midfield battles, Asa Hall sweeping up loose balls, Adam Randell busy as always, Connor ‘The Lemon’ Lemonheigh-Evans working his socks off, Armani Little struggling to get a real foothold, but it was all encouraging and without any further clear cut changes, Torquay were looking settled and confident.
The Lemon got on the end of a Moxey missile heading just over and then a great cross field ball in from King Kyle Cameron just evaded Randell. Some great football by The Lemon finds a Danny Wright flick on but Little can only scuff and watch the ball go wide. As half time approached, County scored and it was their danger man Rodrigues from a free kick who snuck his header past Lucas Covolan. The wave of County attacks made the ref’s whistle for half time a blessed sound.
Plainmoor had never sounded so exuberant and vocal during a half time break, that added to the tannoy blasting out more emotive tunes and we were back under way again for the 2nd half.
It was a replica of the beginning of the 1st, this time with the tireless Randell running down a loose ball, charging forward and whipping in the perfect cross and a tidy finish from that man again, Danny Wright. Oh how we have missed you Wrighty!
Breathless stuff and with County winning a corner, Torquay failed to clear their lines, the ball falling under a County players feet leaving Adam Chicksen to sweep the ball home with simplicity. 2-2. A flurry of corners for County that cause the supporters palpitations but come to nothing.
Then a great chance to restore the lead, Little with a neat pass found Danny Wright who in turn finds King Kyle at a slight angle with only the keeper to beat but his shot rebounds off the keeper.
The game gets a little bit more yellow as a flair from the Babbacombe end finds the corner of the pitch and we wait for a steward who used what looked like a make-shift extended hand clapper to pick up and remove the billowing yellow canister and play resumed.
County again looking dangerous with every sweeping attack, Asa Hall breaking up the movement finding Randell who has a low shot and then Asa himself has a blast on the half volley that almost knocked the rainbow brolly poking out of a skylight from one of the houses behind the ground. No damage, the brolly remained up and no doubt the viewing perch inhabitants relieved.
A lovely build up involving both the work horse Randell and the ever lively Lemon saw shots saved, before the chance of the half fell to Ben Wynter who just could not channel his inner Woking Wynter Wonderland heroics, leaned back and skied the ball from a few yards out. In all the drama, King Kyle Cameron had picked up a knock, what initially looked like cramp saw the impressive defender-cum-winger-cum-centre forward walk off the pitch to be replaced by Jake Andrews. More half chances and blood pressure levels through the stratosphere, another foul on The Lemon and Jake Andrews steps up to clear the County wall with the ensuing free kick but the keeper easily saves.
So, end of normal time. A 90 minutes that had ebbed and flowed and caused many in the crowd to grind down molars and exhale pure carbon stressoxide.
Extra time, Danny Wright who hadn’t played a league game in months, scored 2 and highlighted to supporters just what a terrific footballer he is, and that has been evident, irreplaceable this season. Superb from the journeyman. On in his place young Benji Kimpioka the Swedish U21 international loanee who immediately with his lightning speed is a handful for the County back line. Armani Little is then replaced by Billy Waters, a game that Armani tried everything to impose himself but too often it just didn’t happen for him.
Torquay are awarded a corner, Jake Andrews caresses it over and it finds the head of captain, leader, Viking (quite possibly should have tied with The Lemon for player of the year but that’s all in the past now) Asa Hall, a quite majestic header to put Torquay back in front again. In the ensuing celebrations Hall then needed treatment for what transpired to be a head injury although it was hard to see who or how or what happened. Ever the stoic leader, Asa continued to play with a heavily bandaged head. A stunning goal that capped off a brilliant game for the captain.
With the approaching end to the extra time minutes, Torquay were then awarded a penalty, some great work from Benji and Randell, The Lemon charging through on goal and adjudged to be hauled down. Dean Moxey who had been impressive all game, coolly stepped up and put his laces through the ball to make it 4-2.
Another County attack sees an effort bounce off the cross bar until the ref blows for the end of the 1st 15.
Further half of extra time begins with the imperious Asa Hall replaced by Matt Buse. A half that seemed to flash by quicker than a blink of an eye, some County pressing, another great run and shot from The Lemon, another piece of trickery from Benji and his pass that Andrews could only shoot wide, a quite spectacular overhead kick attempt from County’s Wootton that missed by inches, then relief, exuberance, air punching, scarf waving, those whose clappers were still intact clapping, noise of celebration that belied the 1,700 allowed capacity crowd.
Ashton Gate, Bristol awaits. Stockport or Hartlepool our opponents who play tomorrow, also a mid-day duel under the BT cameras. Still more work to do, but for all those who got tickets and experienced today, a reminder if ever we needed it of why football has so many of us in its thrall and the emotional see-saw that is shared, our devotion and connection, for every bitter disappointment there is the natural highs of a game like today. No, we’re not quite there yet, but today has just bolstered our belief that with the spirit Gary Johnson and the lads have shown, well, here’s hoping.
Lucas Covolan 7 – A tough game for a keeper but Cov kept his cool and dealt with most things well.
Ben Wynter 7 – Ben was finding his man quite a proposition earlier on but stuck to his task.
Dean Moxey 8 – Experience showed and that’s how to put away a penalty!
Kyle Cameron 8 – Kyle was always trying to make things happen, driving forward at every chance. a class act is King Kyle.
Joe Lewis 8 – Both he and Sam had a difficult game with 2 of the in form forwards and handled the pressure well.
Sam Sherring 8 – Same as Sam, a mature head on young shoulders.
Asa Hall 9 – MOTM – brilliant from the captain.
CLE 8 – Instrumental in most of our dangerous attacking moves. Unlucky not to score, made the penalty.
Adam Randell 8 – A terrific shift from our young player of the year.
Armani Little 6 – Tried to impose himself in a midfield but like so often this season, a loose pass here, a poor touch there, it just didn’t come off for Armani but not for the want of effort.
Danny Wright 9 – Incomparable. Irreplaceable. Text book striker. Holds the ball, lays it off, brilliant aerially and anticipates the ball as every classic striker knows how to. Brilliant and so nearly my MOTM but for captain fantastic Asa.
Jake Andrews 6 – Difficult to get involved in the game, set piece corners were quality though.
Billy Waters 6 – Busy when he came on to the pitch. Always wanting the wall.
Benji Kimpioka 8 – The pick of the subs. Impressive game from the young Swede.
Matt Buse 6 – Again, difficult to impress his game but did everything asked of him.
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Seemed to rattle the County players with a few decisions but he equally missed a few clear fouls for Torquay too. Competent enough. I thought it was a clear penalty on The Lemon, be interesting to see the highlights but ce ne fait rien. Viva Dean Moxey!
Always going to be competitive and with some excellent players, a solid defence and the pairing of Wootton and Rodrigues up top, they battled hard and made a lot of chances that on another day……but not today, and certainly not against a spirited Torquay side.
4-4-1-1 with Kyle Cameron filling in at left wing and making an excellent fist of it, whilst CLE played on the shoulder of Danny Wright as GJ looked to get in behind the County defence.
Man of the Match – Asa Hall
I very nearly gave him a perfect 10, if he’d managed to see out the whole of the 120 minutes he was all set to get one but this performance embodies what Asa Hall has brought to this side all season, great leadership, all action displays and a heroism that you can only dream about in your captain. His headed goal was sublime, our top goal-scorer from his midfield station tells its own story. He was truly magnificent today.
Benji Kimpioka; he may have missed 2 great chances in previous games but his introduction to this game had the fading County back 4 running ragged. He showed some lovely touches, great pace, and his contribution to today’s game was vital. He was really impressive and I’m sure from a personal point of view, he’ll take this performance as a confidence boost.