Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96
Matty discusses the TUFC squad for the upcoming season
The football never stops! Two months after last season finished (in heartbreak), a month after the Euros ended (in heartbreak), the football season is back upon us and we have to approach it with a renewed vigour that hides any sign that our hearts were ever broken at all. With that comes exciting new signings, a fresh stream of injury concerns, and the necessity for a TT Squad Preview.
Marcin Brzozowski – Mark Halstead
What’s the collective noun for goalkeepers? A net? A glove? Anyway, we’ve got a new pair of them. There appears to have been a clear decision by Gary to replace the eccentricity, flair, occasional rashness, extremely occasional aerial threat of last season’s custodians and bring in a couple of steady, sturdy, solid replacements. Mark Halstead will begin as our number one and I expect, injuries notwithstanding, hold that position all season. And that’s a good thing, because he’s a good ‘keeper. Despite being 30 years old, this’ll be Halstead’s first full season as a first-choice goalie at this level, but I’m choosing to see that as a reason for optimism (think: experienced in mind but youthful in body, seen it all, learned from some good people but still fresh and hungry; don’t think: unproven over the course of a year at a decent standard, question marks over his ambition if he’s settled for being number two this long). Seriously, though, in pre-season he’s looked excellent. Commanding in his box, a good communicator, unflustered with the ball at his feet, as well as the basics of being a good shot-stopper.
His backup will be semi-familiar face Marcin Brzozowski. The former QPR man has played one game in Gulls’ attire – an FA Trophy defeat at Woking – and looked alright. Far from the finished product, and really needing to work on coming to catch crosses, Marcin will learn plenty from a season under the wing of an experienced ‘keeper and being in-and-around a professional senior squad.
TT Rating: 8/10
Joe Lewis – Chiori Johnson – Dan Martin – Dean Moxey – Ali Omar – Louis Slough – Ben Wynter
This really is a section of two halves. We’ll start with the good news. Dean Moxey and Ben Wynter is probably the best first-choice full back pairing in the league, just like they were last year. They’re both experienced, both physically dominant, and both genuinely talented footballers with and without the ball. They’ve also both got an occasional mistake in them, but if they didn’t Pep would be offering £50million in a heartbeat.
But it’s below the first-choice where we’ve really strengthened this season. Last term, Gary had to rely on Joe Lewis, Sam Sherring, Kyle Cameron, Adam Randell, Jake Andrews and Matt Buse to fill in at full back when Wynts and Mox got their inevitable injuries. Those replacements were varying degrees of failures: either the player looked totally out of place, or they looked OK but we massively missed them from their natural position. This time, we’ve got Dan Martin as left back cover, and Chiori Johnson at right back (who can also fill in on the left). Both of these lads are massive upgrades on what went before, and also offer options as genuine wing-backs should we need to change formation. Though it might feel difficult to get especially excited about a marked improvement in backup full backs, I am in no doubt that it’ll become significant as the season progresses.
The bad news is that we have no such depth in the centre of defence. In Joe Lewis, we have a fantastic player. The pick of our back four after signing in January, the Welshman is a natural leader, great in the air, and a genuine ball-player. If we’re to do anything special this season, he’ll be at the heart of it. Alongside him is Ali Omar, our new signing from Barnsley. If Lewis is a Rolls Royce, Omar is a Ford Transit. That’s not a criticism – they do fundamentally different jobs! You wouldn’t want to be chauffeured to an awards do in a van, nor would you want your builder to be lugging his gear round in a luxury automobile! – rather it’s an observation that Ali has a different skillset to Joe. He’s a robust lad with a robust first touch, and a robust approach to building from the back. The definition of no-nonsense. Your da’s definition of a “proper” centre back, with a brilliant attitude. I expect him to do well for us.
Below those two, though, we’re left looking quite bare. Louis Slough is an exciting young prospect, but if either of the first-choicers got injured on Friday you can’t help but worry if he’s immediately ready for regular senior action. Both Moxey and Wynter can fill in at the heart of defence, but neither of them would be ideal. I fully expect centre back to be the area that Johnson is looking to improve before the Altrincham game, and if anything would be surprised if we don’t see a 2pm signing announcement on matchday.
TT Rating: Full backs are a 9, centre backs as a whole are a 6, so it’s a 7.5
Jake Andrews – Asa Hall – Tom Lapslie – Connor Lemonheigh-Evans – Armani Little – Alex Moyse – Keelan O’Connell – Scott Piper – Gabriel Rogers
The midfield is where the class of 2020/21 took their biggest hit. Adam Randell has returned to Plymouth, Ben Whitfield and Aaron Nemane have both taken backward career steps, and Matt Buse moved on with all our best wishes. While our remaining contingent of Asa Hall, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Armani Little and Jake Andrews are all excellent players at this level, the departures left some gaps for the recruitment team to fill.
In the middle, Tom Lapslie is the main addition. The former Colchester man is a real battler, a terrier of a player, and a really good signing. It’s worth keeping an eye on his runs from deep, too. That’s clearly something they’ve worked on in training, and in pre-season Tom proved he’s more than just a holding player and more of a box-to-box presence. This recruit should take some pressure off of Asa, whose combativeness was sorely missed whenever he was unavailable. Chiori Johnson – The Rich Man’s Busey – can also fill in as a central midfielder, though with the aforementioned myriad options I’d be surprised if he gets many opportunities there.
Out wide, we have plenty of options. On the left, Keelan O’Connell is expected to start, though Jake Andrews and Gabby Rogers will give him a run for his money. The right wing is anyone’s guess: Rogers, Klaidi Lolos and Chiori Johnson have all played there in pre-season. I wouldn’t be surprised, in the long run, to see one of Lemonheigh-Evans or Little occupying that role in a 4-2-3-1, such is our strength in depth in the midfield 2. Though that all remains to be seen. Perhaps we lack the speed of last season’s wingers (though Johnson is no slouch), and we may see one of our loan slots being occupied by a punt on a pace-merchant.
If that formation is to be employed again, like it was for much of last season, almost all of those mentioned can fill the number 10 role. CLE is the obvious answer, having performed there so well as the Gulls finished second, but Rogers, Little and Lolos will all fancy it too. This is obviously a lot of speculation and not a lot of answers – which one should expect from a preview written by someone with no inside information and a penchant for waffly bullshit – but the takeaway is that Torquay are blessed with lots of good players and lots of options.
I should also mention youngsters Alex Moyse and Scott Piper, who have both had entertaining cameos in pre-season. They both look genuine prospects, and though I don’t expect either to be thrust into first-team action any time soon, are worth keeping an eye on. Moyse’s pass for Lapslie’s goal against Bournemouth was out of the top drawer.
TT Rating: 8.5
Dan Holman – Olaf Koszela – Klaidi Lolos – Danny Wright
Just like in the summer of 2020, when the Gulls lost their top scorer Jamie Reid, The Gulls needed another rebuild up front this term having lost last season’s key forward men: Andy Nelson, Billy Waters and Josh Umerah.
Gary’s surely feeble attempt to fill such a monumental gap began with the signing of Klaidi Lolos. I’m pretty sure the Greek man (I refuse to call him a Grecian, obvs) doesn’t know what his preferred position is, but he certainly can play up front or just off a target man. His signature from Argyle is exciting, and while he definitely won’t set the world alight instantly, I think with a bit of patience, support, and Johnson expertise, the lad can become a superb footballer.
Then, we brought in previously retired, and previously before that lethal Conference goal-scorer, Dan Holman. He properly impressed in pre-season, notching multiple times and always looking a threat in and around the box. This feels like a really infantile observation, but I can’t think of any other way of saying it, he kicks the ball really hard. And for a striker, especially if he can combine it with direction, that’s a really good thing. If we are to play a front two, he’s the obvious candidate to partner his former Cheltenham teammate Danny Wright.
Wright is our other striker. If he stays fit all season (a big, 6ft2-sized, if), we’ll surely end up near the top of the tree. The guy, who I must continue to point out has a son whose middle name is “9”, is a wonderful centre forward. He fits Johnson’s style of play better than even Johnson can quite articulate; the whole of our attack revolves around him as a focal point. And beyond build-up, he’s also a dangerous finisher and fantastic header of the ball. Let’s break the bank on cotton wool, and get Wrighty wrapped up in it, then spend whatever’s left on the open top bus.
TT Rating: 9