Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96
Well, wasn’t it good to be back. For fourteen minutes.
I was thrilled to be told on Saturday morning that my cricket match had been called off, that I could return to Plainmoor, that I could have a couple more hours in bed to sleep off last night’s impromptu-karaoke-encouraged vodka lemonades. In a way it’s entirely fitting that, with all the excitement and hopefulness that a new season and a first proper home game in two years brings, the result and performance was the dampest of squibs. It wouldn’t be Torquay United if we weren’t readily and roundly disappointed moments after displaying a shred of optimism; it wouldn’t be the Yellows if two of last season’s strikers didn’t score on the same weekend; it wouldn’t be football if it was always enjoyable.
Boring Tactical Bit
Yes, yes, I’ve listened to a podcast from The Athletic and read a Jonathan Wilson book so now I think I’m a tactical genius. There’s good news and bad news here, as far as I can see. On the good front, all of the goals we conceded (especially the second and third) came from genuine footballing errors (I know, whoop whoop!). The point is, it isn’t the fault of the 4-4-2 or Gary’s instructions that O’Connell failed to clear the ball from his own box, nor did Johnson’s decisions necessitate a bad clearance from Danny Wright. That scenario is definitely better than the alternative: mistakes happen, and conceding from them is better than conceding from structural problems or because our players aren’t good enough.
The bad news is that throughout the game we looked overrun, especially in the middle of midfield. Every single second ball fell to Alty, who packed the centre of the pitch, and the Little-Lapslie combination failed to get a handle on the game. This is partially down to personnel – the Robins’ midfield were bigger and stronger until Asa came on – and partially down to tactics – by definition, employing a midfield two means you’ll be outnumbered by a midfield three.
I don’t think the only solution to this is a change in formation. A 4-4-2 requires its players to work harder than we did on Saturday, and it requires a midfield two who are able to assert dominance better than Little and Lapslie did. If we’re to improve our fortunes, a change in lineup (or, more simply, players playing to their potential) may prove more profitable than a change in shape.
Hall the Way
You can copy and paste this section from basically anything written about Torquay United throughout the entirety of last season. Asa Hall = good. Injuries = bad.
We missed Asa and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans from the start and throughout on Saturday, that much is abundantly clear. I honestly don’t know how the ideal starting XI would look when they’re both fully fit – on the evidence of the weekend opener, I wouldn’t be wholly against the pair of them being plonked straight in the middle of the park – but they certainly walk back into the side one way or another.
Hall’s seventeen minutes on the field against Alty were our best. I don’t really know what it is he does so well, but he definitely improves our team and this is the fourth season of him doing so. His hoped return from the start at Meadow Lane is a reason for genuine optimism.
Losing at home to Altrincham on the first game of the season is nothing short of disappointing. The performance, too, was a let-down. We shouldn’t shy away from those facts in the post-match debrief. But it needn’t be indicative of the rest of the campaign for a number of reasons.
Firstly, we lost at home to Altrincham last year, a year in which we were only inches of a Matt Buse penalty away from becoming a Football League Club. They’re quite a good team: one bad performance from us and one good performance from them doesn’t mean we’ll be basement dwellers and they’ll be Suttoning. It’s a long season. Secondly, it is perfectly natural and expected for our new signings to take time bedding in. Eight players made their Torquay debut on Saturday – many of whom will never have played in front of a decent crowd – and we have to allow them time to adjust (especially when, for myriad reasons, our pre-season preparation was not ideal). Thirdly, we’ve got the best, most experienced manager in the league. It’s easy to forget that, I guess, when you trudge down Marnham Road with a heavy heart. But he’s managed four completed seasons in this league, and finished in the top three each time. He’s won it twice. That’s the main reason for optimism: there is nobody better qualified to turn this group of players into title contenders.
County your Blessings
Fear over Notts County next week is overblown, too. They’ve just trounced a (10-man) Barnet team who looked dire throughout the whole of last season and are managed by a man who has no experience in this league. If they’d put five past Chesterfield I’d be worried, but I’m more than happy with them stocking up on early-season complacency by whipping everyone’s whipping boys. It shouldn’t come as a surprise (or cause for pessimism) that a good team who have spent a lot of money beat a team who weren’t good and haven’t spent a lot of money. Nor should it come as a surprise that Kyle Cameron is good against National League South fodder…
COYY – Matty