TT MATCH VERDICT
Sam Jones – @samuellejones
MAIDENHEAD UNITED 3-4 TORQUAY UNITED
There are some things that are inevitable in life. Death, taxes and Torquay taking five years of my life expectancy. As the so far winless Gulls kicked off on a muggy afternoon in Berkshire, the rollercoaster we were all put through was both crazy and entirely predictable in equal measure.
Torquay started on the front foot as they looked to right the wrongs of Bank Holiday Monday. Within seconds, Hall flashed a volley wide of the post which look for all the world like it was going in. If he’d kept his ponytail it might have. Maidenhead then forced a few set pieces, which the Gulls defended resolutely, even if Asa did get booked for one of them.
It was actually a Maidenhead set piece that lead to United’s opener. United cleared it to Holman on the halfway line. He flicked it coolly past the Maidenhead player and found the Lemon. He took a couple of touches and played a stunning pass through to Armani, who poked it past the keeper for the opener.
United continued to create chances, with Holman guilty of putting a free header over the bar when perfectly placed. But it didn’t take long for United to get their second. Lewis found the ball about forty yards out. He floated a ball towards Wright at the back post, who nodded it back across goal. The Maidenhead defenders were sleeping and Little stole in there to poke it home. The Gulls were flying.
Maidenhead continued to press, but couldn’t do anything with it. A few set pieces were headed wide, but nothing to worry Halstead. The home sides best chance came from a Torquay back pass! A long ball over the top completely flummoxed Lewis, who headed it back towards Halstead, who had to make an unbelievable reflex save to keep it out.
Despite that warning at the back, United pressed forward and made it three. They won a free just inside Maidenheads half, which was floated in by Armani. It looked like he had mucked it up, but in stole our Viking captain to nod it passed a hapless home keeper. Obviously a move from the training ground. If that wasn’t enough, United then decided to go get a fourth.
Another break, another beautiful bit of football. A perfect switch of play by Little found the Lemon, who cut inside, glided around about 6 men then fired it left footed into the bottom corner. A wonderful finish, and everyone was in dreamland. 4-0 at half time, but what happened next was so painfully in keeping with the character of this team we all know and love.
The second half started with no changes from each team. Torquay started on the front foot and forced Maidenhead back. But then the boys remembered who we are, and the collective brain fart started.
Firstly, Lewis and Omar forgot to talk to each other and Clemina found himself in space about 15 yards out. The ball was floated to him and he chipped it calmly passed Halstead, who could do nothing about it. To be fair, it was an excellent finish. Maidenhead and the crowd were riled up, and The Magpies thought they could steal something here.
Then, after more pressure and dodgy defending, Maidenhead won what felt like their hundredth corner. Halstead was too busy shouting at his defence to notice the ball come in, and was way too late to react to Massey sneaking in at the near post. Very poor from everyone involved in a blue (aqua? Turquoise?) shirt.
By the 66th minute, bums were really squeaking as Maidenhead got their 3rd. Once again, United didn’t clear their lines and Halstead didn’t catch the ball. The home side ended up hitting the post, and Acquah poked the rebound home. We all knew this was coming, and we’re all thinking we knew what was going to happen next.
But somehow, through sheer bloody mindedness, United hung on. We managed to fashion a couple of chances, most notably Holman crashing the ball against the bar, but most of the rest of the half was spent in our box. No matter what Maidenhead threw at us, we kept putting everything on the line to keep the ball out of the goal. The passion and commitment shown after the Woking game was outstanding.
They went bloody close at times, with Halstead making a couple of saves and at least one penalty shout by them had us worried, but we managed to see the game out. The roar of support from the hundreds of members of the Yellow Army was more relief than anything as we clinched our first win of the season. Gary’s fist bump was back too. God I love that man.
Halstead – 5: Halstead makes me realise how good Cov was. He pulled off an unbelievable save from Lewis’s back header in the first half, but looked completely at sea in the second half both positionally and with the hands. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dropped for Marcin next game.
Moxey – 6.5: Loses marks for being a part of the defensive meltdown, but was essential for closing out the game. Such an experienced shithouse. I love it.
Omar – 6: He’s a big chap, I’ll say that much. He looks like he is still adjusting to the move to non-league football, but there’s a good defender in there. Look forward to see him progress.
Lewis – 5.5: The lad is clearly talented, but he looks like he doubts himself. Too often he would muck up the clearance or give away the ball cheaply. He’ll improve.
Wynter – 5: Disappointing from Ben today, who has started the season slowly. Had some good moments going forward, but was beaten far too often defensively.
Hall – 7.5: Loses some marks for getting rid of his ponytail (joking), but our captain was on it today. Took his goal well, marshalled the midfield but may have been lucky to not receive a second yellow. Gary very sensibly took him off to protect him.
Lapslie – 8: I like him, a lot. Works his socks off, shouts at anything that moves, and can actually pick a pass. Fantastic addition to the team.
Little – 9.5: Man of the Match. More on him below.
Lemonheigh-Evans – 9: That’s the Lemon we all know and love. He was outstanding today as he bagged his first goal of the season. Made the defenders look silly at times, and his pass for the opener was orgasmic.
Wright – 8: A very good 90 minutes for the veteran. Caused absolute havoc with his areal presence and hold up play, and took a few knocks to show for it. Please keep him fit Gary.
Holman – 8.5: After being hooked in the first half of the last 2 matches, I’m glad he got a full 90. The man with the best thighs in the Westcountry was brilliant today. His skill helped set up the first goal, and his running helped close the game off. A real asset.
O’Connell – 7: Came on for Hall as we switched to a 4-4-2. I was impressed with him, as he worked hard to make something happen. Give him a few games, let him bulk up, and he’ll be an asset.
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MAN OF THE MATCH – ARMANI LITTLE
Armani is a player who has divided the fanbase since joining United, and has often flattered to deceive. But today he was brilliant. Took his two goals brilliantly, one a silky finish and the other an opportunistic toe poke. But he also laid upon two great assists. His ball for Asa’s was perfect, and his cross-field pass for the Lemon was a work of art. I’m glad to see him display the talent we all know he has, but he just needs to show it consistently. Didn’t shy away in the second half or when given the armband either.
The Lemon and Lapslie were outstanding in the middle of the park. If we want to achieve anything this season, we need them to stay fit an on form. Lapslie also stepped up to be a leader when Hall was subbed off.
Holman is worthy of a shout out too. Played the full 90 and showed some of his pre-season form. Was unlucky when he rattled the bar in the second half, and needs to get that first goal.
Tom Bishop was fine today. Had no major calls to make, but kept the game flowing. Managed it well when things got a bit feisty but did us a favour to not send Asa off for a second yellow. Glad to say he had no impact on the final score.
Maidenhead are a good side, who will be up there this season. Fortunately for us, they only decided to play the second half. Their wide players were lively, with Josh Kelly on the left causing all sorts of problems. Despite the win, Blissett (who would still do a job for us) and Acquah will be giving Lewis and Omar nightmares for weeks. They kept finding space in our midfield, which meant they could keep recycling the ball with ease and sticking the ball back in the box.
United started in a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond midfield formation, with Hall at the base and the Lemon at the tip. This was fairly fluid as often Lemonheigh-Evans would drift out to the left and Armani to the right. The first and the fourth goal came from wonderful switches of play by both these two magicians, as United dominated both in the air and on the ground. We pressed aggressively and gave them no time on the ball. We also scored four goals because of it.
We sat much deeper in the second half, each caused us no end of problems. We looked shaky from the off, as there was so much space in midfield for them to work in. When Hall went off, we switched to a flat 4-4-2 which proved more solid and helped us close off the game. It was the right move to take Hall off, and O’Connell did well. The good thing is that we still had Rodgers and Martin on the bench, so we could have had more width if we had wanted it.
Not sure there was a defined moment that shifted the game. Lemon’s fourth goal obviously proved decisive, but there was some last-ditch defending in stoppage time that secured the win. After we failed to clear our lines AGAIN, the ball pinballed around the box begging to be put in. However, the boys threw their bodies at the ball with every last reserve of energy they had. I’m not 100% sure who it was. I think Omar was in there, and maybe O’Connell too but who cares. Everyone was in our box at this point and the boys gave everything to take the 3 points back down the M5 with us. Maidenhead looked deflated after that, as we kept the ball in the corner.
AWAY DAY OVERVIEW
Proper non-league new town away day. On the main line from London, friendly but soulless pubs selling beer you’d find anywhere and a knocked down town centre waiting for redevelopment. York Road is a relic though, needing serious upgrade with a pitch sloping down to one end (the end where all the goals where scored coincidentally). Saying that, according to the BBC, it is the oldest continually used football ground in the world (since 1871) which is a very niche pub quiz fact. Not sure it’s changed much since then to be honest.
They say the most dangerous score-line in football is 4-0. Don’t believe me? Ask Arsenal in 2011. Torquay were brilliant in the first half, playing some outstanding football and getting getting their just rewards. It could’ve been more to be honest. The only save Halstead had to make was from Lewis’s back header! But the second half was a bit of a catastrophe that could have ended as we all expected. United hung on, thanks to sheer bloody determination.
I was having a think on the train about what’s going on at the back. On their own, the four defenders are all good players, but as a unit they lack any cohesion and grit. The 3 Maidenhead goals all came after United failed to clear their lines. They would win the first header, but wouldn’t be able to get it out. We defended very narrowly, and quite deep which meant Maidenhead had free reign to pepper our box with crosses. If we had a commanding goalie, it wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but Halstead is nowhere near good enough in this department. It was his positioning that almost took us to Hell in a Halsteadbasket (I’ll work on that one…).
Our defence was excellent last season in the same system, but we had a keeper who is playing in League 2 and a centre back who is now in League 1. The quality at the back may have papered over some of the cracks in the system. I trust Gary and co to get it right though. We’re only 4 games into the season, there is still a long way to go.
But at the end of the day, none of my pontificating matters. We scored 4 and won our first game of the season. Onwards and upwards.
COYY – Sam
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