TT MATCH VERDICT
Andy Charles – @capitalgull
TORQUAY UNITED 2-3 FC HALIFAX TOWN
I really don’t know how to start this one off because 2-3, on the face of it, doesn’t look too bad of a result against one of the better sides in the National League. But I have to be honest with myself and go in hard after one of the worst and least committed 40-minute spells I have ever seen from any team – not just Torquay United but any of the hundreds of teams I have seen in 42 years of watching football.
That the “boo birds” came out after goal two and three was not surprising, but Lord only knows what might have happened had Keelan O’Connell’s final chance deep into added time gone in and secured one of the most unlikely points in the club’s rollercoaster history.
However, not being one to gloss over things, there is still something very rotten in the state of Plainmoor (borrowed from former Stratford Town FC reporter Billy Shakespeare without excuse).
All credit to the Shaymen, who are the best side I have seen at Plainmoor this season, but very little to the lily-livered, passionless, under-performing, woefully out-of-form Gulls, for whom it was yet another result to forget.
The opening 45 was an entertaining one, almost right from the start, with Sinclair Armstrong looking like a real handful upfront for Torquay and Ben Wynter denied a second minute goal by the referee’s whistle for an apparent foul on Halifax keeper Sam Johnson.
Johnson was busy again soon after and it was Wynter again with a superb strike from 20 yards which the visiting ‘keeper had to go full-length to push away.
But from that point, although the Gulls remained in the game, it was the Yorkshiremen who always looked the better side – more fluent in midfield, definitely more solid at the back and threatening up front.
The lively Matty Warburton was twice denied, once by an excellent Shaun MacDonald save after he had coughed up the initial shot, and then Jordan Slew, who gave the Gulls a warning they should have heeded with a fierce effort which first MacDonald saved and then Tom Lapslie cleared from imminent danger.
The key moment came on the half-hour and it was Slew who provided it; he was offered the freedom of TQ1 on the edge of box and produced a lovely low finish into the corner of MacDonald’s net for 1-0.
Almost as soon as the ball hit the back of the net you could see some of Torquay’s players shrink and a quiet spell of play before half-time was only broken up by a Dan Martin effort which looked to be goalbound but was deflected to safety by a visiting defender.
Lapslie’s overhead kick on the stroke of half-time was hit almost too well, straight into Johnson’s arms when a mis-hit could have ended up in the back of the net.
But there was still hope as half-time arrived, with the wind due to be at Torquay’s back in the second period…only for it to mysteriously (and quite significantly) dip during the interval.
Five minutes into that vital 45, it appeared to be game over and yet another day that Gary Johnson, the Torquay players, and more than 2000 fans would want to forget (it probably still is, anyway).
First Slew added his second goal, a sublime rising drive from outside the box, but once again it was all avoidable as a sloppy piece of defending from Harry Perritt handed Halifax the chance to build in the first place.
And on 50 came the oh-so-predictable goal for the returning Billy Waters – allowed to saunter his way into the box before caressing a shot past MacDonald to a low rumble of boos, laughter and a growing sense of inevitability.
What followed, until the surprisingly exciting end, was depressing to watch. Players who just simply gave up – not all of them, but the majority – simple passes falling to opponents, headers going sideways, no threat at all and Halifax looking like scoring every time they went forward.
If they had been more ruthless in that spell it could honestly have been 7-0 and even the most ardent Johnson fan might have started to wonder if the Gulls boss can turn things around as the bottom six looms large.
Lapslie’s shot in to (nearly) the seats occupied by club officials summed things up with three minutes to go…but then something unpredictable – based on the preceding 60 minutes – happened as the game ticked over to 90.
First Lolos, who did well after coming on as the final sub (he should have been on long before Holman in this scribe’s opinion), managed to wriggle through into the box and hit a low shot past Little.
Soon after it was game on, Johnson this time making a mistake to seemingly allow Little’s long-range shot to go straight through him with the aid of a timely bobble.
Cue some predictable time-wasting from Halifax, but there would still be one more chance for Torquay as O’Connell cut inside on to his weaker left foot, but his curling effort was off target and that would be that.
MacDonald – 6.5. Made a couple of stunning stops in the opening half and was the only real candidate for MOTM from the starters given how bad the rest of them were for the majority of the game.
Wynter – 4. Named sponsor’s MOTM after a dire defensive display. I’m sad to see how much he has regressed this season and his performance for 85 minutes today was dreadful after a couple of early chances in rare forays forward.
Moxey – 4. Taken off after the two early second-half goals and that sums his day up. Offered nothing but the odd long throw in and is beginning to show his age.
Perritt – 2. First time I have had a look at him and won’t be upset if it’s the last. Dithered constantly during the first-half, giving up a few chances, and his woeful control put Halifax on the way to scoring their vital second goal.
Lewis – 5. Was good in the first period but fell by the wayside along with the rest of his team-mates in the second. Beaten constantly by Slew and Waters, but hard to blame him when he ended up playing alongside a varied combination of defenders who don’t defend well enough.
Lapslie – 2. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Doubt his passing stats will be more than 10% completions to his own team and managed to break up more Torquay attacks with his mistakes than stop Halifax coming forward. I had such high hopes for him, but this display was up there with the worst I have seen. One to forget and move on from.
Little – 6. The only one of the midfielders to show much in the way of hunger to get involved in the game. Wasted a few chances to put team-mates in on goal but got yet another goal, with an assist from the visiting keeper.
Hall – 4. Looked bang up for it for 15 minutes or so, but that was it. Disappeared from then on and clearly wasn’t ready to return.
Lemonheigh-Evans – 3. Really, really poor. I simply don’t know what to make of him anymore, but it must be difficult when you never play in the same position from one game to the next. Just doesn’t affect the game at all when he plays out wide in a team that has almost zero pace.
Martin – 6. I thought he had an excellent first-half, some direct running and a bit of threat down the left flank. Second-half, he was afflicted with the same disease that got to the rest of them.
Armstrong – 5. He’s a bloody hard worker and I give him plenty of credit for that, but there was just no end product. Of course, he’s having to feed off dregs from some distinctly average/poor wide players, but he must be infuriated by some of the balls that come into him.
Holman – 2. Just offers nothing. Sorry, he’s taking up a place on the bench that could be filled by a Gabby Rogers or someone else.
Lolos – 7. A trier, and one with a good deal of skill. He battles, he’s got a little bit of passion, but is clearly not trusted by the coaching staff or they wouldn’t be bringing him on after Holman. Worked his socks off in his cameo and got a deserved goal. If he would stop dribbling into trouble, he could be one of few decent signings made last summer.
O’Connell – 5.5. Offers a little bit of the pace we so sadly lack, but his end product just isn’t there and, when you play in the position he does, it’s pretty much a vital asset to be lacking in.
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MAN OF THE MATCH: Klaidi Lolos
This might be the second time I have done it this season, but I am giving the nod to one of our subs – Torquay Talk’s own Klaidi Lolos – because none of the outfield players who started the game did anywhere near enough to deserve it. I simply can’t forgive any of them for that period between the 30th minute and the 87th. At least Lolos gave 100%, tried his heart out and even his infuriating tendency to dribble past too many opponents and lose the ball didn’t anger me this time (I was probably well beyond anger into acceptance by then).
Shaun MacDonald had some excellent moments, with a couple of very good saves, although at least one of them was caused by an errant stop which produced more work for himself. Of the outfield players, only really Armani Little and Dan Martin deserve pass marks – it was that kind of afternoon.
A mixed bunch through the 90 minutes but 4-1-2-2-1 at the start with Hall the holding midfielder and Evans and Martin providing the width, although Little did end up on the right from time to time. I have no idea what the formation was by the end of the game bit it was nothing I recognised, with O’Connell at full-back, Wynter centre-back and Lolos in advanced midfield. Then again, maybe the players had no idea as well, based on the shouts coming from the sidelines which barely got past “come on” – I’m concerned at that lack of obvious motivation from that quarter.
I thought Halifax looked like a team there for the taking in the opening 10 minutes, but as soon as they settled into the game, they were up there with the better sides I have seen this season and their league position (up to third) is not false. They looked solid enough at the back, composed in midfield and lively going forward – Slew was particularly impressive with two excellent finishes, in particular for the second of his goals.
I’ve seen Ryan Atkin referee a number of times, including a dreadful display at Welling which nearly had me writing to the FA to complain. Since then, he’s always been decent and I thought he was again on Saturday. Couple of decisions I couldn’t understand, but other than that he was up with play, not overly officious and made the right calls on bookings.
An exciting last five minutes does nothing, at least in terms of points and sinking position in the table, to get rid of the rather sour taste of the hour before that. There are just too many players in this Torquay squad who are not up to National League standard and, somewhat more concerning, don’t seem particularly bothered about it. Yes, probably a bit harsh, but it would have been a lot harsher had the score remained 3-0…or worse, as it could quite easily have been. Just show me some passion and give us something to get behind…and Dom, take me off verdicts for a few months because they never end well!