TT MATCH VERDICT
Rachel Malloch – @RachelVillavox
TORQUAY UNITED 2-1 STOCKPORT COUNTY
So here it is – nearly – Merry Christmas, the Plainmoor tannoy in full festive ‘now that’s what I call Christmas’ mood and after a few last minute pressie purchases from the club merchandise shop, onto the Bristow’s perch with familiar faces and some absent friends too, having to miss the last home game before Christmas thanks to pesky covid LFT results and to those few unfortunate folk, best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Bolstered by some encouraging incomings on Friday, Torquay welcomed Exeter City loanee Jack Sparkes along with the signing of Joe Felix from Essex based Billericay Town and also a real boost with the return of talisman forward Danny Wright from injury. Sparkes going straight into the starting XI, Felix and Wright on the bench joining keeper Mark Halstead, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans and defender Harry Perritt.
This was a game that certainly had everything; some high pressing, some lovely wing play from the excellent Dan Martin, some brave, stoical defending, a colossal Joe Lewis winning everything Stockport launched aerially, ably supported by every defensive player, some outstanding goalkeeping from Mac at the back, a tenacious, brilliant Tom Lapslie sweeping up, fighting for and hurling himself at every loose ball in the midfield, with Asa Hall looking ever more closer to the player of last season, Armani Little tracking back, chasing, looking to release the dynamo force of nature Sinclair Armstrong and the dervish Klaidi Lolos, to a man, this was the finest performance Torquay United had produced this season, the type of performance that we associate with a Gary Johnson team in full pomp and grandeur.
It certainly wasn’t made easy, Stockport are a strong, pacy side, expensively assembled with the ever dangerous goal machine Patrick ‘Paddy’ Madden who was well marshalled by birthday boy Ben Wynter and Lewis. A swathe of Stockport attacks were dealt with, a Wynter interception and the resulting corner bringing out the best in MacDonald to tip around the post.
The constant harrying of Sinclair Armstrong found a Stockport player floundering and with pace running down the right, his shot beat Hinchcliffe in goal and rebounded off the advancing Stockport defender Collar into the empty net.
The wild celebrations from the vociferous Yellow Army were soon curtailed only a minute or two later as Collar went from villain to hero glancing in unmarked at the far post to equalise.
Chances for both sides were coming thick and fast, Joe Lewis rose the highest to head straight at Hinchliffe, Sparkes had a swerving shot whiz over the bar and then at the other end another cross into the box almost found the back of the net but for some quick reflexes from MacDonald and the ball mercifully bouncing out off a Stockport player for a goal kick.
Play was held up for what seemed an eternity as Hinchliffe received treatment for a facial injury, having dropped the ball Armstrong had instinctively put a boot to the it but finding the Stockport keeper’s boat race instead. He was thankfully okay and able to continue.
Some high pressure from Torquay saw a game of bagatelle, when first the ever busy Lolos’ shot was pushed away by the keeper, with incoming Lapslie firing a snap shot that bounced off a defender. More goal mouth action involving Lolos and Sparkes, and again a strong header from Lolos that was parried away to the feet of Moxey who in turn was upended in the area, penalty to Torquay. After another delay, Asa Hall cool as you like, beat the keeper low into the corner and Torquay went into half time in the lead.
The second half saw a strong Stockport having made 2 changes, a defender for defender and Alex Reid on for goal-scorer Collar. Stockport hit the crossbar twice, one from a turn and shot from Madden, and were putting more and more pressure on Utd’s defence but every player held firm, another effort from Madden saw MacDonald quick to react. Torquay broke away and with the ball at Armstrong’s feet, he delayed his pass with Little waiting in the area and the danger was cleared.
Unsurprisingly Armstrong went to ground with cramp, his tireless non-stop all action performance finally had caught up with him, making way for Danny Wright in the 82nd minute then a standing ovation saw Lolos replaced by Connor Lemonheigh-Evans. Danny Wright did well, winning and displaying some experience in hold up play, slowing the game down and even picking up free kicks. So good to see him back!
A great shift from Jack Sparkes too, with Harry Perritt coming on for the final few minutes. Stockport continued to huff and puff but despite the nerve jangling 6 minutes injury time, Torquay stood their ground and the roar as the ref blew for full time was more like 20,000 than 2,000 relieved Torquay supporters, who throughout the game were in fine voice with an array of classic terrace songs and a festive ‘Last Christmas I gave you my heart……this year, to save me from tears, I’ll give it to Gary Johnson’.
Out of what has been a somewhat inconsistent season, of topsy turvy performances and of fans frustration, this was a performance full of heart, a show of real strength from every single player and huge credit to Gary Johnson for plotting and pulling off this win with a belief in this squad of players. Torquay might still be 16th in the table but with players hitting form and most importantly, proving today that they can play as a forceful unit, let the bells ring out for Christmas. Certainly that result has every one of us walking in a Ben Wynter Wonderland. Up the Gulls.
Shaun MacDonald 8 – Continues to bring his high standards to every game. Some vital stops. Terrific.
Ben Wynter 8 – The birthday boy was back to his focused best, brilliant.
Dean Moxey 8 – Still life in this ol’ boy yet. Immense.
Joe Lewis 9 – A league defender in a non-league division. No amount of superlatives. Excellent.
Dan Martin 9 – See MOTM
Tom Lapslie 9 – So very, very close to being MOTM. Tenacious, Battling, Brilliant.
Asa Hall 8 – Our captain is back and that penalty needed a cool head.
Armani Little 8 – Armani just continues to step up to the foot plate. A class act.
Sinclair Armstrong 9 – Stamina, pace, engine running on rocket fuel, another player very close to being MOTM.
Klaidi Lolos 8 – If I was to go a bit Craig Revel-Horwood, if he could look up and be more aware at times but no dampening this performance, so much effort and will to win.
Jack Sparkes 8 – Very impressive debut from the loanee from up the road.
Danny Wright 7 – Great to see him back.
Connor Lemonheigh-Evans 7 – Helped see out the game well.
Harry Perritt 7 – As above.
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Stockport are a decent side; strong, with a team littered with league level players, an impressive defensive set up and a manager who jumped ship from the goodship allotment wreckers of league 2 to title chasers of the National League. They’ll likely be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
Impressive I thought; referee allowed advantage a few times, loved to see him play a Torquay advantage after Lapslie was poleaxed only to yellow card the offending player. Linos too, got most decisions spot on.
We were XI players who to a man won a tough, well-fought game against a very good Stockport side. That’s my kind of formation!
MAN OF THE MATCH:
Dan Martin, where have you been all my season! In fairness, he has shown glimpses of quality in games, blotting his copybook in that FA Cup tie in Hampshire, but that rush of blood to the head aside, there’s always been this kind of performance in him. Here’s hoping we see many more as this afternoon he was very close to a perfect 10. Snapping at every ball that came his way, great movement, sharp, alert and some marauding wing play to propel the team forward. A real joy of a performance.
What a prospect. Aged 18 and this young lad really loves his game, gives every sinew of his being to his performance and was a real thorn in the Stockport’s side. This was a tour de force display and at times quite breathless, running down every single ball and tracking back to win the ball back. Tremendous player and well done to Gary and brother Pete for sourcing this brilliant young lad in the scouting set-up. I hope we get to extend it!