TT MATCH VERDICT
Matty Orton – @MattyOrton1
ALTRINCHAM 1-2 TORQUAY UNITED
No Joe Lewis, Dean Moxey or Tom Lapslie. The instinctive reaction is to suspect injury, but it turned out that Joe and Dean were self isolating and only Tom was suffering with a niggling groin injury. This meant that Ali Omar would come into the fold at centre back, along with a start for the newest kid in Yellow (cyan), Stephen Duke-Mckenna on loan from QPR.
It was the perfect January conditions you’d want for a game of football in Greater Manchester. Cold and grey with a subtle hint of damp in the air but miraculously no rain. I spent the week neurotically refreshing the Met Office app, not caring about anything else as long as it was dry. The opened ended terrace at Moss Lane would make for grim reading had that not been the case.
We pressed from the whistle, and got off to a good start with Connor opening the scoring on just five minutes. It only took Duke-McKenna a few minutes to make an impact as he fed Wright who found Connor who then did the rest and took the ball around Thompson and hit it home for 1-0.
From then we continued to apply pressure, 5 minutes later Omar headed against the crossbar from a corner. Had he scored, the goal celebration alone would have probably been worth the entrance fee.
Despite the pressing we couldn’t find a second, although at this stage everything was suggesting it was coming. Connor had a shot easily saved about 20 minutes in but from then on Altrincham began to establish themselves on the game. Dan Mooney had a shot that went wide while Mac then had to then deal with a shot from Ryan Colclough.
Going 1-0 down didn’t really seem to phase Alty, but why would it, given the run of form they are on and the amount of clubs that are bigger than them in this division. ‘Plucky underdogs’ is what they do.
Altrincham began to stretch us wide. Knocking balls from side to side in the middle third. Stood behind the goal it felt like we were watching a slow game of tennis. Once again they were finding the space as the ball swung from one side to the other. Eventually it happened again and eventually we got sucked into one side of the pitch. The ball got knocked back out and found it’s way over to Toby Mullarkey who must have been at least 30 yards out.
‘Watch the shot Sean’ were my instinctive words as the ball found the corner of the goal close in front of the away support. 1-1. Not much he could have done but to watch it hit the net. Too much time and space given and we should have defended it better.
Alty were back in the game, having gained ‘oxygen’ as Johnson sometimes likes to call it. All of a sudden we had a lot of defending to do. Colclough was starting to look like a tricky customer with Alty finding a free header at the back post only to be put wide by Jamie Morgan.
We rallied a bit at the end of the half forcing Thompson to make a couple of saves but went in at the break 1-1.
A bit of entertainment at the start of second half saw a 10 minute delay to the restart as the floodlights failed. The obligatory ‘Do you want 50p for the meter’ joke was cracked but eventually, met by a chorus, they came back on and the second half got underway.
We started with a good temp, moving the ball well and got a bit tighter, not allowing Alty time or space, closing down and forcing them into mistakes. It was Wearne who eventually capitalised on a defensive mistake by Kennedy Digie, the lad composed his finish and placed it home for 2-1.
Once again it didn’t really seem to phase Alty as you’d expect. They’d got back into the game once, and you’d fancy them to do it again. Colclough hit the woodwork with a free kick and the game started toing and froing – both teams seemed more confident at going forward as oppose to defending as blows were starting to be exchanged.
Around the hour mark the game should have been put to bed. Connor found himself in the box with the goal at his mercy – everything was going on that for him to score. The house, the car, my collection of antique Bovril jars. The whole shebang. For it all…. to blaze up and over the bar from about 6 yards out. We all knew it, Connor knew it, the players knew it, that was the chance to put the sword to the game.
The show went on. Duke-McKenna showed some filthy feet to beat a couple of players before annihilating a ball that dipped, moved and swerved it’s way towards the Alty goal – forcing Thompson to sort of flail as he parried it way.
At this point I might aswell just type from my notes, not through want of being lazy but it probably gives the beat sense of what the last twenty, torturous minutes were really like:
MacDonald saves Osborne shot. Alty shot wide. MacDonald tip over the bar. Alty pressure. Alty hit bar. MacDonald save. MacDonald pushes away free kick. 4 minutes added. Alty pressure. Alty shot blocked on line. Alty free kick over the bar.
Somewhere amongst the blurred memory there were some subs, but somehow, someway, we came through those last fifteen/twenty minutes unscathed. Final whistle. 2-1. A sigh of relief, and Pauly B makes his way out to the team bus to wait for the players to come out. Thank you very much.
Shaun MacDonald: 9.5 – See MOTM
Chiori Johnson: 6.5 – Chiori played OK out on the right in a makeshift defence. Communication between him and Omar looked iffy at times but Johnson (Gary) alluded to that. You should expect it in an emergency defence.
Ben Wynter: 7 – ‘Ben really suits the turquoise kit, he looks really nice in it’ said my better half. What she didn’t say was that he is a really good footballer who did a very good job of filling in at CB.
Ali Omar: 6.5 – Some good headers and some good clearances for someone who hasn’t played for while. A player who is evidently passionate which the supporters can sense – everyone wants to see him do well.
Dan Martin: 9 – Had it not been for Mac’s second half heroics then Dan would be getting MOTM. First half MOTM for me. Positionally correct, tackled, won the ball, frustrated the opposition and generally made a pest of himself. Well done that lad.
Asa Hall: 7 – Sat deep protecting the back four, spreading his wisdom, experience and telling stories in the same way Jesus did.
Armani Little: 7 – Armani had an accomplished game. No real criticisms from me. A game which I felt suited him at times and hustled and harried well.
Stephen Wearne: 8 – He was certainly a handful for the opposition to deal with and bagged the second and winning goal with placement and composure. Mr and Mrs Johnson must have got their son something nice for Christmas. Cheers Lee.
Duke-McKenna: 8 – He’s got that ‘bit of quality’ Johnson talks about and it was evident he’s been chilling out with some Championship lads. More of that during his loan spell and we have ourselves a very good player.
Connor Lemonheigh-Evans: 7 – Connor got away with that missed chance today and he’ll know it. But I thought he played well and he opened the scoring. (*coughs ‘Aiden Newhouse’) Let him off.
Danny Wright 6.5 – Felt for Danny as a loan striker today which can quite often prove frustrating. However, showed some lovely skill at times and created space.
Keelan O’Connell: N/A
Dan Holman: 6.5 – Didn’t really get a chance to get any shots or efforts away through no fault if his own. Forced a corner with one shot on goal as his first touch but spent the rest of the game pretty much defending.
Joe Felix: N/A
Agree with Matty’s Ratings? VOTE HERE
Man of the Match: Shaun MacDonald
Shaun has kept us in the game at the end of the second half, down the other end of the field and in front of the home support. Tips over, blocks, shot stops. Setting up defensively for set pieces. He’s had a busy last 20 minutes and without him I don’t think we’d be taking all three points from the game.
It was a makeshift defence with Asa sitting so deep in-front of it. He was practically another defender. Ben Wynter at CB alongside Ali Omar with Johnson on the right of defence and Dan Martin on the left. Danny was playing as the lone striker so it seemed to be a fairly obvious, but not so common, 4-1-4-1 with Connor playing behind Danny in a midfield with Little, Duke-Mckenna and Wearne.
Alty were impressive going forward, but are a team who have shipped 45 goals this season. Only Kings Lynn and Dover have conceded more. They aren’t a ‘bad’ side so to speak, they have some very credible and capable outfield players in their ranks who certainly showed they could control periods of the game and put sides under pressure, but they are a detriment to themselves as defensively they were very poor. However, I can’t see them being any worse than Weymouth and with a few tweaks and a bit of shoring up they’ll be fine, they just need to find a few results or they’ll be in danger of ending the season miserably. To be fair to them, for their size and stature, they are a very creditable and admirable club at this level. There are plenty more clubs in this division I’d rather see struggle more than Alty so good luck to them for the rest of season.
If Connor scores on the hour, then it changes the last quarter of the Match. You feel 3-1 would have killed them off but instead we set up for a rollercoaster end to the game. Alty swarmed over us for that last 20 mins but in a way it made the win all the more satisfying. We were worth 3-1 in the end and had that been the scoreline, then I feel it wouldn’t have been unjust.
I thought the referee had a very good game in what was a competitive but fairly clean game of football. He let the game flow, didn’t brandish a card and didn’t make a decision that I remember disagreeing with. I have a lot of time for referees who play advantage, not calling up for every niggle or foul. Let the players play, but take control if and when needed – which is what he did.
The season is teetering at the moment as to which way it wants to go. We currently sit 4th in the form table from the last 5 games and only Stockport, Notts and Chesterfield have scored more goals in the last 10. However, only 5 teams have conceded more so it’s fairly obvious where our problem is. We were scoffing at any chance of playoffs a few weeks ago, but 16 points from a possible 21 hasn’t quite got people talking about it, more thinking about it.
Even Johnson coined the playoff word himself this week as he tries to instil belief into the players and the fans, stating he wants to be the playoff ‘gate-crashers’. It’s quite possible, but more likely the word ‘gate’ and ‘crash’ just triggers some sort of anxious subconscious response for most. It’s the ‘hangover’ season, the ‘transition’ season, the ‘should have been us’ season, the more distance that is put between us and what was will ultimately benefit how we move forward as a club.
Next season will be a leveller, as teams are currently blowing their brains out to try and make that escape before caps are introduced. Playing football rather than spending your way out of a division suddenly becomes more appealing, and with the best manager in the division there is always a chance of that happening. Torquay United do not HAVE to do it this season. For now I think we need to let the season take it’s course, let Johnson mould the team and accept that we are in an era of changeover and transition.