Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96
Matty discusses the Torquay United squad for 2022-23
Football’s come home, a load of lads from Ipswich have found a new home, and on Saturday Torquay begin their 2022/23 season against Oldham at home. A new season brings all sorts of emotions for football fans: anticipation; fear; excitement; the what-if-we’re-actually-shit-this-year cloud of dread thundering over our heads; pre-season sun-tan; moral dilemmas around abandoning the end of the cricket season; moral dilemmas around the acceptability of booking a holiday that coincides with football; curiosity; reliance on “Oh, is he the Dover one?” type vagaries for the first few weeks; and – perhaps the most powerful of all these emotions – the feeling of expectation about when the Torquay Talk Squad Preview will, as the kids say these days, “drop”.
First, a glimpse behind the magician’s cloth. I’ve just re-read last year’s preview, in which I graded a strike-force of Danny Wright, Dan Holman and Klaidi Lolos as a quite unhinged 9 (NINE) out of 10. Perhaps this is the ultimate proof a) that I really shouldn’t have this honour re-bestowed on me, and b) that predictions based on little more than pre-season snippets are either really hard, or I’m very bad at them, or entirely futile, or a combination of the above. But you’re here now, so we might as well have a go.
We should get behind Mark Halstead. We should get behind Mark Halstead because we’ve got no choice. We should get behind Mark Halstead because he’s clearly reliant on confidence, and if we don’t get behind him that confidence will dwindle. We should get behind Mark Halstead because Gary Johnson sees a lot more of him than we do and has clearly decided that he’s good enough. We should get behind Mark Halstead because if he misses the ball one of us might be able to stop it.
Mark Halstead’s Torquay United career can, charitably, be described as “mixed”. A pretty poor start, helped in no small part by a draining of self-belief and a concussion injury, meant he lost the number one shirt quite swiftly. His return for the FA Trophy and a game and a bit at the end of the campaign weren’t wildly convincing either, and his pre-season performances this time round have ranged from worthy of Player of the Match, to a second-half mare. We have to hope that a new season brings a new lease of life and we should, this time not as a set up for a lame joke, get behind him.
The goalkeeping ranks are bolstered by Ryan Lovett. A man whose name is ripe for a song or pun, Lovett joins from Maidenhead and will look to push Halstead for the permanent role. This competition will be a good thing and, if given a proper chance, I expect Lovett to do alright in goal as well. Neither, though, can reasonably be considered an upgrade on Shaun MacDonald.
TT Rating: 6/10
As is the case throughout our squad, this section is characterisd by loss being replaced by fresh hope. Joe Lewis and Ben Wynter’s departures leave huge gaps in our defence, and it’ll take a while until we know whether we’ve filled them sufficiently. At right back, Dylan Crowe comes in. The former Ipswich man is a forward-thinking, fast, veracious footballer whose crossing ability shouldn’t be overlooked. I think he’s by far one of our most exciting signings, and will start every game for which he’s available, probably in a wing-back berth. Joe Lewis has been replaced by Ross Marshall. This lad looks…a right big bastard. He’s only 22, but holds himself with the grizzle of a man ten years his senior, and one would expect him to also be both a regular starter and a decent acquisition this season.
The other two “incomings” (as we’ve all apparently decided to call them) are Ben Wyatt and Ollie Tomlinson. Wyatt will start the season at left wing-back, thanks to Dan Martin’s pre-season injury. The National League winner looks a really good player, gives us options further up the left wing, and represents genuine strength in depth on the left side of defence. Tomlinson joins following his release from Plymouth’s academy, and probably expects to be operating in a backup role in the immediate future. But I do really like him: he’s less lightweight than his age and stature would suggest, and seems to have a steady head on his shoulders. I wouldn’t be wholly surprised if he works his way into the side by the end of the season.
We’ve held onto some of our defenders, too. Dean Moxey remains one of the best in the league at left back or left centre-back. His experience and ‘housery will be vital if we’re to achieve anything. Dan Martin is a fine footballer who will only get better: I’ve not seen many players in a Torquay shirt who are better at last-ditch tackles and defending counter-attacks than him. Alongside them is Ali Omar. Ali fits into the Halstead Category of having had a mixed first season at Plainmoor, and still having plenty to prove to plenty of doubters. He has, however, definitely, markedly, improved: by the end of last season he looked far more composed and organised than he had on the opening day. He doesn’t fill me to the brim with confidence, but he’s evidently got hectares of room and hunger for improvement, which can only be a good thing. He’ll start in the middle of a back three on Saturday.
TT Rating: 7/10
If a back five of Crowe, Marshall, Omar, Moxey and Wyatt is the easiest part of our starting XI to predict, then the midfield is the hardest, with a number of central players coming through the door this summer. One man whose spot appears nailed on is Brett McGavin’s. Since his move from Kings Lynn, the man who ought to be known as ‘andStacey’ has really impressed in pre-season. I expect him to play as the most advanced of a midfield three, and to score a bag or two of goals for us this campaign. He really is classy, and is as close to a replacement for Little as we’ll get. Joining him in the first wave of acquisitions was Ryan Hanson. He appears to be more of an industrious, running midfielder than a playmaking craftsman, but as a 21-year-old who has already captained a side at this level, he’s clearly got more than just legs.
McGavin aside, our midfield is mostly categorised by this type of industry. Along with Tom Lapslie and Asa Hall, both of whom we know to be steady Eddies in the middle of the park, we’ve been joined by Shaun Donnellan. The Republic of Ireland U21 international is known to be a utility man, and while he may start at the base of midfield, don’t be surprised if he plays anywhere across the back five throughout the season. The aim of bringing in particularly Donnellan and Hanson, is to reduce last season’s reliance on Hall and Lapslie, neither of whom have spotless fitness records. Gary clearly doesn’t want to end this season as he did last, with players the standard of Joe Felix and Chiori Johnson anchoring our midfield. This strength in depth is a key point of difference from last term, and should reap rewards.
Away from the centre, we’ve also brought in Kieron Evans. He’s a versatile player, who has dutifully (but clearly uncomfortably) filled in at left wing-back in pre-season. He’s far better suited to a wide role further forward, as a number ten, or off a single striker. He’s got brilliant feet, and is very quick. Nothing has really come off for him in a yellow shirt yet, but that’s not for want of trying, and he’s probably saving that breakthrough for the season proper.
TT Rating: 8/10
It’s all change up front, with three new strikers coming in to usurp the eternally young Olaf Koszela in the pecking order. The first, and my favourite, is Aaron Jarvis. He comes off the back of a grim season at Scunthorpe, ploughing one of the loneliest furrows in the game as the centre forward for the worst club in the Football League. Another Ipswich graduate, Aaron won’t score hundreds in Yellow, but what he lacks in poachery he makes up for in being a focal point. Gary’s systems have always lived or died by the quality of their target man. When Wright or Reidy were at their best, Torquay United were at their best. When either wasn’t fit, and were replaced by Hartlepool’s Josh Umerah or the Premier League’s Rob Street, the whole team suffered. Jarvis being fit, staying fit, and leading the line with the energy and strength that he has in pre-season will be vital to our potential.
Alongside him is Corie Andrews, who has joined from Wimbledon, following a fruitful spell of goalscoring on loan at Aldershot last campaign. In pre-season, he’s not looked the fittest of fiddles, but he still runs a lot, has a decent turn of pace, and his record suggests he knows where the back of the net is. For every Wright or Reid in Johnson’s systems, there’s been a Janneh or Lemonheigh-Evans. Andrews looks the most natural in that position, although Kieron Evans may find himself having a crack at it too.
Finally, there’s Will Goodwin, who’s sort of a hybrid of the other two forwards. He’s tall, like Jarvis, and can clearly play as a beanpole centerpiece up top. This was partly evidenced in the Truro friendly, in which he clambered over an opposition centre back to fire home a header from close range, before winning a crucial flick-on that led to Dean Moxey’s penalty, then converting a penalty of his own. That, to me, is the sign of a striker beyond his years in terms of physical presence and confidence. He also runs his backside off, and is no slouch, so could be used alongside Jarvis as a Janneh-styled stretching forward. Either by choice, or coercion through injury, I think Gary will pick Goodwin on Saturday, and I think anyone will have a job to wrestle the shirt out of his hands from then on.
TT Rating: 7/10
This summer’s recruitment policy has been underwritten by a need to replace very good players. Take the calibre of Shaun MacDonald, Ben Wynter, Joe Lewis, Armani Little, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans and Danny Wright out of any squad in this league and they’ll struggle. That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of the newbies, and not all of them will sufficiently live up to the high standards that the oldies left – particularly those expected to pick up the slack of Football League quality players. But many of them are good footballers, and should be backed along with the remainers with a point to prove.
This squad looks stronger, wiser and deeper than last season’s. We’ve a healthy, versatile mixture of skill and industry, youthful hunger and grizzled experience, freshness and continuity. We haven’t brought anyone out of retirement, for example. We’ve lost a lot of natural talent and class (especially in Little, Lewis and Lemon), and replaced them with #BigBlokes. That sounds like a criticism of Johnson’s policy, but I think it could well work. If this squad is to have success, unlike the last, it’ll do it by playing some pretty disgusting anti-football and crawling our way to 1-0 wins. And, to be fair, that’s pretty much the best way to win a league in my opinion. On the flip side, if we’re rubbish, it could be soul-destroying. I predict the reality will be somewhere in between. But what do I know about predictions?
COYY – Matty