Danny Burnell – @dannyburnell_92
Play-off final klaxon incoming! It’s been over 2 years since that heart-wrenching afternoon at Ashton Gate. Since then, it’s been far from plain-sailing for the Gulls’. I take a look at some of the contributing factors of our decline since the summer of 2020.
Just days after that defeat, the hero of the hour was the first player to jump ship. Whether Covolan would have penned a new deal had things have panned out differently, we will never know, but Torquay’s Brazilian stopper decided to try his luck at Port Vale.
Cameron was next out of the door as Notts County came calling. Whitfield signed for would-be champions Stockport and Nemane followed Kyle to Meadow Lane. MacDonald didn’t see his future at Plainmoor, and sought opportunities elsewhere.
With departures aplenty, there was good news, with Moxey, Wynter, Hall, Lewis, Little & Lemonheigh-Evans the most notable to sign new 1 year deals.
19th July saw ‘Manic Monday’, which saw no fewer than 7 new signings. With less than 8 weeks between that defeat and opening day, there was a sense of it being rushed, a observation that would soon become reality. MacDonald & Cov were replaced by Halstead & Brzozowski. Ali Omar came in as the man to replace Sam Sherring at the heart of defence. Dan Martin arrived from Fulham to provide competition for the aging Moxey. Tom Lapslie was brought in to add that midfield bite. Keelan O’Connell arrived as a like-for-like replacement for the outgoing Whitfield. And finally Klaidi Lolos joined from neighbours Plymouth to add youth and pace to our front line.
There was little rest for the heartbroken Gulls’ as season schedules returned to pre-COVID times. A short pre-season led the way for the campaign to start in mid-August, with United very much a NL team.
Further recruitment activity had been going on, as striker Dan Holman and utility man Chiori Johnson made their moves to Devon.
The first 6 games saw just one win for the newly assembled Gulls’. Home defeats against Woking, Altrincham & Grimsby raised alarm bells, as the Yellows’ defensive frailties came to the forefront. In goal, Mark Halstead was getting the lion-share of blame with some sub-standard displays. Omar wasn’t the Sherring or a Cameron we had hoped for. O’Connell lacked the creativity United were crying out for. It was all a bit flat after the previous seasons exploits. Further recruitment was evidently essential.
Southend at home on the 18th September felt like an early season six-pointer, and there were surprises aplenty as Shaun MacDonald returned to the club he departed just two months previously. His involvement was crucial, as his POTS award showed. Torquay won that day thanks to a late CLE strike, and it was hoped that would be the catalyst to kick-start their season.
The Gulls’ inconsistency was there for all to see. A defeat to H&W in the FA Cup, coupled with defeats at Bromley, Boreham Wood, Barnet & Aldershot evidenced the squad was still very unbalanced. Goals were needed, Holman, Wright & Lolos were not jelling as the Yellow Army had envisaged.
The end of the month saw an upturn in fortune, and more reinforcements as Sinclair Armstrong arrived from QPR on loan. A loan signing that would pivotal that Winter.
A win away at Weymouth was billed as the most important of the season thus far, and it proved to be a massive springboard to a fantastic month. Champions elect Stockport were humbled at Plainmoor, and Yeovil felt the raft of United not once, but twice, over a very successful Christmas period for the Gulls’.
With the Gulls’ fortunes on the up, a second half season surge for the play-offs was the aim for GJ’s men. The influential Armstrong returned to his parent club, but in came Wearne & Duke-McKenna to add some much needed flair. The summer signings continued to struggle, with Halstead firmly out of the team, Ali making way for Moxey in the middle, and Holman failing to make an impact. It was clear these players were not of the calibre of the previous seasons’.
The late season surge proved too little, too late, as Torquay settled for a mid-table finish. A very slow start was to blame for a very under-whelming season. What was cause for concern was the lack of players under contract. The likes of Lewis, Little & CLE were all destined for bigger things, and that proved as they made their last appearances at Roots Hall on the final day. A mass exodus was hinted at by the Boss, and so that materialised, as it became of summer of outgoings, outgoings, and more outgoings!
MacDonald and Little found opportunities at League One clubs. Lewis & Little made the switch to League Two newcomers Stockport. Danny Wright opted for the South Coast, and most surprisingly Wynter sought the bright lights of Barnet for his next adventure. Moxey and Hall remained loyal, as they signed new deals, together with the semi-rejuvenated Ali Omar. Halstead & Lapslie were under contract, but it was to be a summer of huge changes for United, as they searched for the right formula of singings.
Because the last one worked so well, Gulls’ HQ announced another ‘manic Monday’ of sorts with the announcement of five new senior Players. Aaron Jarvis looked to get his career back on track after a fairly unspectacular spell at Scunthorpe. Hanson & McGavin arrived from Dover and Ipswich respectively, along with another Tractor-Boy Dylan Crowe. And loanees were added in the shape of midfielder Kieron Evans & Will Goodwin. Over the course of the summer, Ross Marshall, Shaun Donnellan, Corrie Andrews and Ollie Tomlinson all joined in a new look TUFC side.
Lightning couldn’t strike twice for United’s recruitment if they were to improve on last seasons’ positioning. The recruitment had to be on point now more than ever. Proven quality had departed in their droves, and it was up to Downes and the Johnson Brothers to come up trumps in the transfer market.
A fortunates win at Halifax was the only respite for this brand new side, as results went from bad to worse. Woking once again enjoyed their Bank Holiday trip to the seaside, and lacklustre defeats at Maidstone & Bromley further highlighted our woes in a start many had feared. Holes were appearing in the side at an alarming rate. There were no Littles, no Lewis’ to paper over the cracks. The team was lacking in quality, lacking in guile and lacking in a winning formula. It was unbalanced and patched up, which was further evidenced by our dismal loan signings. We had players come and go like they were paid by the hour. Hughes, Iseguan, Nathaniel-George all made brief appearances before being duly sent packing. The season was young, but early signs showed United were in deep trouble.
A copy and paste from last season, as United’s new signings failed to make the desired impact. Quality loan signings were required, and fast. De Silva & Ness alongside the returning Ellis & Wearne were challenged to provide the structure Torquay so badly needed, and when Aldershot were hit for six, there were signs the tide was turning. Or was it….
And so here we are. 12th December and just 4 league wins to our name this season. 22nd place, and notably no wins over our fellow NL strugglers. Scunny and Gateshead came to Plainmoor and salvaged a point. Oldham claimed all three on Sunday. Injuries continue to plague this side, but it’s another failed recruitment campaign which has led us to this sorry state.
When you see the calibre of player that has departed since Ashton Gate, and what we have replaced them with, it’s little wonder why we are feeling a little under-whelmed and angry at present day goings on. It’s 18 months of woe for the Gulls’ with little sign of improvement. Yes, wins at Dagenham and Aldershot are of course a big plus, but it’s those pluses that are few and far between. A dismal home record, a goal-shy away record, our only hope is for this current crop of lads to stand up and be counted. Our loan capacity remains at its maximum, and further additions look unlikely, which begs the question, how is Johnson going to turn this around? Would any other club accept this level of ineptness. Managers in this league have gone for far far less. Osborne continues to back his man, but as for the majority of Gulls’ fans, that ship has long sailed.