Torquay United head to Sixfields tomorrow afternoon still looking for their first win of the season (that in itself fills me with trepidation!) and after a tough second half to last season that saw Martin Ling fall ill and Alan Knill pick up the pieces to keep the Gulls in League Two. This week, resident Torquay fanatic Christina Smart gives us the lowdown on what was a troublesome campaign last time out.
“We’ve made quite a habit of getting to play-offs in recent years,” Christina says, “so you could say we deserved a sabbatical! It was fantastic to have 4 of our players in the 2011-12 League 2 Team of the Year, and painful to then experience last season in all its misery. There seemed to be a lack of focus, questionable allocation of resources and dithering when action was required. The season became increasingly depressing and farcical from a fan’s perspective, and rumours festered in the absence of press releases from the club.”
“It must have been a deeply unpleasant and surreal time for the players. Firstly, we lost key players- notably Eunan O’Kane and Bobby Olejnik, but investment was off the pitch, in our training ground. We were set up to play ultra-defensively which was boring to watch and didn’t always work,particularly now that our creative playmaker had gone. We were humiliated in the first round of the FA Cup and were punished with the resulting loss of revenue from future rounds . This perhaps explains why we didn’t bring in the loanees in January many were clamouring for. Manager Martin Ling departed, initially on sick leave, half way through the season, leaving his assistant to hold the fort until the eventual arrival of our third manager of the season, Alan Knill, who was tasked with saving our football league status”
“Our position became increasingly perilous as we developed a nasty confidence-shattering habit of conceding and throwing away points in the final 10 minutes of what felt like every game. Labadie and Chapell were finally brought in on loan, became instant heroes in a team seemingly and understandably bereft of self–belief and were prematurely and infuriatingly recalled by their parent clubs, leaving our battered warriors to fling themselves barely alive over the finishing line against Bristol Rovers on the final day.”
“Last season has thankfully been sunk in a leaden casket deep below the sea, and we are finally starting to see positive change. In a sudden Board reshuffle, a fan-friendly CEO and a popular new Chairwoman, Thea Bristow, were both instated. We have forged ahead with ground and training facility improvements; we havea pitch-side big screen and our match day programme, TQ1, is rather good…”
Alan Knill has previous at this level having led Bury to the playoffs before being recruited by Scunthorpe United. Things didn’t work out too well at Glanford Park but you can imagine that the old steel is still there as he attempts to rebuild his reputation once again. So is Knill the right man for the job?
“Ling’s dismissal was uncomfortable,” Christina says, “but the Board acted swiftly and decisively so that (unlike when Paul Buckle departed) there was a manager in place at a time when players needed to be retained/recruited. Alan Knill was the logical choice; as incumbent, he had fulfilled his brief of securing safety. His willingness to relocate, and his ability to persuade Chris Brass to join him were other positives. I’ve read mixed reports about Knill from fans of his old clubs, so I guess time will tell whether he is right for us, but so far, based on signings and attacking intent (and so long as he doesn’t introduce anything daft like goal music) I’m happy.”
The new manager’s first pre-season has seen him bring in a couple of ex Cobblers players in Karl Hawley and Ben Harding whilst exciting youngster Callum Ball has had a decent start in Gulls colours. Christina says that they could do with a couple more to fill up the squad but that team spirit is a key factor:
“The new signings look potentially exciting, and so far no-one has disgraced himself! The squad is still a little thin and we could do with a couple more additions (a right back and creative midfielder) if we could afford them. Dale Tonge mentioned in an interview that team spirit is greatly underated in football and that it happens naturally at Torquay. I don’t mind if no-one stands out. I love it when the players play for each other and work hard to win as a team. Eleven heroes would do just fine!
“Knill has urged fans to be patient: Hawley and Ball arrived at Plainmoor on the Thursday before the season began, and Pearce came in that week too, so I think it’s fair to say that the team is still gelling. I’m certainly not panicking just yet, although I know others are already starting to. We’re a stronger squad; luck can be whimsical, but the goals and wins will come.”
So are there any key danger men to watch out for or youngsters to watch?
“Haha danger isn’t the first word that springs to mind when I think of my beloved Torquay, although there is surely no scarier sight on earth than a Lee Mansell war cry! I’d love this to be Billy Bodin’s year; he seems to be on the verge of blossoming into the player we know he can be. Chapell and Hawley could shine for us. Of the youngsters, I wouldn’t write off the goal-scoring prowess of Ashley Yeoman or the scintillating pace of Niall Thompson, but Dan Sullivan could be the one to watch. He debuted for us at Morecambe and last week revived the dying art of scoring with both feet in a brace against Cheltenham reserves.”
In terms of predictions and hopes, Christina reckons that simple progress would be all that is needed this season and that she would take a point tomorrow afternoon. She finishes:
“I’d say somewhere in the top half of the table is definitely achievable. Around 10th would be fine, and then we can push on next season. It’ll be interesting to see how Ben Harding and Ian Morris fare after swapping clubs.”
“We’re definitely due a win at Sixfields, but I don’t expect it to come on Saturday. I’d be happy with a 1-1 draw, so long as we beat Hartlepool the following week! Come on You Yellows!”
You can follow Christina on Twitter @stinadreama for passionate, heartfelt and genuine tweets about Torquay United.
Torquay United links
Official Website: http://www.torquayunited.com
Local News section: http://www.thisissouthdevon.co.uk/torquayunited