FANS' ZONE 06/05/2022
UNITED’S DAGENHAM JINX CONTINUES AND WHICH PLAYERS WILL PLAINMOOR SEE FOR THE LAST TIME ON SATURDAY?
Bank Holiday’s 0-0 draw at Dagenham & Redbridge did neither team any favours as the home side dropped two points in their quest to join the play-off group especially as the side they’re chasing, Chesterfield, lost at home to title favourites Stockport County while Torquay’s hopes of gatecrashing the party effectively ended a week ago at Grimsby. And certainly not helped with a draw on Saturday against lowly Maidenhead.
This game, rather like the events in London on Monday, came to life in the final five minutes when a header from Joe Lewis, his sixth goal of the season, from virtually on the goal-line heralded a United bombardment on the visitors’ defence with late chances for Lolos and Wright.
This was the ninth National League match against Dagenham since both clubs fell out of the EFL and was the third goalless draw between the two sides, in fact there have been few goals, January’s 2-2 at Plainmoor only being ‘bettered’ by Dagenham’s 3-0 victory back in February 2018.
Unfortunately, Dagenham have won four of these nine games against United’s single victory.
As this column mentioned recently, it’s this time of the year that fans begin speculating on the club’s retained list, which players will the manager move on and which players will be offered new contracts. Of course it’s not easy to judge as players’ contracts are kept firmly behind closed doors.
However, manager Gary Johnson did give some clues after Saturday’s match when he said, “We’ll lose a few….somebody else has decided to nick’em off us again.” Who could he mean?
Will the visit of Chesterfield, whose fall from the top has been spectacular, along with the BT Sport cameras, on Saturday see the Yellow Army say farewell to the likes of Armani Little, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Joe Lewis and Shaun MacDonald?
If it’s inevitable that some of the better players are tempted away, as happened last year, to sideways moves, Johnson tells us he has this covered: “Stick with us, we’ve got some marquee players coming in.”
In Saturday’s matchday magazine there’s a feature on Joe Lewis when he says, “It’s great as a player to look forward to playing at home as much as I do. To be greeted by Plainmoor’s atmosphere as we walk out of the tunnel at the start of games is a huge reason why I love the game so much.”
Lewis also has this to say about the Yellow Army, “For a club that has to travel such long distances to most of our away games, the following that we take away and the noise that they make is inspiring.”
Lewis was not only Man of the Match on Saturday, he made the Non-League Paper’s Team of the Day and was named by Nigel Tabb, on BBC Radio Devon, Man of the Match at Dagenham.
Interesting that he, Little, Lemonheigh-Evans, MacDonald are all in contention for Player of the Season, along with Dean Moxey and Ben Wynter. It could be a close run contest. Results are to be announced after the Chesterfield match.
National League/ Non-League Crowd Watch: On Saturday 9,200 turned up to watch Wrexham win 1-0 and move closer to leaders Stockport County who surprisingly lost at home to Boreham Wood in front of 8,778.
On Bank Holiday Monday over 2,500 Stockport fans travelled to Chesterfield to see County win 1-0 with 9,198 present while Notts County won in front of 6,523. **********
Triple scoop for Chris Todd’s Under-18s as they emphatically won the Devon FA Under-18 Youth Cup on Sunday with a 6-0 victory over Tavistock at Coach Road. These lads added the trophy to the league and cup double already achieved.
Todd, echoing Gary Johnson’s mantra for his side to entertain, had this to say to his players, “I want you to go out there and perform like you have all season and impress people because that’s what they do, they entertain people.”
Are we hopefully about to produce some players worthy of professional contracts and on a pathway to first team football? If so, all credit to Clarke Osborne’s support of a football academy developing home grown talent. Think of players like Matt Jay and Ollie Watkins who slipped through the net.
A recent Fans’ Zone question concerned reasons for staying away from Plainmoor - only 2,148 to watch at the weekend - and a familiar answer was no sale of tickets at the turnstiles. Bearing in mind Torbay’s ageing population a survey by the Royal Society of Arts found four million people who are over 65 are reliant on cash. Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said, “Not all older people are online or have a smartphone and others have health conditions or disabilities that make cash easier to use.”
Although many venues during the height of the pandemic introduced cashless facilities, there is no evidence to suggest cash poses a more significant covid safety issue than digital currency.
“Cashless polices are detrimental to the elderly.”
Bumped into Kevin Hill at Plainmoor on Saturday as he was still celebrating his Exmouth Town side’s promotion from the Western League, as runners-up, to the Southern League and congratulations too to Plymouth Parkway whose second successive promotion following their 3-0 victory over Cinderford Town in front of a record 1,362 saw them win the Southern League Division 1 title moving up into Step 3.
Joining the National League next season from National North will be Gateshead managed by ex-Gull Mike Williamson while another ex-Gull Hakan Hayrettin’s Maidstone United will be joining from National South after a huge 3,774 saw them clinch the title.
Should you be making a trip to London during the close season you should make your way to the Design Museum, London W8 where you can view George Best’s boots from 1958, the first referee’s whistle from 1884 plus all kinds of football memorabilia through the ages. The exhibition is open until August 29th.
Readers’ responses show fans would want to see Little, MacDonald, Lewis, Wynter, Moxey and Lemonheigh-Evans in a United shirt again next season. Time will tell if any or all will be at Plainmoor again.
Who did you vote your Player/Young Player of the season? Send your names to: email@example.com or Twitter: @FanszoneT
Don’t forget, Saturday’s last home match v Chesterfield kicks-off at 12.30pm.
PLAY-OFFS MAYBE IN DOUBT BUT CUP SUCCESS FOR TORQUAY UNITED WOMEN AND UNDER-18s, PLUS LATEST FAN-LED REVIEW NEWS
Whilst there’s fifteen points to play for, but ten points adrift of that final play-off place, it’s still mathematically possible for Torquay United to gatecrash the party although even the most optimistic Yellow Army fan must acknowledge that it’s unlikely to happen.
With only three defeats this calendar year Gary Johnson and his squad have given the challenge a really good go especially after that disastrous start to the season. Saturday’s loss at Grimsby to a 90+1 minute penalty only confirmed the worst as even a point wouldn’t have been enough with Johnson admitting before the game that it was a six pointer.
But United’s results since the turn of the year has been top seven form: Played 18, Won 9, Drawn 6, Lost 3, For 29, Against 17 but even seeing these, they hide the fact that in two home matches, against Dagenham & Redbridge and Barnet, 2-0 advantages were squandered. Add in the numerous games, Saturday’s was another example, where United ran the first half of a match but failed to take their chances only to run out of steam after the break.
Johnson alluded to the problem in his post match interview when he talked about squad size, lack of player rotation and inability to rest players returning from injury. Grimsby, for example, he reminded us could put out two teams of equal ability which, as he rightly accepts, is down to what each club can afford financially. He does say to fans, “We’ll give it a right go next year.”
Although Johnson hasn’t given up - and you can be sure he won’t let his squad - now that the loans of players like Alex Moyse, Louie Slough and Olaf Koszela are over at Bideford and Dorchester why not give them some experience of being in a matchday situation? It would give him and them the opportunity to show if they have what it takes?
Now let’s celebrate. First Torquay United Women who were very much the underdogs to higher league opponents Exeter City in Friday night’s TUST co-sponsored, with Exeter City Supporters’ Trust, Devon FA Women’s Cup Final.
A night of drama as 572 at Coach Road were treated to a game played at a frantic pace by both sides and as United’s Women’s boss Steve Elswood told Fans’ Zone, “It was definitely the most incredible night in the history of the football club. We set up with a very clear plan of what we wanted to achieve and as the game grew so did those achievements.”
It has to be said that the Gulls rode their luck with Exeter, who as Elswood said score freely and very rarely concede, hitting the bar and the upright with keeper Sasha Mole beaten both times.
Then, with time ebbing away, Connie Pengeley fired Exeter into an 85th minute lead but with six minutes of added time running out United were awarded a penalty for a trip. Up stepped Leah Brookes to blast home the equaliser.
Although Elswood’s side were tiring he said, “We don’t know when we’re beaten and we were always going to get a chance.” So, penalty shoot-out it was to decide the winners. Elswood divulged afterwards that the squad had practised penalties and shoot-out scenarios in training for the past three weeks but nothing can prepare you for the tension on the night. But step forward stand-in keeper Sasha Mole, normally an outfield player, who not only took and scored United’s first but saved Exeter’s first and last, to give the Torquay women a priceless cup win. In fact United’s penalty takers had nerves of steel with five blasted home.
As Elswood rightly explained, “It just made the perfect ending for an amazing group of ladies who gave everything, wanted it more and thoroughly deserved it.”
Elswood took time out to thank TUST for their sponsorship and he had this to say to the fans,
“We would like to thank the amazing support from the Yellow Army who cheered us on and to TUCST for providing our incredible mascots in their yellow and blue kit.”
The team will be bringing the cup home to Plainmoor on Saturday with the squad looking forward to thanking the fans for their support in their historic cup victory.
The second cup winners of the weekend were Chris Todd’s Under-18s who completed a league and cup double with their 2-1 win over Bridgwater Town thanks to goals from Theo Cadby and the winner from Ben Aldous; they too will show off their trophy at the Maidenhead match.
What next for the Women? A permanent home - Plainmoor? - and a permanent manager would be a start. And for the Under-18s? They have the Devon Youth Cup Final to play and maybe some of the players are hoping for a professional contract.
As regular readers of this column know TUST has been heavily involved in the Fans-Led Review with terrific support from Torbay MP Kevin Foster. Well this week the Government announced its intention to introduce a White Paper in the summer to introduce an independent football regulator.
Their support for former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch’s review does not stop there as Crouch explains, ”I am exceptionally pleased the Government has accepted or supported all the strategic recommendations of the review, including committing to legislation for a statutory independent regulator which will regulate financial resilience as well as ownership of clubs.”
The White Paper will, the Government explains, ‘set out plans for a greater role for fans in the day-to-day running of clubs and a bigger say on changes to their club.’
Crouch sums up the decision by saying, “This is an enormous step forward in providing much needed reform for football.” Now we await a time scale.
In the National League average attendances for the season Torquay sit in eighth place with 2,573 well behind Wrexham who top this list with 8,534 whose figures would, if compared with League 2 clubs, place them third.
The full top ten League 2/National League are: Bradford City 15,443, Swindon Town 9,182, Wrexham, Bristol Rovers 7,378, Notts County 6,866, Stockport County 6,614, Tranmere Rovers 6,525, Chesterfield 6,177, Port Vale 6,088 and Southend 5,834.
Congratulations to Taunton Town who clinched promotion to National South with a 2-1 home win over close challengers Farnborough in front of a best of the season 2,303.
Next year the National League will be joined by Oldham Athletic, the first ex-Premier League team to go into non-league and Scunthorpe United.
Your number one player to re-sign? Shaun MacDonald, followed by Armani Little and Joe Lewis. Keep your votes coming in to: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter:@FanszoneT
Maidenhead next up at Plainmoor but come and thank the Women’s side and Under-18s.