Friday, 24 August 2012

A Riviera rollercoaster ride

It seemed like we had never been away as the supporters' bus drew up outside Plainmoor on Tuesday night.
It's a ground I know well, having covered the Gulls for a few seasons, and it was a shame not to be walking up to that old rickety press box with a terrible view and no leg room at all once again.
We have only played three competitive games since we were there last, on that never-to-be-forgotten night of Marlon's free-kick and booking a ticket to Wembley.
We all know what happened there - but if we want to go back there again, or go one step further, then a trip to Torquay is one of the tougher hurdles we will encounter.
And so it proved, as we turned in what can only be described as a patchy display, but came away with a point from a cracking game.
We started well enough, Harry Hooman's header being cleared off the line, then when he was first to another Billy Jones corner, Shaun Harrad touched it over the line.
Two in two from Shaun now, making him the division's joint-top scorer and it is to be hoped that he can keep himself at the head of the scoring charts, and again it was another poacher's finish.
But then we went off the boil. Torquay, inspired by Lee Mansell, who, despite being from Gloucester, is a super player at this level and a great leader for the Gulls, started to boss the midfield and cause us problems.
Billy Bodin was buzzing around and we were struggling with the height and power of Rene Howe, who was dropping off to good effect and picking up loose balls.
For a 20-25 minute spell, in the first half, they just seemed to want it more, simple as that.
They were winning the second balls, putting together nice little moves and we looked off the pace.
In that time came their two goals, in the space of about a minute, both poor ones to concede, and both from crosses delivered from similar spots on their left-hand side.
Kevin Nicholson sent over the first and Aaron Downes towered over Chris Zebroski to head in at the far post. A good ball, yes, but a) it travelled a long way, and b) why was our winger the man picking up the big centre-half at the far post?
The second was a ball in from Mansell, and Howe peeled off Steve Elliott and was too strong for Billy Jones, glancing in a header at the far post. Another good cross, but then we allowed ourselves to be bullied in the box.
So in 60 seconds our good start was extinguished, Torquay had their tails up and we were rocking. Now it was going to be time to see what this 'new' squad was made of.
In that first half, Sam Deering, Russ Penn and Chris Zebroski, all impressive on Saturday, struggled to make an impact.
Jermaine McGlashan was always a threat and a worry for the Torquay fans who were still booing him from the play-off game three months ago.
But rather than looking like equalising, we looked more likely to concede a third - until I felt we got a helping hand from fate, as Torquay lost Damon Lathrope to injury just before half-time.
He is their shield - the very effective bits and pieces man who breaks things up and barely moves from a 10-yard area either side of the halfway line each game.
When he went off, they lost that insurance policy, and all of a sudden more room appeared in midfield for us, and I felt we exploited it after the break.
We could have gone 3-1 down as Howe hit the post then Sido kicked his backheeled follow-up off the line, then Scotty came off his line well to thwart Bodin as they had some breaks which they should have made more of.
Hence Mark Yates' comment after the game that we were a bit 'gung-ho' at times - and yes, we were, but that was good to see. I was glad to see us having a go and taking a few risks. Rather that than a meek surrender.
Deering's off-night ended when Jeff Goulding replaced him, and the system stayed the same with Jeff making a bit of a difference I felt.
Billy Jones' corners and set-pieces were causing problems and still looked to be the best bet of us getting an equaliser, Steve Elliott's header being cleared off the line nearly brought that to fruition.
Then Sido nearly scored a carbon copy of his goal at Oxford, cutting inside on his left foot but the keeper turned it away. That had me thinking the equaliser wasn't going to happen.
But in the end it did, and with another carbon copy goal from last season - think Luton in the FA Cup and Darryl Duffy's opener.
Scotty launched the ball downfield, the defender made a hash of it under pressure from Jeff, Zeb controlled it in the left channel and put it into the far corner. 2-2, and on the second half display we deserved it.
A great impact for Zeb against his old club, and we go to Aldershot now hoping Jermaine can do the same thing.
And we will have a new face on the coach as the search for a new midfielder ended in success in the shape of former Birmingham, West Brom and Preston midfielder Darren Carter.
On paper, it looks as though Yatesy has pulled another rabbit out of his ever-deepening transfer hat with this one.
A player who has spent all of his career at Championship level or above, Carter is fit after a nasty-sounding injury, with a six-month deal suiting both parties it would appear.
For us, we get a player who enhances our midfield options in spades at what seems to be a reasonable price wages-wise, while Darren gets a shop window to prove he is still an option for clubs higher up the ladder.
But who knows, if he does a job for us and no-one comes knocking in January, a longer deal may be thrashed out, but let's see how it goes.
I would suggest that will be that on the recruitment front now unless anyone, for example, comes in for Danny Andrew or if we get another couple of injuries to add to Benno and Mo's absences.
Yes, they are still out. Such has been the impact of Harry Hooman and with a goal from Zeb on Tuesday, it is almost forgotten that our skipper and joint-top scorer from last season are still to come into the ranks.
Nice problems for Mark to have, and also reassuring to think we have made a decent start in the league without two almost ever-present members of last season's side.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Not sure he could have done much about the goals. Otherwise, he made a couple of good saves and his handling was secure.
Sido Jombati - Defended well enough and linked superbly with Jermaine, notably one great run which nearly set up a goal and denied himself by a good save.
Billy Jones - Was ok defensively but really starred with a string of dangerous set-piece deliveries from corners and free-kicks.
Harry Hooman - Continues to impress in Benno's absence. Also unlucky not to score but did get an assist for the first goal.
Steve Elliott - Did his best against Howe and also tested by Bodin's movement. Also unlucky not to score from one of Billy's corners.
Marlon Pack - Much better game than Saturday. Was pick of the midfield in the first half and made us tick in the second.
Russ Penn - Not as good as Saturday and struggled to make a real impact as Mansell and Lathrope overshadowed us, especially first half.
Sam Deering - Off-night for Sam as he struggled to find space and lost out on a few second balls before being rightly taken off.
Jermaine McGlashan - Seems to have started the season in a good form. Always a threat, keeping Nicholson pegged back for the most part.
Chris Zebroski - Not comfortable on the left and drifted inside too much, but redeemed himself with a great finish for the equaliser and his first goal for us.
Shaun Harrad - Two games, two goals. Can't ask for more than that and looks stronger and fitter now. Good touch and hold-up play.

Substitutes
Jeff Goulding (for Sam Deering, 64) - Made a difference when he came on with good link-up and was a good presence just off the front man.
Darryl Duffy (for Shaun Harrad, 87) - No real time to make an impact.