Bluffer's guide to the play-offs: Torquay United
Ben Mayhew is next up to preview his side’s play-off chances. Torquay United were promoted to the Football League two years ago and now have a chance to go one tier higher…
Feeling confident? How’s your form?
A few weeks ago I’d have answered bullishly in the affirmative, but we haven’t won in 5 games now which is cause for concern. In fairness, 4 of those were draws and we had one of the toughest run-ins on paper, so it’s hardly a crisis.
Defeat at Rotherham on Saturday was disappointing although given that we were unbeaten in the previous 11 matches, our impressive performances this season and having a fully fit squad to choose from, I remain more than a little optimistic.
Up to now, would you judge your season so far as a success or did you have an eye on the automatic spots?
This campaign has already been a resounding success considering that we’re one of the smallest clubs in the division and that we finished 17th last season. Paul Buckle has assembled a young squad that is still a work in progress, so to be in the top half at all represents a significant step forward. Given that we’ve hardly been out of the promotion race all season, everyone at the club can be immensely proud no matter what happens next.
Did you have the upper hand over your semi-final opponents in the games you’ve played against them already this season?
While Shrewsbury have enjoyed a stronger finish to the season, we held them to a 1-1 draw on their own turf and hammered them 5-0 at Plainmoor, so we definitely have the psychological edge going into this one. Also, having so narrowly missed out on automatic promotion despite their late surge may well have caused a few heads to drop, with the need to salvage something potentially adding to the pressure on them.
Do you think your players have a big-game mentality? Will they step up?
We’re a predominantly young side with a sprinkling of more experienced heads, so I dare say that there are more mentally resilient teams out there. However our cup run and strong away record this season have shown that we aren’t easily intimidated. A few players remain from our previous play-off final triumph, including three of our current back four, which should count in our favour.
Who will be your key man?
Clichà© though it may be, it really has been a team effort this season, which makes it difficult to single anyone out. While we’ll need our attackers to do the business, I’ll back Guy Branston to steal the show for us.
He’s been in arguably the best form of his career and imperious at the back, with his performances earning him our player of the season award as well as a place in the PFA Team of the Year. A formidable and talismanic presence in defence, he’s also a constant menace from corners with his powerful headers and I know he’ll be leading the charge come Saturday.
Who is the semi-final opposition’s dangerman?
The most dangerous Shrewsbury employee on the pitch will be Jake Robinson, although he’ll be wearing a Torquay shirt as the Shrews neglected to include a clause in his loan deal preventing him from playing against them. They’ve already been punished once for this oversight: he bagged a brace in the 5-0 thumping I mentioned earlier.
Of the players they have at their disposal, I’m most worried about Mark Wright’s goalscoring abilities from the left wing, particularly as we don’t have a natural right back at the moment. He’s been in fine form recently so I hope we’ve got a plan to nullify him.
If you get through, who would you prefer in the final?
On the basis of form and their record against the other sides in the playoff zone I should say Stevenage. However, I’d actually prefer Accrington as they owe their lofty league position to their home form and struggle to win away. In contrast we travel quite well, so playing in a neutral venue should favour us.
Furthermore, their record at the Crown Ground can be partly attributed to its awful pitch, so facing a passing side like us on a decent playing surface could well be their downfall. Seeing as Stanley are in financial trouble at the moment, I’d also feel better about them getting the cash windfall from a play-off final appearance. They’re an even smaller club than we are, so what they’ve achieved with such limited resources is truly inspirational and they deserve a day out to celebrate.
Who’s going to score your winning goal in the final…?
I’d have to say Billy Kee, our young forward who’s stepped up admirably to fill the departed Elliot Benyon’s boots and has had an excellent debut season for us. He’s been coming off the bench a lot recently and his terrier-like tenacity makes him exactly the sort of player that tiring defenders will struggle to deal with.
He’s also a clinical striker of the ball which could well make the difference in a tight game: 6 of his 9 goals this season have been struck from outside the penalty area. I’m even prepared to go further and predict that his fellow, equally impressive, Northern Irishman Eunan O’Kane will provide the killer ball from midfield.