The Thursday Preview: Torquay Vs Barnet
It’s been a cracking couple of weeks down on the Bay. Four wins from five league games, including a bustling 3-1 victory against big brothers Plymouth, and the news that key players Lee Mansell and Kevin Nicholson have joined Eunan O’Kane in agreeing long-term contracts mean that Gulls supporters must be purring with satisfaction. With the main stand at Plainmoor currently in the process of being rebuilt, these days leading up to Christmas are heady ones indeed.
Some three months or so ago, our Q&A-type Conversations series featured a well-measured and balanced set of responses from the blogosphere’s Gull-in-residence Ben Mayhew. It would have been easy to focus on outgoing manager Paul Buckle, but Ben managed to resist a character assassination and instead offered a wider consideration of the club and its future direction. The way in which many of the points Ben made seem to be bearing fruit suggests that such a pause for thought might usefully be applied more often when it comes to judging managers and players.
Centrefold material he may not be, but new manager Martin Ling’s experience and pie-entrenched fingers were both cited as the type of factors that would give him a chance of success in South Devon. The Eastender’s first few months have largely gone to plan and, bar a sticky patch that was encountered in October, he’s put together the type of side that really does seem to have something about it.
Its fulcrum might just be playmaker O’Kane, who recently turned his back on his native Northern Ireland. Described by Ben as Torquay’s “indispensible attacking lynchpin”, the number 10 has carved numerous chances out for his team this term and his two-goal slaying of Argyle suggested that his could be a burgeoning career in the game.
Backed up by the likes of Rene Howe, Robert Olejnik and Billy Bodin, who just seem like the types of players who are primed for a promotion year, the Gulls currently rest just outside the play-offs. Sandwiched by big dogs Oxford and Rotherham, stiff competition abounds at League 2’s icing but if Torquay can sustain their good run over Christmas then a race might just be on the cards.
It’s an undeniably small squad, however, so check and reality must go hand in hand. Upcoming trips to Accrington and Plymouth book-end two home games against Swindon and Oxford, so tomorrow evening’s game against Barnet takes on added meaning.
After a predictably slow start, the Bees have been picking up of late; their Paint Trophy victory against a strong Brentford team in midweek the latest in a series of promising results. Having not seen them for several years, it’s difficult to point to particular factors, yet the incoming loanees Jack Saville, Paul Downing and Michael Hector might just have played a part according to this thread.
Izale McLeod and the pint-sized Sam Deering and Mark Marshall make for a capable attacking triumvirate on their day, not to mention Steve Kabba when he turns up, but otherwise it’s a sparse-looking squad. More so, off-field issues threaten to disrupt at Underhill; a fuller post will hopefully follow once we know more but, for now, things don’t look too rosy as the notoriously fraught relationship between the club and Barnet Council sours further.
But for a Christmas shindig, I would have dug a little deeper on Barnet. Either way, with Torquay on song I can’t see past them for this one. It still takes a leap of imagination to see them in the top 4 or 5 in the division but if they can grind out results in games such as this then the Gulls could well be planning a trip to Coventry this time next year.