John­son will wel­come ex­pe­ri­ence back into youth­ful United squad

Herald Express - - Marketplace -

TORQUAY United fans have rightly en­joyed see­ing young tal­ents like Con­nor Le­mon­heigh-Evans, Jake An­drews, Saikou Jan­neh, Opi Ed­wards, Kalvin Lum­bombo Kalala and even lead­ing scorer Jamie Reid – he is al­most a ‘vet­eran’ at 24! – push­ing the Gulls up the Na­tional League South ta­ble in re­cent weeks.

Even the sight of lo­cal boy Olaf Koszela be­com­ing, at 16, the fifth youngest player to make his se­nior de­but for the club has cheered sup­port­ers and sent out all the right mes­sages.

But, as good and as promis­ing all those play­ers are, no­body will be hap­pier to see Asa Hall and Ryan Dick­son back in ac­tion, hope­fully at Dul­wich Ham­let this week­end, than man­ager Gary John­son.

Mid­field­ers Hall and Dick­son, both 31 and both signed dur­ing the sum­mer by for­mer boss Gary Ow­ers, have more than that in com­mon.

They have both played un­der John­son be­fore, Hall at Chel­tenham Town and Dick­son at Yeovil Town, and both re­tain his trust and con­fi­dence.

Hall is poised to re­turn af­ter a knee lig­a­ment in­jury and Dick­son from a con­cus­sion ‘pro­to­col‘, both sus­tained in train­ing.

In re­cent weeks some of us reg­u­lar watch­ers have had to re­mind our­selves just how young the teams which John­son has been send­ing out re­ally are.

Here goes: Shaun MacDon­ald 22, Ben Wyn­ter 20, Jean-Yves Koue Ni­ate 25, Kyle Cameron (cap­tain at 21), Liam Davis 31, Ruairi Keat­ing 23, Le­mon­heigh-Evans 21, An­drews 21, Kalala 20, Jan­neh 20, Reid 24, Ed­wards 19.

In other words, left-back Davis has been the only player over 30 and, even at 25, Koue Ni­ate is rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced in terms of se­nior foot­ball in Eng­land.

Take out Davis and the av­er­age age of that lot is less than 22. Throw in Koszela and

Gulls mid­fielder Asa Hall in ac­tion against Lyming­ton Town in the FA Cup you’re down to 20.9.

Of course, some of those lads are al­ready ma­ture be­yond their years.

For in­stance, in the ab­sence of Brett Wil­liams, Hall or Dick­son, Cameron may al­ready be skip­per at 21, and if An­drews isn’t some­body’s fu­ture cap­tain, then some­thing will have gone se­ri­ously wrong,

The cul­tured An­drews is al­ready a firm and calm­ing in­flu­ence in mid­field and his part­ner­ship with Le­mon­heigh-Evans – they are also good friends off the pitch – has been a ma­jor plus in re­cent weeks.

Don’t worry, we’re not head­ing down Alan Hansen’s old ‘You’ll Win Noth­ing With Kids’ road here, but it shouldn’t have come as a sur­prise that, on a bob­bly pitch and against ea­ger, noth­ing-to-lose op­po­nents, United strug­gled to sub­due Bas­ingstoke Town in the FA Tro­phy last week­end.

When they can get the ball down, pass it or run at op­po­nents, United are al­most cer­tainly as good as any­one in the Na­tional League South and bet­ter than most. Es­pe­cially on the car­pet which Plain­moor has been un­til sheer pres­sure of matches and a bit of win­ter weather have taken their toll of late. But, like all lower di­vi­sions, the NL South is bound to be­come a bit of a slog in the com­ing months.

Phys­i­cal strength, dis­ci­pline on and off the ball and the know-how which play­ers like Hall and Dick­son bring to the party will be in­creas­ingly im­por­tant.

It’s also why John­son and his brother Pe­ter, United’s chief scout, are on the look­out for a cou­ple more ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers to add to the cur­rent squad.

The young­sters who have con­trib­uted so much so far still have much to give, and they are learn­ing pre­cious ca­reer lessons all the time, but United will be that much stronger with Hall and Dick­son back…

MILES ON THE CLOCK

The Gulls’ FA Tro­phy First Round Proper draw away to Bore­ham Wood should shine a light on how close they are to hav­ing a side that could cope in the Na­tional League – if they win pro­mo­tion next sea­son.

Wood, who have beaten Torquay five times in their last six meet­ings, are cur­rently tenth in the NL ta­ble and con­tin­u­ing to punch above their weight un­der highly-rated young man­ager Luke Gar­rard.

Only pro­mo­tion-chas­ing Har­ro­gate Town have beaten them in ten league games at their Meadow Park ground so far this sea­son.

“It will be good to see, for fu­ture ref­er­ence if you like, how the play­ers han­dle a good ‘Con­fer­ence’ team,” said John­son.

“I’m not tak­ing any­thing for granted, but that’s where we hope to be next sea­son, and I will learn a lot more about the play­ers in that game than I will in quite a few at our level.”

The tie in North Lon­don on De­cem­ber 15 means a fifth away game in six matches for United be­tween now and Christ­mas.

Af­ter Bas­ingstoke away in the Tro­phy last Sat­ur­day, they travel to Dul­wich Ham­let in the NL South on Sat­ur­day, Dart­ford for a re­ar­ranged game next Tues­day night, take on Welling United at Plain­moor (De­cem­ber 8), Bore­ham Wood (De­cem­ber 15) and then Hamp­ton & Rich­mond away on De­cem­ber 22.

“It’s a shame for our sup­port­ers,” said John­son.

“I just feel sorry for them at the minute, with the amount of trav­el­ling they’re hav­ing to do.

“I sup­pose we could have four home games on the trot over Christ­mas and the New Year, but I hope we can give them some­thing to make their jour­neys worth­while be­fore then.

The First Round draw is the last to be re­gion­alised, al­though it is heav­ily tilted to­wards the South re­gion – 19 ties here to 13 in the North.

The picks of the North­ern draw will see der­bies be­tween Har­ro­gate Town and York City and, in Greater Man­ches­ter, Al­trin­cham and Stock­port County.

In the South, Here­ford – they ac­tu­ally play in the NL North! – will meet pro­mo­tion-chas­ing Bil­ler­icay Town at Edgar Street, Bath City will travel to Bar­net, there will be an all-West­coun­try af­fair be­tween Truro City and We­ston-su­per-Mare at Plain­moor, while Dorch­ester Town will travel to East­bourne Bor­ough or Dart­ford.

SMART PROSPECT

The Gulls had a job keep­ing young Bas­ingstoke for­ward Sam Smart in check last Sat­ur­day, so it was no sur­prise to learn that he’s been tipped for big­ger things.

Smart, 20, had a trial at Cham­pi­onship club Sh­effield Wed­nes­day af­ter scor­ing 20 goals for Town last sea­son and, af­ter prov­ing a hand­ful against Torquay, he headed off to try and win a con­tract at Sun­der­land.

BUSY DI­ARY

United have a busy pro­gramme of pre-Christ­mas events at Plain­moor’s No 10s restau­rant – a ‘Xmas With The First Team’ next Thurs­day (De­cem­ber 6), a ‘Chil­dren’s Xmas Party’ on De­cem­ber 13 and a ‘Xmas Party Night’ on De­cem­ber 19.

Tick­ets are avail­able through com­mer­cial man­ager Sharon Cox at the club.

STRANGE BUT TRUE

The Gulls have con­tin­ued to score plenty of goals, but they haven’t kept a ‘clean sheet’ for six matches and seven of the ten they have kept this sea­son have been away from home.

PPAUK

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