Torquay heading towards the drop

Tuesday 26th February 2013 8:03

Martin Ling: Mystery illness

Martin Ling: Mystery illness

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FanZone's Torquay United blogger Matt Parkman is concerned for the Gulls' Football League future as the team slides towards the drop zone.

Somewhere towards the start of the season, Martin Ling committed one of the 'Seven Deadly Sins' of management. He made a prediction about where his team would finish in the League.

He suggested that Torquay would be looking to achieve a finish in the automatic promotion places, and that the play-offs would be there as a 'safety net'.

Presumably, he had in mind the image of a tightrope walker in a Big Top, holding a long wooden balance bar while terrified onlookers held their collective breath for fear that their respiration may cause the acrobat to fall. Sadly, Martin got it hopelessly wrong and his Torquay side languish perilously close to the foot of the table and, consequently, the trapdoor to the abyss of non-league football.

At the time of writing, the acrobat has dropped his bar, fallen off the tightrope and is plummeting, head first, towards the hard floor of the Big Top.

This is a situation which needs urgent attention and in order to provide the right attention, we must first discover what exactly is wrong.

If we make like Marty McFly and head back in time a short while, we find that up to early December, we were doing alright.

We weren't looking anything special, but, we didn't look as though we were going to break up the race for relegation being held between a gaggle of clubs, most notable among which were Bristol Rovers and Plymouth Argyle.

Then, as suddenly as it had befallen us last season, albeit considerably earlier, Torquay United forgot how to win. Or defend. Or attack, if I'm honest. We had a man sent off at Bradford and lost 1-0 late on.

Then we shipped a late equaliser at home to a dreadfully ugly (if brutishly effective) Northampton.

The same pattern against Argyle, and then the AFC Wimbledon match, where we equalised in added time, only to concede a penalty in the added time of added time to hand the Wombles their first win since their furry counterparts were a children's TV favourite.

It was becoming a habit, a disease pervading the club. Fans were arriving at matches expecting to concede late. The terraces hummed to the sound of a thousand dissenting voices decrying the manager's tactics (or lack thereof). Twitter lit up with 140 character barrages of abuse as frustrated fans voiced their displeasure towards the players directly and, sometimes, inappropriately.

To top this off, shortly after, not only did we forget how to defend for 90 minutes, we also forgot how to score as well. Our only route into matches was from the penalty spot, consecutive matches against Exeter saw us take four points, courtesy of a penalty in each match and precious little else.

Our manager, the man who had started all this by proclaiming as he did, was taken to his sick bed by a mystery illness (everyone concerned with this piece wishes Martin a full and speedy recovery). The club was sliding headlong into oblivion and, while everyone could see the effect, no one was able to see the cause.

Some blamed the loss of Eunan O'Kane who regular readers (pah, regular readers, who am I trying to kid?) will recall I held in especially high regard. Other said it was down to an aging and underperforming Lee Mansell failing to have the impact he'd had last season.

Some even, bizarrely, managed to blame assistant manager Shaun Taylor, a man so desperately unprepared for the rigours of management that given the nature of his rise to that exact position, it was a miracle we still have a club left at all, and he was only in charge for three games.

For the unfamiliar, putting Taylor in charge of first-team affairs at a professional football club simply because he is presently the assistant manager is a little bit like asking Bill Gates' PA to run Microsoft, simply because she types all his letters.

The real answer is yet to be found, we still aren't sure what has taken us from play-off semi-finalists last year and finalists the year before, to relegation fodder this term.

What we do know is that the minute Alan Knill arrived at Plainmoor, we took free scoring Port Vale and reduced them to hacking long range efforts embarrassingly wide of the target.

That said, we did still manage to lose the match, thanks to the biggest, luckiest deflection you'll see this year and that, in the end, is all that really matters.

At the end of the dissection the whole issue will still revolve around whether or not the team manages to secure sufficient points to avoid relegation.

If they do, then there will be the trump card that we managed to survive regardless, so any mention of any failings are an item for the history books, something to concern only those who ignore that little warning on adverts for investments that 'past performance is no guarantee of future performance'.

If we don't manage to survive, well, that's probably best saved for another piece altogether...

In lighter news, I will ask in advance that those intending to visit Plainmoor next season, regardless of our division, please refrain from laughing at our new kit. Those of us with a fully functioning sense of taste and decency are acutely aware that it is a throwback to the bad old days of John Barnes in Speedo tight shorts and music by Duran Duran and television programmes featuring people called Sue-Ellen and J.R.

But, it was left to a public vote and, as the 2005 General Election proved, the public cannot be trusted to vote sensibly on any matter whatsoever. For this, we ask you to forgive us.

By Matt Parkman, FanZone's Torquay United blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @ferrarif50lover - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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