Archive for May, 2012

Torquay Cut Ties With Taiwo

League Two side Torquay United have today continued their summer clear-out by releasing one player from his contract and making another available for sale.

This week has so far seen defenders Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Ed Palmer released, winger Lloyd Macklin transfer-listed, and Nathan Craig, Ryan Jarvis and Ashley Yeoman offered new deals to keep them at the club for 2012-13.

Not content with an already busy week, United boss Martin Ling has now added utility player Chris McPhee to the club’s growing transfer-list. McPhee, who can play both in midfield and upfront, first joined the Gulls in 2006 and was re-signed by Ling in June of last year.

McPhee’s devotion to the cause was never doubted, although his ability was (Image: Eunan O’Kane, Twitter)

However, the ex-Kidderminster man has found first-team action at Plainmoor hard to come by in his second spell at the club, prompting Ling to believe that the 29-year-old’s future lies elsewhere. Indeed, the ex-Cambridge chief told Torquay’s website “I feel it would be best for him to move on. For someone at the age of 29, Chris needs to be playing regularly and he is a squad player here… a player of his age would want more than that and I want more than that for him.”

McPhee made 26 league appearances for United this season, scoring twice. Many of his games came early in the season, and the Sussex-born man struggled to hold down a starting role or even a place on the bench during the latter stages of Torquay’s league campaign. Ling concurs: “He wasn’t getting in the squad towards the end of the season… he has gone from a bench-player with a couple of starts to someone out of the squad”.

Much-travelled Atieno faces the prospect of finding a fourth club in just two years (Image: ThisIsSouthDevon)

More controversial is Ling’s decision not to offer Kenyan international Taiwo Atieno an extension to his expiring one-year contract. The former Puerto Rico Islanders frontman scored 7 goals in all competitions and appeared in all bar one league fixtures during his only season at Plainmoor, but as Ling explains, the decision was taken with the club’s small budget in mind: “It came down to a flat choice between Tai and Ryan Jarvis. I feel I’ve had the peak of Tai but not the peak of Ryan Jarvis, and I feel the peak of Jarvis will be better. I only had the money to keep one of the two and that was the big issue”.

“It came down to a choice between Tai and Jarvis… I only had the money to keep one” 

28 of the 26-year-old’s league appearances came from the bench, and Atieno, capped four times for his country, only settled in to the side’s starting XI when first-choice forward Rene Howe was injured. Taiwo’s goals included vital strikes in victories against Bristol Rovers and Swindon, as well as a consolation in the play-off semi-final defeat to Cheltenham Town.

Ling’s shockingly honest approach to releasing players and explaining his decisions could have potentially divided fans, but the former Swindon midfielder seems to have impressed the majority of supporters with his no-nonsense modus operandi Ling has also played down reports that United playmaker Eunan O’Kane is set to leave the club, stating “I want Eunan to be a part of our squad next year and it’s not written in stone that he will leave this football club in the summer… there have been no offers on the table”.

Several Championship and League One clubs, including newly-promoted Swindon Town, are rumoured to be interested in the former Northern Ireland under-21 international.

Ling Lets Lloyd Leave

Following the release of full-back Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and centre-half Ed Palmer yesterday, Torquay United manager Martin Ling has continued to reshape his playing squad with further transfer news today.

Forward Ryan Jarvis, who joined the Gulls on loan from Walsall in March, has been offered a permanent contract for next season after impressing Ling during his short stay in Devon. Jarvis netted a crucial winner against Port Vale, teed up Rene Howe for the only goal against Accrington, and hit the bar in the play-off semi-final loss to Cheltenham. His contribution almost helped Torquay to promotion from League Two, and Ling said “We could have a really good player and he has been offered a one-year contract to prove to me that there is a good player in there”.

Also being offered new deals are midfield linchpin Damon Lathrope and young striker Ashley Yeoman. Lathrope’s expected signature will come as welcome news to United fans, with some fearing the ex-Norwich holding midfielder would be tempted away by a bigger club.

Lloyd Macklin (left) has mainly been limited to reserve-team football this season

Yeoman’s only league appearance in 2011-12 came in the form of a brief, but impressive, cameo in a home defeat to Bradford in February. The local lad has been rewarded with a one-year extension for, according to Ling: “versatility and for being a goalscorer… we watch him in training and feel he will score goals.”

Seemingly held in lower regard is 22-year-old winger Lloyd Macklin, who featured four times in the league this season. The former Swindon midfielder bagged his first goal in professional football in a 2-1 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy loss to Cheltenham in August, before Macklin joined Salisbury on loan in a spell that also saw him score against Sheffield United in the FA Cup. However, Ling rather bluntly stated “He was one of the youngest-ever players to make his debut for Swindon when he was a 16-year-old, and I still feel we have a 16-year-old on our hands. He hasn’t been consistent enough…it’s something he hasn’t really grasped and I’m not prepared to try anymore, and that’s why he’s been listed”.

Although he chose to renew Yeoman’s contract despite the forward only having two league appearances for United at the age of 20, Ling also cited this as a reason for Macklin –  who has actually featured more for the Gulls – being transfer-listed: “To be a sub that only touches the pitch a couple of times is not enough for someone at the age of 22”.

Ling’s blunt approach to releasing players could be seen as unnecessarily harsh, but many Torquay fans seem to prefer the Plainmoor supremo’s modus operandi: one fan went as far as saying “He’s put a backbone where there wasn’t one before. Martin Ling tells it like it is… just straight to the point, no-nonsense honesty.”

Torquay have also offered central defender Mark Ellis a new deal, which is said to have been on the table for months. The 23-year-old has reportedly attracted interest from United’s south-west rivals Plymouth Argyle, the club his family support. The Gulls are waiting for Kenyan forward Taiwo Atieno to return from international duty before deciding whether or not to extend his contract.

Rowe-Turner Released

Left-back Lathaniel Rowe-Turner has become the first victim of Torquay United’s post-season post-mortem as manager Martin Ling aims to reshuffle his pack in his first full summer in charge.

Rowe-Turner, 22, joined the Gulls from hometown club Leicester City in February 2010 and had already enjoyed loan spells at Cheltenham, Redditch United and King’s Lynn. The full-back clocked up 35 appearances in his three seasons at Plainmoor, scoring his only goal for the club in a 3-0 win over Barnet in 2010-11.

Rowe-Turner celebrates his solitary strike in Torquay colours (Image: Torquay United)

The decision to release Rowe-Turner will surprise some United fans given their side’s small playing squad, which many cited as the reason for the club losing out on automatic promotion in a 3-2 loss to Hereford, before being sent crashing out of the play-offs with a 4-1 aggregate loss to Cheltenham Town last week. The Gulls used just 23 players in their 2011-12 league campaign,including three loanees – compared to Swindon’s 39 and Southend’s 32 participants.

Torquay manager Martin Ling justified his decision to let Lathaniel go by saying “The main reason he has been released is the position I see him playing is where we have more cover than where I would like him to play… I need a more defensive left back.”

Although Rowe-Turner will surely feel this is a huge setback in his career – he posted a message on his Twitter account claiming he was “Well [a]nd truly lost for words” – Ling offered hope to the versatile defender: “It’s more to do with the shape of squad than ability of player, so he’s been unlucky but he has certainly shown enough to be an asset for a League Two or Conference club.”

Despite left-back being his natural position, Rowe-Turner has found himself playing as a defence-minded left-midfielder brought on as a late substitute in most of his appearances this season. He can also feature at centre-back, making him a valuable utility player to a lower-league or Conference club.

Nathan Craig has sufficiently impressed to earn a permanent contract (Image: Torquay United

Torquay have also released Rowe-Turner’s fellow young defender Ed Palmer. The centre-back has gained experience with local non-league sides Tiverton Town, Weymouth and Truro, but Ling believes that Palmer can play at “Conference or Conference South level, but [he] hasn’t quite got enough for me at this moment in time.” Despite graduating from Torquay’s youth team two years ago, Palmer had failed to make the breakthrough into the first team and had further slipped down Ling’s defensive roster with the emergence of another youngster, Kirtys MacKenzie.

In the other direction, and on the right side of Plainmoor’s revolving door, comes Welsh midfielder Nathan Craig, signed on a two-year contract. The ex-Everton trainee joins following a successful trial period, despite not making a first-team appearance since beginning his trial in January.

Elsewhere in Devon, newly-relegated Exeter City have released four players, including captain David Noble, a former Arsenal and West Ham midfielder. Other victims of Paul Tisdale’s cull include forward Richard Logan (a Grecian since 2007),  goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley and midfielder Chris Shepherd.

Torquay’s promotion dream died a devastating death on Thursday night as they were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by a physically strong and efficient Cheltenham team, sending the Gulls crashing out of the play-offs at the semi-final stage.

A  2-0 loss in the first leg at Whaddon Road four days earlier, with top-scorer Rene Howe limping off less than 20 minutes in, left Torquay with a mountain to climb at Plainmoor as Mark Yates’ Cheltenham side prepared to shut up shop and possibly even extend their lead by counter-attacking the desperate Gulls. Having employed a 4-5-1 formation for most of the season, using Howe as a lone targetman, United manager Martin Ling needed to improvise a new system if his team were to score the two goals needed to equal the scores on aggregate and force extra time.

The Gulls had relied on a miserly defence to help grind out 1-0 wins throughout the league campaign, a scoreline that was achieved no fewer than twelve times this season, but without a proven goalscorer to choose from up front, United’s chances looked slim. At Whaddon Road Ling had partnered on-loan Ryan Jarvis with Kenyan international Taiwo Atieno, and despite the former rattling the bar with a powerful header, the decision had not paid off. The Gulls needed goals, but where they were to come from was unclear.

The teams walk out for the season finale at Plainmoor, pursued by an intrusive Sky cameraman

Torquay’s last home game of the season, with so much at stake for both clubs, was sure to whip up an atmosphere at Plainmoor, but the Yellow Army were hopeful, rather than expectant, of the two-goal victory needed. The feeling among fans was best summed up by the subtle message printed on the back of the match programme: “Come on you Yellows: Wembley is still possible”.  It was almost as if supporters needed reminding that there was still a chance of progression to the final, however slim.

The hosts’ starting line-up showed that Ling had reverted to his favoured 4-5-1, with Jarvis filling the Howe-shaped hole in attack. Danny Stevens, having missed the first leg through illness, returned to the side hoping to cause Cheltenham’s former Wolves full-back Keith Lowe down Torquay’s left.

With an early goal needed to turn momentum into a concrete foothold in the tie, Torquay began brightly with a sequence of extended pressure ending with Stevens firing a volley just wide from 25 yards. However, Cheltenham, with the pace of Jermaine McGlashan and ex-Gull Kaid Mohamed on the wings, always looked dangerous on the break and McGlashan’s searing drive moments later narrowly cleared Bobby Olejnik’s crossbar.

Having been fired a warning sign by the determined Robins, Torquay redoubled their attacking efforts and playmaker Eunan O’Kane -reportedly the subject of a £200,000 bid from Swindon – brilliantly sidestepped a challenge before thundering an effort goalwards that Cheltenham custodian Scott Brown could only tip over. It was the first of many impressive saves by the former Welshpool Town stopper.

Kevin Nicholson prepares to shock the game back into life with a stunning free-kick

Minutes later Ryan Jarvis was presented with an angled one-on-one opportunity, but Brown was on hand to get his fingertips to the shot once more, sending the ball rolling agonisingly wide of Cheltenham’s left upright. Torquay continued to press with a series of corners, resulting in a thunderous Mark Ellis header forcing Brown into a sublime save when the effort looked certain to find the net. Cheltenham were clinging on to their two goal cushion, but every missed opportunity was proving costly as the first half slipped away.

A momentary lull in proceedings was immensely livened by Gulls’ left back Kevin Nicholson’s superb free-kick. A dead-ball specialist at his best, Nicholson cracked a powerful effort against Brown’s crossbar, shocking both fellow players and fans into frenzied action for the remainder of the half.  However, it was Cheltenham who had the final chance before the break, with the lively Mohamed forcing Olejnik into an important stop. Half-time arrived with the game scoreless, a scenario that the hosts would have been hoping to avoid.

Although the Gulls began the second period with a brief flurry of half-chances, the desperation creeping in was highlighted by Danny Stevens taking aim from a ridiculous angle and range. It was the sort of shot that Cheltenham would have been quite happy to face all night. The arrival of the hour mark, with Torquay no closer to a breakthrough, prompted Ling to withdraw the protective instincts of Damon Lathrope for forward Taiwo Atieno. The new man provided another attacking option, but with fifteen minutes remaining Ling resorted to Plan B, throwing centre-back Ellis up front to utilize his aerial threat, with young defender Angus McDonald slotting in at the back.

The new man had been on the pitch just two minutes when Cheltenham’s counter-attacking tactics worked to devastating effect. As in the first leg, McGlashan’s pace advantage proved decisive as he raced onto Mohamed’s through ball, slipping a low shot beyond Olejnik and McDonald’s desperate sliding attempted clearance.

Unsurprisingly, the Away End were delirious, with Cheltenham’s progress to Wembley all but sealed. McGlashan, who had infuriated sections of the home support with his tendency to hit the deck under any contact, used his goal as an opportunity to anger the Yellow Army even more by running the length of the Pop Side, complete with taunting gesture. The inevitable abuse was lessened somewhat by Torquay’s disappointment – the tie was now surely out of reach. The sobering sight of Olejnik, stood stock still in front of 600 bouncing away fans in a stand thick with celebratory smoke, showed just how much it meant to the United players as well as their fans.

Atieno provided something to cheer about on 85 minutes, flicking O’Kane’s corner beyond the excellent Brown, but it was far too little, far too late to influence the outcome. Indeed, Cheltenham even thought it neccessary to further dampen home spirits by claiming a second leg victory with a winner just two minutes later. Despite being tipped for the top by numerous fans and pundits, Robins midfielder Marlon Pack had so far failed to show the hosts what all the fuss was about, but his incredible, swerving free-kick had Olejnik grasping at thin air and Torquay clutching at even thinner promotion hopes as their fate was finally sealed.

Cheltenham players celebrate their win (Photo:

United gamely continued to throw men forward in a bid to net another consolation, but the agony of the final whistle was postponed by a pair of muppets idiotically invading the pitch in injury time. A lengthy, embarrassing grapple with far more stewards than neccessary followed, with Yellows skipper Lee Mansell angrily giving the “fans” his thoughts on the matter.

The final whistle of Torquay’s final game was greeted with inevitable disappointment, but many supporters stayed behind to applaud their team on a semi-final lap of honour. Despite falling at the final hurdle, 2011-12 has been a season of unprecedented success, considering a threadbare squad and a dismal start to the season with just three wins in the opening fourteen fixtures.

Although key players like O’Kane may be tempted away by the carrot of League One football, the club can look forward to another promising season in 2012-13 should Ling repeat his feat of bringing more quality signings to Plainmoor over the season.

Everton will host Champions League-chasing Newcastle United this Sunday with the visitors knowing that they need a least a draw to give themselves a chance of playing in Europe’s premier competition next season. What many fail to realise is that this fixture is almost an exact reversal of the same game at Goodison Park in the 2004-05 season.

On 7 May 2005 the Toffees welcomed Newcastle to Goodison hoping for a win that would go a long way to cementing the Blues’ grip on fourth place following a season of unprecedented success. Everton had sold young forward Wayne Rooney to Manchester United at the start of the season (haven’t heard of him since!) and after a 17th-placed finish in 2003-04, were widely tipped for a relegation battle the following season.

Ba and Cisse have formed a formidable partnership in their maiden season at the club (Image: The Telegraph)

This bears a striking resemblance to Newcastle’s shock surge to the summit in 2011-12. Only promoted from the Championship two years ago, the Magpies had settled comfortably back into life in top tier with a 12th-placed finish last season. Powered by the goals of new signings Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse – read Tim Cahill and Marcus Bent for Everton seven years ago – Newcastle have defied the odds to achieve remarkable success and will certainly be playing European football in some form next season.

The Blues will enter tomorrow’s game with little to play for on paper: David Moyes’ men have enjoyed a superb 2012 so far, but are mathematically unable to catch sixth-placed Chelsea and are only playing for the pride that comes with finishing above Merseyside rivals Liverpool. Everton’s nerve-free position ahead of tomorrow’s game mirrors Newcastle’s attitude on that day in 2005 – United were a mid-table side and would eventually finish in 14th.

Despite that lowly league placing, Newcastle still entered Europe via the Intertoto Cup in 2004-05, something Everton could emulate this year by qualifying for the Europa League due to the Cup successes of the teams above them, which could open up a bonus European slot.

David Weir heads Everton towards the Champions League in 2005’s edition of this fixture (Image: Everton FC)

Almost seven years ago to the day, Everton went on to beat Newcastle 2-0 in their last home game of the season thanks to goals from David Weir and Tim Cahill, not to mention Magpies forward Shola Ameobi’s red card early in the second half. Ironically, Ameobi, along with veteran goalkeeper Steve Harper is the only survivor of that squad still at the club, while Tony Hibbert, Cahill and James McFadden could all feature against the Magpies again on Sunday.

It should prove to be an entertaining contest between two in-form teams on the season’s last day. Newcastle will be desperate to avoid history repeating itself  – their future depends on it.

It’s not often that both clubs come away disappointed from a 3-2 win, but that’s exactly what happened at Edgar Street, home of Hereford United, in today’s clash with Torquay.

This game was of critical importance to both clubs: Hereford, second-bottom in the table, needed to win and hope relegation rivals Barnet slipped up in order to secure their own safety, while Torquay desperately needed the three points to overcome Crawley and Southend in the battle for third place and automatic promotion to League One.

The Bulls would have been high on confidence for a side fighting the drop, having shocked Crawley 3-0 in their previous outing. Cheered on by the majority of the 5,000-strong crowd at Edgar Street, Richard O’Kelly’s men were certainly in with a chance of surprising the league’s surprise package Torquay. The Gulls had suffered an uncharacteristic blip in form, drawing with Southend and Crewe at home and losing to AFC Wimbledon away, placing even bigger significance on this trip to the Welsh border. Torquay fans had been hoping Hereford would be relegated by the time the sides met on the last day, making their job significantly easier, but it was not to be.

Hereford’s Joe Colbeck (left) battles with Torquay defender Brian Saah (Image: the Guardian)

Despite beginning brightly, Torquay were punished by Hereford’s prolific taking of chances: three first-half goals without reply had their fans relishing the prospect of another impressive win that would secure another season in the Football League. The scoring was opened by Delroy Facey, a former Premier League forward with Bolton Wanderers, and the Bulls never looked back: further goals from Harry Pell and Rob Purdie made the lead comfortable and seemingly put the result beyond all doubt. It would take a miracle now for Torquay to grab the victory they so dearly needed. As Gulls manager Martin Ling later admitted “We didn’t play well, but everything they touched turned to gold!”

Hereford’s second came from a penalty after Lee Mansell was adjudged to have fouled Purdie ten minutes before the break. After custodian Bobby Olejnik had extended his excellent penalty-saving record with a spot-kick stop against Crewe a week earlier, Gulls fans would have been quietly confident the Austrian could repeat the trick, but Pell proved otherwise. Purdie found the net himself four minutes later to give Torquay a mountain to climb in the second half.

That mountain was reduced to a very large hill just 13 seconds after the break when substitute Ryan Jarvis dispatched Joe Oastler’s strike beyond Hereford goalkeeper Adam Bartlett. Torquay continued to press for a route back into the game, and just after the hour Taiwo Atieno, another sub, reduced the deficit to a single goal after pouncing on a rebound from Kevin Nicholson’s free-kick. The impossible was now simply unlikely, but unfortunately for the Gulls and their 1,400 travelling fans, that was as good as it got.

As news of a breakthrough from Barnet in their game against Burton reached Edgar Street, the atmosphere among the home fans unsurprisingly become more subdued. Even a win would now not be enough, and the tension on the pitch was evident as Torquay skipper Lee Mansell enjoyed “fisticuffs”, as a Final Score reporter put it, with Bulls defender Byron Anthony in the closing stages.

Plainmoor will witness one more fixture this season when the Gulls host Cheltenham in the play-offs

A mammoth eight minutes of injury time simply delayed the agony for both sets of fans – Hereford were condemned to the Conference and, contrary to the oft-heard chant at Plainmoor, the Gulls were not going up – automatically, at least. Although the Yellow Army will be disappointed to have to endure the lottery of the play-offs after such a great season – the Gulls had been tipped for mid-table mediocrity at best by so-called “experts” – they should look back on Martin Ling’s first season in charge with pride and satisfaction. Whether Ling can conjure a return to form from his small, tired squad remains to be seen. What is certain is that Cheltenham will prove to be tough opponents in the play-off semi-final.

Hereford came so close to saving their skins after showing late improvement, losing just one of their final six league fixtures. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late, and it is fair to say that relegation always looked likely – a dire record of one win in their first thirteen games set the tone for an appalling season that has included embarrassing 6-1 and 4-0 reverses at home. Should Richard O’Kelly, only appointed in March, stick around for next season, they could bounce back at the first attempt. Hereford fans will certainly hope so.