A League 2 blog with an overwhelmingly pro-Torquay United bias
Recap of last season
The Gulls’ young side surprised everyone by reaching the playoffs, playing an attractive passing style which belied their modest budget, but couldn’t break down Stevenage in the final. Manager Paul Buckle wasted no time in departing for Bristol Rovers thereafter, taking several key players with him and leaving his replacement Martin Ling with some urgent recruiting to do.
I’m sure that Paul Buckle’s failure to tie goalkeeper Scott Bevan and on-loan midfielder Craig Stanley to long-term deals towards the end of his reign has nothing to do with them both joining him at Bristol Rovers for free over the summer. A similar reluctance to extend the stay of player of the season Guy Branston has allowed him to depart for Bradford, while Buckle came back to liberate top-scoring winger/striker Chris Zebroski for a suspiciously undisclosed fee. Back-up goalkeeper Danny Potter has also moved on.
One disappointing season at Cambridge aside, Martin Ling has a strong track record and has already coaxed vastly improved performances from some of his fringe players in pre-season. While he’ll have a point to prove, he’s under no pressure from the Board to repeat last season’s promotion challenge, which should relax both staff and players alike while helping the new squad to settle. Perhaps due to their remote location, the Gulls have a strong record at Plainmoor and few sides created more chances last season. Their tendency to go on runs (admittedly a double-edged sword) could see a late surge up the table.
Drawing one of the division’s smallest crowds creates obvious budgetary constraints: bad luck with injuries or the departure of a few stars could expose a lack of squad depth. The number of new faces this season could mean a shaky start while the side gels and Ling refines his tactics. Under Buckle, Gulls were prone to giving away too many needless fouls and shipping late goals, so the new manager will have to iron out these costly habits. There’s also the possibility that a few of the necessary gambles on unproven youngsters and non-league players fail to come off. As alluded to above, a propensity for going on runs works both ways: this is still a young team and heads could well drop if things aren’t going well.
Eunan O’Kane – a young attacking midfield all-rounder with great technique, vision, passing range and a decent shot. This could be the year he sets the division alight, particularly if his understanding with fellow Northern Ireland Under 21 international Billy Kee continues to develop. If he picks up where he left off last season, Gulls will do well to hang onto him.
One to watch
Saul Halpin – an exciting young left winger with an eye for goal who broke into the first team squad from the youth system last season. Halpin is held in high regard by his team-mates and has already attracted interest from Championship clubs. The departure of several players ahead of him in the pecking order means he should get his chance to stake a regular starting place this time around.
A mid-table finish is a realistic hope in what will be a transitional season. Expect a stuttering start to the campaign while the new manager and players get used to each other, but don’t rule out a late upwards surge if Ling can harness the obvious potential of his younger charges.
Ben: I’m backing Martin Ling to get the best out of us, but a repeat of last season may be too much of a stretch. Just outside the play-offs. (EDIT: Ignore everything after this sentence)
Danny: Maybe a transitional season in mid-table for the Gulls (sorry Ben!)
Maxi: As Danny, transition for the Gulls. Mid table at best.
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