Torquay United's defensive resources are stretched to the limit
As one door opens, another often slams in your face, and no sooner had Torquay United manager Alan Knill boosted his attacking options with the signing of Charlton Athletic striker Ade Azeez on loan this week than a gap has appeared in defence, with Aaron Downes going down with injury.
Last season’s player-of-the-year Downes could be out for a month, maybe longer, after suffering a knee problem in training on Thursday. That will force some serious thinking as the Gulls head for Rodney Parade and League Two a date with Newport County on Saturday afternoon.
The Plainmoor wage-bill coped with the arrival of pacy 19-year-old Azeez, but it may have to be stretched a bit further as Downes’ injury and other circumstances leave United thin at centre-back. Kyrtis McKenzie, who would be an obvious replacement, is not fully fit after having problems adjusting to his new diabetes condition, while ex-Birmingham City defender Jack Deaman is still on trial.
They say that attack is the best form of defence, and United should have no worries on that score. Four goals, all from forwards, against Cheltenham Town last Saturday delivered a timely boost, and Azeez gives Knill more ammunition up front.
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The Kent-born forward had loan spells last winter with Wycombe Wanderers and Leyton Orient, where he picked up an injury and Charlton rate him highly.
“I watched Ade last season – he’s a tall lad with real pace. Charlton had other offers from clubs who wanted to take him, so I’m delighted that they’ve decided to let him come to us, and all the people I’ve spoken to have recommended him,” said Knill.
The youth loan is initially for a month and Azeez goes straight into Saturday’s squad, but, with Callum Ball (two) and Karl Hawley both on the scoresheet against Cheltenham, he may have to settle for a place on the bench.
Newport may be favourites on most coupons, and Knill acknowledges: “Teams that come up always have a lot of togetherness and a good spirit. Newport were good last year – I saw them a couple of times – and even though they have just come up, you know the players well enough.
“They have several lads with League experience. But our mood is good after the Cheltenham result. Only after Fleetwood [4-1 defeat] were we really down, because we didn’t perform there. But in nearly every other game we thought we had done reasonably well, created chances and might have got more points than we did.”
It is 25 years since the two clubs last met with points at stake – United won 6-1 at Plainmoor under the late Cyril Knowles in April 1988. County finished bottom and promptly dropped out of the League.
They were drawn together in the FA Trophy in 2008, United winning 2-1 at County’s temporary home at Spytty Park athletics stadium.
Newport made an impressive start to this season, knocking Brighton out of the Capital One Cup in Sussex, but they then ran into injury problems and their 2-0 win at Exeter City last Saturday was their first victory in six games.
County are likely to include former Exeter man Billy Jones in midfield, but travelling Gulls fans will be paying most attention to the threat up front from the hosts.
Former United forward Chris Zebroski dropped out of League football after having his contract terminated by Cheltenham midway through last season – he ended up playing for Eastleigh in the Conference South – but County snapped him up in the summer and the former Plymouth Argyle and Torquay winger has made a good start to his Newport career.
Zebroski, still only 26, is expected to continue a strike partnership with 21-year-old youth-team product Conor Washington, who caused the Grecians plenty of problems last weekend.
Torquay United (from): Rice, C Thompson; Tonge, Pearce, Cruise, Nicholson, Chapell, Mansell, Harding, Bodin, Ball, Hawley, Lathrope, Azeez, Benyon, Cameron, Craig, Sullivan, Yeoman, Hutchings.
Unavailable: Poke (thigh), Downes (knee), McKenzie (illness), N Thompson (on loan to Worcester City).