Gary Johnson can still be the Gulls' 'trump card'

Torbay Weekly

He won't kick a ball, win a header or make a tackle, except in his mind of course, but Torquay United fans believe that manager Gary Johnson can still be the Gulls' 'trump card' in Saturday's National League play-off semi-final against Notts County at Plainmoor.

If experience, know-how and all those previous promotions count for anything, the Gulls' 65-year-young boss has a great chance of taking United to his old stamping ground of Ashton Gate, Bristol, for the final next Sunday.

But all Johnson's real work will have been done by the midday kick-off tomorrow, and it will then be down to the players he picks to do the job.

That selection remains a closely-guarded secret, and it remains to be seen whether two weeks 'off' have been enough for injured players like Ben Whitfield, Gary Warren or Danny Wright to get close to the fitness required for such a full-on contest.

Two players almost certain to start are the new Torbay Weekly-sponsored Player of the Year Connor Lemonheigh-Evans and the Young Player of the Year Adam Randell.

Both are so committed that it's hard to imagine either being further inspired by their awards. But if they are, all the better...

On-loan Sunderland striker Benji Kimpioka does return to the squad after two games with Sweden under-21s.

Ten points separated runners-up United from Notts (fifth) in the NL table, and we're about to find out if that season-long superiority carries any weight in a one-off 'cup-tie'.

For some reason the bookies make Stockport County (third) favourites to win these play-offs but they must first overcome Hartlepool United at Edgeley Park on Sunday before they can think about heading to Bristol next weekend.

On all known form, it's Johnson's men who should be favourites.

They are unbeaten in 13 games, and their record against the other three semi-finalists this season reads: W2 D3 L1.

Hartlepool are the only team to beat them, 1-0 at Plainmoor, after a 5-0 thrashing at United's hands on Teesside.

In two draws against Notts, Torquay had the better chances at Meadow Lane (0-0) and then came from 0-2 down to make it 2-2 here with ten men in April.

Johnson believes that a fortnight's gap since the last league game has been a bonus, and that he and his staff have used it well to rest, refresh and wind his squad back up to their best.

Notts' decision to sack manager Neal Ardley in March and bring in Sweden-based coach Ian Burchnall was a controversial one, and it looked for a while as if it was a mistake.

But Burchnall has his feet under the table now, he's got his own tune out out of someone else's squad and County are on a run of one defeat in nine games.

Ardley's loan signing of ex-Gulls centre-back Mark Ellis from Tranmere Rovers has certainly paid off - his 90th minute header against Chesterfield (3-2) last weekend was his sixth goal in 20 games for Notts.

Johnson will have been paying extra attention to marking Ellis at set-pieces.

The match-up of two 'veterans' in United skipper Asa Hall and County's Mike Doyle could be key in midfield.

And the Magpies also have potential match-winning forwards in 17-goal leading scorer Kyle Wootton, Portuguese set-piece specialist Ruben Rodrigues and Dutch winger Enzio Boldewijn.

There has been much talk of the influence of a home-only if limited crowd.

Plainmoor will be noisy, have no fear, but these ties can be tense no-quarter-given affairs, and even more important may be the fans being patient and supportive if United don't make an early breakthrough.

It may be a cliche, but for once, the result really is all that counts...

The referee, Andrew Kitchen, comes all the way from County Durham, and he is responsible for the Gulls' assistant manager Aaron Downes watching this semi-final from the grandstand.

Kitchen 'sent off' Downes during United's 2-2 draw at Stockport recently!

United's head of youth and ex-Eastleigh manager Chris Todd will again accompany Johnson in the technical area.