It came down to two 'lotteries' but we're determined to come back stronger

Torbay Weekly

When such an important game, a whole season in fact, comes down to penalties, it's understandable that fans look at it in fine detail and ask why you did this and why you didn't do that.

I thought I'd try and give a little idea about just what went into the shoot-out that we lost 5-4 in the play-off final against Hartlepool United at my old 'home' Ashton Gate on Sunday.

I think many people have imagined what it might be like to stand over a penalty to win, say, the World Cup. Or a 6ft-putt to win the Open.

You joke with your mates, tell yourself all the right things, even put up an extra prize or two. But it still can't replicate the real thing.

Because we knew that either of our play-off games might go to shoot-outs, we held penalty competitions throughout the two weeks leading up to them. And I mean EVERY DAY!

The 11 players who were likely to start were up against the 11 who weren't, or were going to be on the bench.

I even threatened the '1st XI' with a 12-minute run if they lost. Just to increase the pressure - none of them wanted to do that!

It's how Dean Moxey stepped up for the penalty we had against Notts County - he had slotted his penalties away so coolly that we had to push him up the order. And didn't he put his one away well at Plainmoor!

So, in Plan A, Dean would have been our first taker in the final, Jake Andrews would have been in the top-three, and Adam Randell and Kyle Cameron would both have been on the list.

But, as things turned out, Jake was carried off with a two-inch gash in his calf, and we'd taken Dean, Adam and Kyle off for fitness or tactical reasons.

You have to make those decisions when you're trying to win a game in normal time.

We knew that Armani (Little), Connor (Lemonheigh-Evans), Asa (Hall) and Wrighty (Danny Wright) were all very leggy, but they were still happy to take their penalties, as was Billy Waters.

Of all the ones that went in (Hall, Little, Lemonheigh-Evans, Joe Lewis), none of them were flukes - they'd been practising them for weeks.

Billy slipped and missed - he did have the right boots on, by the way - and Danny's hit the bar with the keeper beaten. Fine margins, I think they say.

It came down to Matt Buse in the end. He hit his shot well, but the keeper made a very good save onto the bar - no shame there.

Lucas (Covolan) did his job and saved their first two, but you can't 'miss' three and expect to win a shoot-out.

Still, you can't help wondering how it might have turned out if we'd been able to have one or two more of those 'first choices' available.

For me, the day came down to two 'lotteries' - the lottery of penalties and the lottery of the refereeing decisions which cost us so dearly.

I've been on the right end over the years and on the wrong end.

I still believe that two teams should be promoted from the National League and another one through the play-offs.

The top half of the NL is already as strong, if not stronger, than the bottom half of League Two, yet we're still tarred with this brush of 'non-League'.

If the teams coming down from the EFL and up into the NL continue as they are, we're going to have an increasing bottle-neck of leading NL clubs that should be in the EFL but can't get there because of the rules as they stand.

Our work for next season actually started a while ago, and there's less time than usual to finish it this year.

But we're determined to come back stronger, so enjoy the summer and we look forward to seeing our fantastic Yellow Army back in August...