Gulls at Southport in the Trophy

Torquay United players shake hands after the FA Trophy Second Round match between Boreham Wood and T

Torquay United players shake hands after the FA Trophy Second Round match between Boreham Wood and Torquay United at Meadow Park, Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire on 19 Jan 2021. Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK - Credit: Micah Crook/PPAUK

Saturday’s FA Trophy tie between Southport and Torquay United sums up most of the difficult issues which currently surround the fate of the non-League season.  

The two teams will meet at Haigh Avenue with Southport playing the Fifth Round match at the same time as voting to end their own National League North campaign in the face of the Covid and funding crises.  

NL leaders Torquay emphatically want to keep going in both the league and the Trophy. At least Southport are also in favour of the NL ‘Premier’ and the North/South voting separately on whether to end the season early.  

That’s definitely what the Gulls want, for there appears to be a majority of their rivals who also want to carry on. The whole situation even places a major question-mark over the Trophy itself, a competition whose 2020 Final hasn’t even been played yet!  

Nine of the 16 teams left are from the North/South or, in the case of Hornchurch and Peterborough Sports, even lower. At least three of those ‘minnows’ will be in Monday’s Quarter-Final draw, at a time when their own league seasons may well be over and done with.  

How is that going to be sustainable over the next month or two?  

The authority of the National League Board is also evaporating. Their decision, almost certainly taken with the Trophy in mind, to order the North and South divisions to end a two-week suspension and start playing again this weekend is simply being ignored by many clubs.  

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Against this background, the Gulls head North seeking a pick-me-up, and another £6,000 in prize money, after Tuesday’s 2-1 home league defeat by Altrincham.  

The major talking-point from that match was manager Gary Johnson’s decision to play with a ‘false’ No. 9 in midfielder Connor Lemonheigh-Evans in what ended up as a 4-5-1 formation. 

In the continuing absence of centre-forward and leading scorer Danny Wright, who is recovering from hamstring surgery, another obvious deputy in Josh Umerah wasn’t even in the squad.  

Johnson has confirmed that Umerah was fit, and he is back on the coach this weekend. Crystal Palace loanee Rob Street, along with Billy Waters, did come off the bench in midweek, but Street is only 19 and having his first taste of senior football, and it’s not a surprise that United are looking around for other options.  

“We are always looking, and we’ve had several talks with people who have scored goals and are more experienced,” he said. “Some people may think it’s easy, but it’s not in this pandemic – if a player comes down to us, he’s not going to be allowed home for a couple of months, with all that involves for wives, kids and families.”  

Johnson may well ‘rotate’ his squad against Southport. The Sandgrounders haven’t played since upsetting FC Halifax Town 2-1 away in the last round on January 19, and they have since sold their captain and attacking midfielder David Morgan to League One Accrington Stanley.