'Stop the Strikers' crucial for Torquay United

Joe Lewis of Torquay United challenges for the aerial ball with Kyle Wootton of Notts County during

Joe Lewis of Torquay United challenges for the aerial ball with Kyle Wootton of Notts County during the National League Semi Final Play Off match between Torquay United and Notts County at Plainmoor Torquay, Devon on Saturday 12th June 2021 - PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK - Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

You cannot ignore the 'goal stats' in analysing the match-up between Torquay United and Hartlepool United in Sunday's National League Play-Off Final. 

And the message they scream is: "Stop the Pools' strikers!' 

While Gary Johnson's Gulls spread their goals right across the team on their way to second place - Asa Hall 14, Danny Wright 12, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans 10, Billy Waters 8 etc - nearly half of fourth-placed Hartlepool's 66 league goals came from two men. 

Rhys Oates, in his second spell at Victoria Park, scored his 18th goal of the season to beat Stockport County 1-0 in last weekend's Semi-Final, while Luke Armstrong, on loan from Salford City, has hit 14. 

Oates is bang in form with 13 goals in his last 16 games. 

So the key could be how Torquay's young centre-back pairing of Sam Sherring and Joe Lewis cope with Oates and Armstrong - or whether Johnson also adjusts his formation to combat the two strikers. 

When you consider that United's senior centre-backs at the start of the season were Kyle Cameron and summer signings Gary Warren and Fraser Kerr, Sherring and Lewis have played a mighty part in taking the club this far. 

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Cameron, Warren and Kerr were all hampered by injuries, Kerr eventually leaving for Chesterfield. 

Sherring, still only 20, was brought in on loan from AFC Bournemouth initially to help plug the gaps and former loanee Lewis, 21, arrived permanently from Swansea City in January. 

Against all the odds, not least the fact that Lewis is a right-footer playing at left centre-back, the pair have become unsung heroes of a memorable campaign. 

Sherring has played 49 times, Lewis 26, forming an increasingly close partnership since the New Year, coached along the way by assistant manager and former centre-half Aaron Downes. 

On only rare occasions, like the recent 2-2 draw at home to lowly Barnet, have they 'wobbled'. But Sherring was not well that afternoon - Johnson took him off before half-time after he had conceded a penalty. 

They bounced back with a last-day 0-0 'clean sheet' at Altrincham, and their handling of Notts County's dangerous front men, Kyle Wootton and Ruben Rodrigues, was crucial to United's 4-2 win at Plainmoor last Saturday. 

It will be interesting to see whether Johnson, who is never afraid to change tactical 'tack', takes extra measures to combat Oates and Armstrong. 

But whatever Johnson decides, he will have everything crossed that Sherring and Lewis come up trumps again. They have seldom failed to do so far…