NL Premier clubs should want to continue

Gary Johnson, Manager of Torquay United celebrates after the FA Trophy Second Round match between Bo

Gary Johnson, Manager of Torquay United celebrates 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

Torquay United manager Gary Johnson believes that a majority of National League ‘Premier’ clubs want to keep playing and he appears to be cautiously optimistic that the season will be completed.  

A decision on the future of the campaign, at both Premier and North/South levels, will be taken after all clubs have had their say over the weekend.  

The chances of Torquay carrying on with their title push are likely to improve if, as expected, the Premier division is allowed to make its own decision.  

The part-time North and South divisions are already in a two-week suspension, amid a funding row and safety concerns under Covid-19 restrictions. But the full-time Premier continues, and United take a nine-point lead to bottom club Barnet on Saturday.  

“I don’t think there’s any great demand from the NL teams in our league who want to cancel the season. The goalposts haven’t changed there,” said Johnson.  

He also stressed the importance of keeping the two-up-down promotion and relegation into the EFL and out of it.  

Having preserved their advantage in 0-0 draws against title rivals Notts County and Sutton United over the last two games, the Gulls have a chance to improve their position at struggling Barnet and then home to surprise packets Altrincham (4th) on Tuesday night (7.45pm).  

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Sutton and Hartlepool United, second and third, meet on Teesside, before Sutton hit the road again, to Stockport County (5th) next midweek.  

The fact that United strengthened their squad further this week – it’s an encouraging sign that several of their rivals have done the same lately – with the signing of defender Joe Lewis from Swansea City, may be a hint that sidelined duo Gary Warren and Fraser Kerr may be out for a while longer.  

But of equal importance is the fitness of captain Asa Hall in midfield. Hall was not risked against Notts or Sutton, but Johnson reports that he has a chance of returning at The Hive, and that would be a real boost.  

Barnet slipped to the bottom with a 3-1 defeat at fellow strugglers Dover Athletic this week. They are already on their second manager of the season in ex-Solihull Moors boss Tim Flowers and he has just signed former Swansea forward Courtney Baker-Richardson on loan from Barrow to the end of the season.  

But despite their excellent general form, eleven of the points the Gulls have dropped have come against teams currently in the bottom nine positions, so nothing can be taken for granted in this most unpredictable of seasons.  

“In this league especially, there is some ability and quality that’s capable of winning a game – that’s true of Barnet as it is of everyone else,” said Johnson.  

“I’m just pleased, at a time when there’s so many dilemmas in people’s minds, that we’re getting the games in – it’s important for us and, I think, also for fans everywhere.”  

Meanwhile, United are declining to comment on a report that former Plainmoor winger Kalvin Kalala is threatening legal action over the club’s handling of his departure last summer.  

Kalala turned down a new deal after two seasons at the club, but the Gulls retained their option, under ‘Bosman’ freedom of movement rules, to demand a fee for the Frenchman as he is under 24.  

Kalala has not played anywhere else over the last eight months, but is now instructing a lawyer in Paris to challenge the legality of United’s stake in him.