ECHOSPORT talks to Torquay United fan Andy Charles ahead of Saturday's match with Southend United.

Like Southend, Torquay have not made the greatest start to the season. Why do you feel that is?

“There are lots of factors involved here but it’s obvious to most fans I have interacted with that our squad is significantly weaker now than it was at the end of 2020/21.

“There is no doubt the key players - those who departed, those released or whose loans ended - have not been replaced with similar quality.

“On top of that, only six games in, we’re again suffering significant injury problems and wouldn’t have been able to fill our bench on Tuesday at Solihull without a short-term contract addition, and I think I am on safe ground to say at least four players are starting who are nowhere near 100 per cent fit.

“That wasn’t helped by what seemed to be a rushed and strange pre-season, which didn’t really include more than one properly competitive game and a weird 10-day gap before the subdued 3-1 home defeat by Altrincham. Then there is the simple promotion near-miss hangover.

“We had such an incredible chance to go up last season, blowing it with a dreadful run in January and February (injuries bit deep again) and then in the last four games, all of them drawn and all featuring clear chances to win.

“Win three of those and we’re up. It was almost predictable that we would then find a way to blow the play-off final, especially after our goalkeeper Lucas Covolan somehow took us to extra-time with an extraordinary headed goal in the closing seconds!"

So have there been many changes since you were beaten in that play-off final?

“Too many changes for us to cope with it would seem on early evidence. Although our starting line-up still features six of the regular starters from the end of last season, it is clear that losing Covolan, who had established himself as one of the better goalkeepers in the National League, and Kyle Cameron has hurt a lot more than people expected and we have not replaced the pace options provided by Aaron Nemane and Ben Whitfield.

“We were among the best in the league defensively last season and are second-worst so far in 21/22.

“Players we released – Scott Boden, Billy Waters, Josh Umerah – are all scoring for their new National League sides and we’ve seen very little from Dan Holman, one of the late replacements who came out of retirement to try his luck in professional football again.

“Other new signings have come in with no experience of this level of football and there are very few who have impressed.

“The one we were possibly most hopeful of – Tom Lapslie, from your friends up the A12 in Colchester – has proved something of a sicknote. None of us would be surprised to see new signings 12, 13 and possibly 14 rock up before Saturday as well. “

So what had been your hopes for Torquay this season?

“It’s a tough division with a lot of money swirling around. I was still fairly confident of a playoff challenge at least – somewhere from fifth to 10th was my guess – but this start has really knocked my hopes.

“We’ve played OK in our three away games, but the home efforts have been somewhere between poor and shambolic.”

Southend had many battles with Torquay in the League. But how have things gone for you since your relegation?

“Having a few friends who support the Shrimpers, a trip to Roots Hall has always been one to look forward to, although none is ever going to beat the 2004 trip when the ensuing promotion party went on long into Sunday (and Monday for some). I’ve still got no idea who Lawrie Dudfield wasn’t given a penalty right in front of our fans for one of the clearest fouls you will ever see.

“We’ve obviously been through a lot since we dropped into non-league for the first time with a brief promotion back into the league before becoming one of the few ex-league clubs to drop down into the sixth tier.

“Thankfully that drop to NLS, and the visits to lovely Canvey Island and Corringham, lasted only one season thanks to Gary Johnson’s arrival but it was still nice to visit some different grounds and that has become part of the adventure.

“It’s still not something I would recommend though!”

Who would you say is the dangerman?

“There is at least one goalkeeper and a couple of defenders who are a danger to Torquay fans’ health but, in terms of scoring threat and general play, it’s probably going to have to be reigning player of the year Connor Lemonheigh-Evans.

“He’s not been at his best this season because a change of formation to 4-4-2 has meant him playing wide on the right, when he’s much better suited to a No 10/withdrawn forward role.

“He also had a few injury/illness issues in pre-season so is one of those players still catching up on fitness. “

What’s the team news for Saturday?

“Throw all the names into a hat and see where they land. I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see two or three players added to the squad and a couple leave.

“We had five players go down at some point against Grimsby last weekend, although four of those still featured in midweek with key midfielder Armani Little the only one to miss out.

“Gary Johnson is usually very precious over the injury information he gives out but it would seem unlikely Little will be back in time.

“Will be interesting for me to see if Johnson bins the 4-4-2 “experiment” and goes back to the 4-2-3-1 we had much more success with last season, especially if most recent signing Alex Addai is ready to go as he is as close to a winger as we have.

“Goalkeeper Mark Halstead, whose start to life at Plainmoor has been rocky to say the least, was taken ill at half-time on Tuesday so it could be first home start for Marcin Brzozowski.”