Frome fell victim to Torquay United in the Third Round of the FA Trophy as they suffered a 1-4 defeat in front of an epic attendance at Badgers Hill. The National League South side were frighteningly clinical, racing into a two-goal lead within half an hour through Theo Williams and Ollie Tomlinson. There will forever be speculation on what could have been when Jon Davies missed a penalty, However, the Gulls showed their quality in a second half, striker Williams again on the scoresheet and one for substitute Will Jenkins-Davies. A well-worked consolation scored by Sam Meakes was deserved as the Robins gritted it out to full-time.
This was the glamour tie that all associated with the club had craved. After seeing off Worthing in the previous round, there was an opportunity for the Robins to back it up and pit themselves against one of the challengers in the National League South. Christmas had come a fortnight early with this ‘game of the decade’, the week’s build-up dripping with lashings of hyperbole and optimism. Frome’s recent record had been impressive to boot, their only loss in the last seven weeks coming when a much-changed side fell victim to Bath City in the Somerset Premier Cup. Danny Greaves elected to restore some key lieutenants to the starting line-up. Skipper Sam Teale was not going to miss an occasion like this for the world and Sam Meakes, lionheart of the last round, came in to lead the line.
Prior to this season, no Frome side had ever prevailed in five FA Trophy ties in a single campaign. The BA11 side could hardly be in better form at home, unbeaten in their last sixteen and tallying up ten wins on the bounce. Thought it was clear from the start that this was not going to be a repeat of the dynamic opening jabs of the previous round, the Devon side had to find their feet and assess the gusty conditions. Frome’s back three snuffed out the danger as Torquay began to pull the strings, swift as ever on the counter-attack. Just before the twentieth minute, a miscommunication in Frome’s midfield saw the blue shirts swarm, the critical pass finding Williams who threaded his shot past Kyle Phillips.
Despite Pierce Mitchell’s barks to his teammates imploring them to stick to their game plan and not panic, a set-piece just before the half-hour mark caused confusion and Teale’s attempted header to clear was volleyed in by Tomlinson from the edge of the box, Phillips getting a hand to the well-struck effort. Kane Simpson and Sam Meakes pushed hard in attack, the former felled in the box to win a penalty, but Davies, going left, was denied by Rhys Lovett’s glove as the keeper edged a tame attempt beyond the post. Torquay had shown their class, their lead secured almost without breaking sweat.
Two goals down at the break, the challenge ahead was hardly trivial. Going into the tie, Torquay sat 44 places above Frome, perched at fourth in the National League South. The Gulls have been in the Football League in recent memory and are managed by Gary Johnson, whose name and successes are well-known in these parts. Aside from Alex Monks’ shot glancing of the post, the opening minutes of the second half were characterised by scrappy tussles in Frome’s half as the Gulls harassed the Robins. Torquay had shown their iron-cold clinical streak int he first half, and Theo Williams, the ball falling to him in space, was not letting standard drop despite the lead when he calmly secured his brace on the hour. Just a couple of minutes later, replacement forward Jenkins-Davies capitalised on the referee playing the advantage to claim the visitors’ fourth.
With plenty of time to play, there was momentary concern that it would be more. But the Robins do not give up - Teale encouraged his companions in defence and prevented a fifth with his face no less. The comeback was never on, but the crowd’s urges and Frome’s possession late in the game paid off as Kane Simpson foxtrotted his way past the Torquay centre-backs, his pass finding Rigg whose delivery was tapped in by Sam Meakes with fifteen minutes to play. Another Frome goal was ruled out for offside and the rest of the tie was played out without incident.
Football is not fair - everybody has watched long enough to know this. But it’s made crueller by that sunny optimism in the build-up, that question of ‘what if’. That shred of hope is and will always be what kills you in the end. Danny Greaves had said in a frank BBC Somerset interview last night that, if Frome were to play Torquay ten times, his side would be doing well to beat them once. The manager is not far off with that statement based on Torquay’s performance, but he can take solace that the squad by no means disgraced themselves and, in fact, the BA11 side did the 1,305 supporters in the ground proud, a highest competitive attendance at Badgers Hill since the 70s. There is a lot to take from this defeat and the manner in which this side has gone about their business, facing up against a quality side. But it does not stop there, with four key ties in the league remaining in December. The dedication and the endeavour demonstrated by the players, staff and fans in this FA Trophy campaign must continue in consecutive home games to neighbours Westbury and title contenders Wimborne this week. There is a great deal of work to do, plenty of games left this season, but just as many reasons to be encouraged.
Match report and live updates by Zeb Baker-Smith.
Plenty of games still to come! Secure your tickets for our festive fixtures below: