INTERVIEW: Danny Wright talks Torquay and the play-off final

Into his 14th year as a senior footballer, Norwich-born Danny Wright is no stranger to the pressure of the play-offs. The 36-year-old has been a crucial part in the hitherto successes of Torquay United’s 2020-21 campaign with 13 league goals, despite a lengthy absence through injury.

Wright netted after just 39 seconds of Torquay’s semi-final meeting with Notts County, before going on to score again after halftime.

“Obviously, it was a great start from me and the lads,” Wright said after the extra-time victory.

“We said we wanted to start fast and take the game to them but we didn’t expect it to be that quick – it kind of hampered us a little bit, because afterwards we just sat in and invited pressure onto ourselves.

“I probably couldn’t have written it better myself, especially being the first game back from injury. To get the result we needed as well is a credit to the club. It was the first game my family had been to in over a year so it is a nice occasion for myself and all the boys.

“It was a great performance from everybody and we are looking forward to next week.”

Wright has enjoyed National League success in the past, gaining entry into the Football League as a champion with Cheltenham Town in 2016. Then-Cheltenham boss Gary Johnson stated that he was the “target man” the club needed, and his faith was repaid when Wright returned eight goals in six matches in the early months of 2016.

“There are very similar attributes to the Cheltenham team that we have here,” Wright said.

“[We have] great team bonding with a great set of lads that the gaffer has put together, which we did at Cheltenham as well.

“Obviously, COVID has stopped the usual camaraderie that you may have most seasons, but we’ve kept the spirits in the camp really high. We have been professional with the pandemic and have not let it cost us.”

When Wright was released by Solihull Moors in the Summer of 2020, Johnson pursued the striker’s signature as the finishing touch to the project that he was building at Plainmoor. Playing alongside former teammate Asa Hall, football deep into the West Country came as an attractive prospect to Wright.

“The more I talked to the gaffer [Johnson] and Downesy [Aaron Downes] about signing for Torquay, it was a no-brainer. I played my best football under the gaffer [at Cheltenham] so I thought to give it another go and I still felt fit.

“It was no good me coming down here to just make up the numbers – I needed to make sure I was fit and able to perform for the club and I felt I was. So far, so good.”

The talismanic veteran has struggled with injuries this season, taking two hiatuses to heal and being unavailable for selection in a remarkable number of the matches. There have been a plethora of switches and rotations among the front lines in Wright’s absence, with varying degrees of success.

Youthful Swede Benji Mbunga-Kimpioka joined the Gulls on loan from Sunderland in March 2021, as Black Cats boss Lee Johnson hoped to provide some aid to the desperate situation that his father’s club found themselves in. Kimpioka has shown signs of growth in the few months since he first donned the yellow shirt.

Wright sees his role on the English Riviera as more than just finding the net, passing his vast experience on to the next generation of attackers.

“We’ve got some really talented youngsters in this team – I’m just an old man there to nurture them and make sure they produce their best.

“I’m still going and I’m still feeling fit – even with my injuries this year. It’s not been ideal and it’s a lot of hard work in the gym to make sure you are ready but it all pays off when you are 39 seconds in.

“It’s easier playing than watching, for sure. When I came back from the first injury I had the option [to return] – I was asked how I felt and I felt fine.”

Having been separated from Johnson for a few years, Wright could be excused for falling out of rhythm with the football that the 65-year-old envisions. Despite Johnson being senior to the majority of managers in the National League, Wright still places full confidence in his boss.

“The gaffer is older but he hasn’t changed his style. He still gets the best out of the players like he did before. He can put a team of winners together – he’s got an eye for that with all the promotions he’s had.

“I don’t know if he’s got a bit more mellow in his old age – maybe – but he still gets the best out of me so, whatever it is, it’s great. It’s a credit to the gaffer and Downesy to get to the position we are in this season.

“With the whole club together, we can get the job done.”

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