In terms of making a memorable entrance, United midfielder Armani Little nailed it before the 2019/20 season had even begun.
Less than ten minutes his into Plainmoor bow during the first home pre-season friendly against League 2 neighbours Plymouth Argyle, Little scored a free-kick so sublime that even a section of the travelling support decided to applaud its brilliance.
The Yellow Army already knew that they were getting a quality footballer, having seen the midfielder at close quarters during the 2018/19 campaign, with Armani’s superb performances for title rivals Woking ensuring that The Cards would follow Gary Johnson’s in achieving promotion via the National League South Play-Offs. Indeed, it was another moment of set-piece brilliance from Little in the decider against Welling that would ultimately prove the difference between the two sides.
After signing his first professional contract as a youngster at Premier League side Southampton, Little went on to make two appearances for the clubs’ U21 side in their 2017/18 Checkatrade Trophy campaign, before his thirst for regular action paved the way for a move to League One outfit Oxford United in June 2018.
A hugely successful early loan spell at Woking saw Armani gain valuable game time, as well as establish himself as a midfielder of huge promise. A number of dominant performances helped propel his side towards the National League South’s top spots prior to the festive period, before Oxford manager Karl Robinson decided to recall him back to the Kassam Stadium, in order to monitor his progress at close quarters.
Late December saw Little make his debut for his parent club, with a confident display in their 3-0 Trophy win over a young Tottenham Hotspur side, before getting his first taste of EFL action just over a week later, with a substitute appearance against Southend United.
A second loan spell in Surrey arrived in time for Armani to test himself against Premier League Watford, with Woking eventually bowing out of the FA Cup 2-0.
Johnson’s Torquay side were now in full flight of course, and it was during the two sides’ 3-3 draw at the Laithwaite stadium that Armani produced a display so impressive, that United’s boss promptly earmarked him as a key target in his forthcoming close-season business.
With his release from Oxford unsurprisingly alerting a number of clubs in both the EFL and National League, the early homework of Torquay’s staff would eventually pave the way for a move to Plainmoor, much to the delight of United’s supporters.
A seamless transition to The Gulls’ engine room heralded a number of authoritative performances, and another spectacular strike in the 2-2 at Barnet, before an injury on his return to Woking in September prompted a month on the sidelines.
Upon his return, Little continued to lead the way as United mounted an assault on the National League top spots, culminating in a midfield masterclass in the 4-2 home win over Barrow in late October. After dominating the middle of the park throughout the match, two goals from United’s No.10 only served to further enhance his growing reputation, before the club’s injury woes struck again in the dying stages of the match.
Coming as it did, with Armani pulling up in pursuit of a hat-trick, only further emphasised his sizeable loss to Torquay’s cause.
A subsequent return in January would ultimately prove to be short-lived, however it was no coincidence that having re-established himself back into the starting lineup, United were once again beginning to produce some of their most consistent form.
Whilst the truncated 2019/20 season didn’t allow United’s ardent supporters to see Armani Little often enough, it did serve to enforce the view that the club have a very special player on their hands, and one who will be raring to go once 2020/21 finally gets underway.
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