Rampant Torquay United show attacking prowess to see off shoddy Stanley
It could have been half a dozen in the end, but Torquay United beat Accrington Stanley convincingly enough to close to within a point of the npower League Two play-offs zone at Plainmoor.
The all-important goal in the Gulls' 3-1 win was not Rene Howe's fifth minute penalty or skipper Lee Mansell's wildly celebrated first of the season to finish the job ten minutes from time, but Billy Bodin's 67th-minute header.
Goals change games, of course, and, only two minutes before Bodin stooped to head home Nathan Craig's peach of a pass, Accrington had punished a stack of missed Torquay chances by equalising.
Torquay manager Martin Ling admitted that he agreed with the home fans who had feared just that scenario, as a succession of openings were squandered in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
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Stanley, lifted by a couple of attacking substitutions from their super-animated manager Paul Cook and still passing the ball keenly, looked a serious threat at that stage. But when, so soon after Padraig Amond's leveller, Bodin converted Craig's inviting diagonal cross, the visitors visibly wilted.
It was an important result for United, following the below-par 2-1 defeat at Wycombe Wanderers the previous weekend, and they are starting to look like one of the upwardly mobile teams in the division. They were on top for much of Saturday's match, partly because Accrington, as Ling had predicted, played a five-man midfield, only one up front, and were happy to look for counter-attacks.
It has worked pretty well for them so far this season, but quite a few well-laid plans must have been undermined when United scored so early.
Craig, whose work on the ball was a delight for most of the afternoon, had a hand in that goal too. When Kevin Nicholson's left-wing cross beat everyone in the middle, it was the young Welshman who retrieved the ball beyond the far post. He chipped the ball back into the goalmouth, but left-back Craig Liddle's raised arm halted the flight and referee Simon Hooper awarded the penalty.
Howe beat goalkeeper Ian Dunbavin with a stuttering run and a low shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
It was Howe's ninth goal of the season and his sixth in successive League matches. He is now only one short of equalling the club's all-time record in that department.
Ling had recalled fit-again Damon Lathrope to his tried and trusted midfield "anchorman" role, allowing Craig and Mansell to forage further forward. Howe was always a threat up front and, when they passed the ball with real pace and intent, Torquay looked the better side.
Mansell, Danny Stevens, Bodin and Lathrope all went close to a second goal and how United did not stretch their lead up to the hour-mark was a mystery.
Howe, clear after Rob Atkinson slipped, Bodin twice, Stevens and Nicholson all could or should have scored. In the 61st minute Cook sent on his leading scorer, Amond, and attacking midfielder Bohan Dixon to try to turn the tide, and five minutes later the combination worked.
Dixon's diagonal cross from the left was just too good for Aaron Downes in the middle, and Amond headed home his sixth goal of the season.
Ling already had Lloyd Macklin warmed up and ready for action before the goal, and he immediately replaced Stevens. To Plainmoor's huge collective relief, United were back in front on 67 minutes thanks to Craig's craft and Bodin's opportunism, and that goal proved the turning point.
Ling sent on the experienced Craig Easton for Craig, to build in a little more defensive insurance into his midfield for the closing stages, but it did not stop United creating several more chances.
It looked like Mansell was going to end another afternoon goalless until he finally hit the target in the 80th minute. Brian Saah forced a corner on United's right, Nicholson swung the flag-kick to the far post where Mansell, unmarked, headed in.
They might have helped themselves to more goals even after that – Easton and Bodin denied, Howe off target – but perhaps the real frustration was the departure of Macklin. He was on the field for only 17 minutes before a foot injury forced the young winger off, and United fear that he may have cracked a bone.
If the Gulls beat Yeovil Town at Plainmoor in tomorrow's rearranged Johnstone's Paint Trophy second-round tie, they will be at home to Wycombe Wanderers in the southern quarter-finals (to be played week starting December 3).