“A most improbable comeback had been completed by a team that just didn’t give up”
Ben Currie – @bencurrie8
Torquay United mounted an unbelievable comeback to claim all 3 points on a truly unforgettable wet and windy Tuesday night at Plainmoor. Looking dead and buried at 3-0 down, The Gulls drew deep into their reserves of resilience and belief to strike 4 times and turn the match on its head, and send the TQ1 faithful home scarcely able to comprehend what they had just witnessed.
Torquay lined up in their familiar 4-5-1 formation and made two enforced changes from Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Chesterfield. Fit again youngster Nathan Craig replacing Craig Easton in centre midfield, and youth starlet Niall Thompson taking the wide berth from Lloyd Macklin. After a start to the season filled with too many draws, the Yellow Army were targeting getting back on track in the league at the start of a month that sees 4 home league matches.
Aldershot had made an equally mediocre start to their campaign and like Torquay had only won 2 games thus far, the men from Hampshire rolled up in the English Riviera looking to put Saturday’s reverse to York City behind them. They included in their line-up ex-Torquay United cult hero Guy Branston, whose career has seemingly stagnated since his successful 18 month spell on the south coast which saw him named in the League Two team of the season, and win many admirers in the process.
Branston was influential in helping Aldershot take the game to their hosts, entering into an ongoing duel with Rene Howe and trying to unsettle some of Torquay’s younger contingent with a series of robust challenges. A match punctuated by heavy Aldershot time wasting and niggly fouls saw the away team race into a deserved 2-0 half time lead.
The first was simple in its creation; a free kick from wide left was flicked on by an Aldershot head, and prodded in by the un-marked Craig Reid from barely 6 yards out. It was a sloppy set-piece goal to concede but before the inquest could begin the men in black switched gears and with the lead acting as impetus attacked the Torquay goal time and again. Reid dragged a shot from 18 yards wide, Michael Poke was forced to save smartly with his feet and the ball catapulted around the home team box on a couple of occasions as Torquay struggled to get to grips with the driving rain and swirling wind.
The second duly came on 37 minutes when Joe Oastler was adjudged to have man-handled the Aldershot striker to the floor inside the penalty area. Ex-Premiership referee Stuart Atwell showed little hesitation in pointing to the spot and booking the Torquay right back for his misdemeanour. Up stepped the effervescent Reid to confidently smash the ball into the bottle left hand corner, giving Michael Poke absolutely no chance despite diving the right way.
It was not all one-way traffic in the first half although Torquay’s best moments were few and far between. Billy Bodin saw an early half-volley elude the keeper but land the wrong side of the post, Rene Howe struck a powerful drive just over the bar with the keeper beaten and Nathan Craig saw his 20 yard right footed drive beaten away by Jamie Young as United’s threat waned as the half wore on. The talk at half time was whether Torquay could use the weather conditions to their advantage, just as Aldershot had done so expertly in the first half.
If Martin Ling had read the riot act at half time, his instructions looked to have fallen on deaf ears as Reid completed a ruthless hat-trick just 2 minutes after the restart. Pouncing on a rebound after Michael Poke had once more saved with his feet, the Aldershot no.20 wasted no time in striking hard and true into the bottom corner to send the contingent of 80 or so away fans wild, and send some of The Yellow Army to the exits.
At 3-0 the match looked over, and mostly a case of damage limitation. What followed however was a remarkable spell of football that will have TUFC fans reminiscing for years to come. In a year of sporting underdog stories and comeback heroes Torquay United stepped up to the plate and delivered their own interpretation.
The response was immediate, although low key. Nathan Craig’s speculative 30 yard drive was parried by the keeper into the path of Howe, Howe’s mis-hit shot again forced Young into a save, this time his second intervention fell to the loitering Bodin, who slammed the ball into the net. The comeback was on although the crowd was yet to be convinced.
United failed to capitalise on this momentum and struggled to sustain the pressure, they were indebted to Michael Poke who pulled off a brilliant stop to deny Reid his fourth, tipping a fierce drive just round the post when it looked for all the world to be nestling in the corner.
With nothing to lose and with time running out, Ling sent on Ryan Jarvis and changed to a conventional 4-4-2 formation, now with Thompson and Bodin down the wings with constant overlapping support from full backs Kevin Nicholson and Joe Oastler. Once again the response was immediate. No sooner than a minute after coming on had the ex-Norwich frontman notched his first goal of the season. Billy Bodin released Rene Howe down the left hand edge of the penalty area with a precise through ball. The popular number 9’s pull back was stabbed home by Jarvis from a couple of yards out, as the belief that Torquay could salvage something from the game grew around Plainmoor. With 20 minutes left to play Torquay had the ascendency, but could they make their
Torquay were now throwing caution to the wind and attacked in waves it was only last ditch defending and some fine goalkeeping that kept the Gulls at bay. Kevin Nicholson very nearly unlocked his cabinet of spectacular goals once more, as his clearance on his own 18 yard line deceived the keeper Young with a wicked bounce only for the man in green to backtrack and tip it over the bar.
With 10 minutes of normal time remaining Ling threw on another attacker in the form of Ashley Yeoman for the tiring Niall Thompson. A product of Torquay’s youth system, Yeoman has seen his first team opportunities limited in the last two years but he would do his chances of future selection no end of good with an instant impact. The latest in a long line of Torquay corners was laid short to Craig, the pass 10 yards backwards crucially allowed him better whip on his cross, his delivery, as it had been all game, was immaculate, and Yeoman rose highest, and rose first to guide a header into the corner of the net to send TQ1 into a frenzy, and with 5 minutes on the clock there was only going to be one winner.
With the Yellow Army now in full voice willing their team to cap off one of the all-time great lower league comebacks, Torquay surged forwards in search of a winner against a shell-shocked and beleaguered Aldershot team and aptly it was constant menace Rene Howe who would provide it. Again released by Bodin, Torquay’s top-scorer cut inside and rifled an unstoppable drive into the bottom corner of Young’s net at the near post from outside the penalty box to send Plainmoor into scenes of wild celebration.
A most improbable comeback had been completed by a team that just didn’t give up. After questions in some corners recently about desire, passion and quality lacking in the squad, Martin Ling’s men came up with the perfect response: producing a second half performance as will-full and defiant as any you will see.
*Article first published in Highway to Hele fanzine