Beaten United worthy of their standing ovation
THE RECORD will show that Torquay United bowed out of the 2012 League Two Play-Offs on a 4-1 aggregate after they lost both legs to Cheltenham Town.
But that hardly tells the full story of a tie which could so easily have gone the other way.
In the First Leg at Whaddon Road, Martin Ling's Gulls had three good chances, but missed them all, before Cheltenham scored the first goal of their 2-0 win.
At Plainmoor last Thursday night United backed the Robins up against the Babbacombe End in the first half and gave them a proper working over.
But, despite hitting the woodwork twice and inspiring the game of his life from Town goalkeeper Scott Brown, they still couldn't score.
Gulls fans gave Ling's men great support all night, but when Kevin Nicholson crashed a 22-yard free-kick against the bar and out on the stroke of half-time, many of them must have suspected that it wasn't going to be their night.
Brown had already pulled off brilliant saves from Eunan O'Kane and Ryan Jarvis, and Cheltenham defender Keith Lowe had used the post to complete a goalline clearance.
In the 55th minute United skipper Lee Mansell's header hit Town centre-back Alan Bennett and was looping over Brown until he scrambled back, arched up and tipped the ball over his bar at full-stretch.
The moment that effectively settled the tie came in the 75th minute, and it was a near-carbon copy of Cheltenham's first goal at home.
Right winger Jermaine McGlashan dashed round the back of Kevin Nicholson, this time Kaid Mohamed supplied the pass inside United's left-back and McGlashan finished with an angled shot in off Gulls goalie Bobby Olejnik.
Substitute Taiwo Atieno grabbed some consolation for United in the 85th minute, glancing home O'Kane's near-post corner...1-1.
But two minutes later Cheltenham midfielder Marlon Pack had the final word, and it was quite an emphatic one.
Pack hit a dipping, swerving 25-yard free-kick that Ronaldo would have been proud of.
Olejnik, who could hardly believe the flight of the ball, had no chance.
Over three hours Cheltenham had created fewer chances than United, but outscored them by four to one.
But the way that Torquay's fans stayed after the final whistle to cheer Ling's team was both indicative of how much they had enjoyed a remarkable season and a real lift for the players and staff.
Cheltenham boss Mark Yates was quick to admit that at half-time he was worried whether his side could survive much more of the pressure his side was under.
They did, and good luck to them.
But the fact is that Yates has had two-and-a-half years, and a bit more hard cash than many people realise, to put his squad together.
Ling has had less than 12 months.
Yates could choose between five senior strikers, all of whom could probably get in United's side. And his 'bench' was much stronger.
Ling had a real job choosing between Jarvis and Atieno as the replacement for his injured leading scorer Rene Howe. His 'bench' included 19-year-old on-loan defender Angus MacDonald and 21-year-old striker Ashley Yeoman, who has never started a League match.
The vast majority of those Torquay fans realised that United had exceeded all expectations in rising, on the back of an extraordinary mid-season charge, up to second place at one stage.
United managed to avoid a 'blip' for so long, but when it did come, it was at the worst possible time, over the last month of the season.
Cheltenham didn't win a game in March, but had time to recover and regain their form.
A year ago the Robins had done much as United did this time – they got themselves into contention and then fell away.
This season Yates had made them that much better and stronger, especially in depth.
The task for Ling now is to do the same.
Torquay United (4-1-4-1): Olejnik; Oastler, Saah, Ellis, Nicholson; Lathrope (Atieno 61); Morris, Mansell, O'Kane, Stevens (MacDonald 73); Jarvis; subs not used – Rice (gk), Yeoman.
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): Brown; Lowe, Bennett, Elliott, Jombarti; McGlashan (Hooman 90), Summerfield, Pack, Mohamed; Spencer (Penn 46), Burgess (Goulding 82); subs not used – Smikle, Duffy.
Referee: Andy D'Urso (Essex).
Bookings: United – Morris (foul 45), Ellis (foul 71).
Attendance: 3,606 (631 Robins fans).
Statistics: Fouls – United 12, Robins 7; Offsides – United 2, Robins 1; Corners – United 8, Robins 3; Shots/Headers On Target – United 8, Robins 7; Off Target – United 6, Robins 3; Hit Woodwork – United 2, Robins 0.