Defeat shows how much work Knill has left to do
EVEN IN DEFEAT, Torquay United had emerged with some credit after losing to promotion-chasing Fleetwood, Rotherham and Port Vale at Plainmoor recently.
But the Gulls had nowhere to hide after slumping to their seventh successive defeat at the hands of a Gareth Ainsworth-inspired Wycombe Wanderers.
In the space of 40 minutes, Wycombe's veteran player-manager – he'll be 40 in May – made nearly everyone else on the pitch look like novices as he turned around a match which the Gulls desperately needed to win.
Ainsworth must have been a mixture of mad and mystified when he contemplated a 1-0 deficit at half-time.
Holiday Home's FOR SALE in Brixham £1000 off New Homes, South...View details
£1000 Off Any New Holiday Home at Southbay Holiday Village. Prices of new starting from only £17,995 Facilities inc Club, Pools, shop etc, Quiet Park, Choice of Homes and Plots which are furnished
Terms: Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer or with a P/X on park. Come and take a look today and own your own part of South Devon. For allot less than you can imagine!! Letting permitted
Contact: 01803 220485
Valid until: Saturday, June 01 2013
His team had completely outplayed United and still found themselves 1-0 down to Ryan Jarvis' 37th minute shot.
The Chairboys' boss had seen enough within five minutes of the restart, especially when he saw winger Joel Grant take a knock.
Off came his tracksuit, those trademark straggly locks were thrown back and he got to work.
Six games short of his 600th senior appearance, Ainsworth may not be as quick as he once was, but he can still deliver a cross with the best of them.
Every time he got the ball, Ainsworth's strikers knew they could arrive in the penalty area with a pretty good chance of the ball being there too.
United were still in front with only 14 minutes to go, but then the roof fell in.
Dean Morgan, not Ainsworth this time, just beat the offside trap on the right and delivered the ball.
Two Wycombe shots were blocked, but Sam Wood, who'd been pushed forward from left-back to left wing in a mid-half reshuffle, was there at the far post to force the ball home...1-1.
Far from settling for a point, Wycombe sensed that all three were there for the taking.
Five minutes later, after Michael Poke had saved a Matt McClure shot, they ended a run of three defeats with a deserved victory.
This time Ainsworth did supply the cross from the right, and McClure was able to take a couple of touches, work room for a shot and belt the winner past Poke from a dozen yards...2-1.
United could have no complaints, and new interim manager Alan Knill must know now that the job is bigger than even he must have suspected.
In a scarcely believable first 20 minutes Torquay hardly got out of their own half.
Only a series of saves by Poke and, on one occasion the woodwork, kept them on terms.
They badly missed the industry and leadership of skipper Lee Mansell, who was sidelined by sickness.
But in United's situation it was unacceptable that they could be outworked, out-thought and outpaced as completely as they were in that dire opening spell.
Wycombe ended up forcing ten corners by half-time. Midfielders Josh Scowen, who had looked so good in the Chairboys' 2-1 win at Adams Park in October, and Stuart Lewis and strikers McClure and Morgan all went close, McClure heading against the outside of the near-post from Scowen's left-wing cross.
Against Fleetwood, Rotherham and Port Vale, it had been the other way around – United had played well in the first half without reward.
So it was a huge boost when, from virtually their first decent attempt at goal, they scored in the 37th minute.
Jarvis found Billy Bodin with a raking crossfield ball from right to left, Bodin burst between two defenders on the edge of the area, laid the ball back to Jarvis and he fired into the top right-hand corner from 15 yards.
It was his seventh goal of the season.
Poke did have to save with his legs from Bruno Andrade seconds later, but the goal had lifted United and Wycombe goalie Jordan Archer did well to tip over a Bodin free-kick just before half-time.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Tuesday night was that, even with the level of performance they did produce, United could and should have earned a winning lead.
Rene Howe, Elliot Benyon – he worked hard all night to give his teammates an 'out' ball – Bodin and Brian Saah all had chances.
Only a terrific block by Wycombe defender Dave Winfield deflected Bodin's goalbound 72nd minute shot over the bar.
And how Saah missed Kevin Nicholson's follow-up corner at close range, only he'll ever know.
It felt like a pivotal moment, and it proved to be one.
Less than four minutes later Wycombe, visibly galvanised by Ainsworth's energy and know-how, equalised and then won it.
Knill was rightly quick to praise the Plainmoor faithful for sticking with the side on such a bad night. As a whole, the supporters never 'turned' on the team on Tuesday, remarkable in the circumstances.
Results from elsewhere – all the teams below United gained ground on them – just rubbed salt into the wounds.