Torquay United show their fighting spirit yet again
CALL THEM inconsistent if you like, but there's nothing wrong with Torquay United's fighting spirit – as League Two leaders Gillingham discovered to their cost at Plainmoor on Tuesday night.
Martin Ling's Gulls, who had already staged that remarkable recovery from 3-0 down to beat Aldershot 4-3 this month, nearly salvaged a point from 2-0 adrift with ten men at Bristol Rovers last Saturday.
This time they found themselves behind again when the Gills, who looked every inch promotion material in the first half, took the lead in the 53rd minute.
Since the goal was partly self-inflicted, it represented another big test of United's resolve and ability.
Holiday Home FOR SALE in Brixham, South Devon £2500 OFF any Regal...View details
Holiday Home FOR SALE IN BRIXHAM WITH SEA VIEWS over looking St. Mary's Bay beach. Come and take a look today. ONE WEEK ONLY. Facilities on site. Pools, Ents, Club, Shop. Quiet park with stunning area
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: Sunday, May 26 2013
But, urged on by their diehard supporters, they roared back to win with goals by Nathan Craig and then Kevin Nicholson five minutes from time.
If there was an element of good fortune about both efforts, it was no more than the Gulls deserved for their second-half display.
All that was missing was a record-beating eighth goal in successive games for leading scorer Rene Howe, but he didn't lose too much sleep about that.
And, whichever way you look at it, the result must have raised a few eyebrows around the rest of the division.
Ling satisfied himself with promoting Danny Leadbitter for his first league start in place of the suspended Joe Oastler and recalling winger Danny Stevens for midfielder Craig Easton, switching from the weekend's 4-1-4-1 to 4-3-3.
Gills boss Martin Allen could afford to make four changes, notably 'resting' his leading scorer Danny Kedwell.
He also paid Lee Mansell the compliment of playing midfielder Callum Davies in front of his back-four, just to counter the threat of United's skipper.
Allen went for the extra pace of former Derby and Charlton striker Deon Burton and USA international Robbie Findley – they were a real handful in the first half – while most of their subs would walk into most teams in this division.
They had United at full-stretch for the first 15 minutes at least, the home side forced to play on the counter.
Chris Whelpdale went close twice, and only a desperate 'pinball' scramble kept the ball out of the net after a Findley header back into the goalmouth in the 37th minute.
But United did start to redress the balance before half-time.
Billy Bodin fired just wide and tested Gills goalie Stuart Nelson with another shot.
Nelson also pulled off a top save from Mansell, after good work by Stevens.
And in the 42nd minute Bodin, slipped through by Howe, couldn't beat Nelson one-on-one from 15 yards.
Referee Brendan Malone helped to crank up the atmosphere with two pretty harsh bookings of Aaron Downes and Leadbitter.
Downes was cautioned, with the help of linesman Adam Matthews, for what looked like a robust but well-timed tackle on Findley, and Leadbitter hardly meant to kick a 'dead' ball past an opponent at 0-0.
Mr. Malone also booked Gills defender Matt Fish for the same offence just after half-time, but that one did look deliberate.
Then, in the 53rd minute, United fell behind.
Leadbitter and Brian Saah put each other off going for the same high ball in their own penalty area, it dropped for Burton and he scored with a firm, first-time left-foot volley from ten yards...0-1.
It was a setback for the whole team, and particularly for Leadbitter, although the pacy young Geordie did not let it affect him.
United needed to respond quickly, and it took them only three minutes to do it.
Leadbitter, always eager to support the attack, was fouled wide on the right.
Craig's free-kick was meant to find a friendly head, but he put so much venom on it and the flight was so good that the ball sailed over Nelson and into the top left-hand corner...1-1.
It was Craig's first goal in League football.
A draw would hardly have been a disaster, but United sensed that they could do better than that.
Stevens, jinking in from the left wing, had a drive deflected narrowly wide.
In the 66th minute Howe was inches away from that record-beating goal.
Mansell found him with a pass just inside Gillingham's half, Howe beat Tom Flanagan with a good touch and turn, and his 20-yard left-foot shot was tipped onto the post and behind by Nelson.
A touch of cramp forced Leadbitter off, to generous applause, in the 82nd minute. Tom Cruise took over.
But United kept going for all three points, and six minutes from time they clinched them.
Starting with Cruise on the right, they worked the ball across the pitch to Nicholson some 35 yards.
Nicholson took a touch, swung his trusty left boot and the shot deflected off Fish and looped over Nelson for the winner...2-1.
It was Nicholson's first goal of the season.
"It wasn't quite in the 'Barnet' class," said Nicholson, thinking back to his goal-of-last-season howitzer against the Bees, "but if you don't shoot, you don't score.
"It was a big deflection, but it was an important goal and I'm going to enjoy it.
"I thought we had a head of steam up when they scored, but we got straight back into it, and we do have mental strength.
"The biggest thing now is Saturday against Morecambe – we haven't put two wins together for a long time, and we need to show that we can do it consistently."
Ling said: "Their goal was down to a bit of misunderstanding between Brian Saah and Danny Leadbitter, and (Deon) Burton stuck it away well.
"I felt disappointed for Danny, because I thought he had a good game.
"But after we got back to 1-1 we asked them a lot of questions, and I don't think anyone would deny that we deserved the win.
"It's easy to forget that we've got quite a few young players in the side, and that's why you do get one or two up and down performances.
"But this was one of our good performances."
The result stretched United's unbeaten home record to seven games and it ended Gillingham's own unbeaten away run.