Martin Ling forced into changes as Brian Saah begins ban while key duo return
On and off the pitch, Torquay United know they can do themselves a power of good if they beat Northampton Town at Plainmoor this afternoon (3pm).
On a day when six of League Two's top eight clubs meet each other, victory for the Gulls could well force them into the play-off zone.
The prospect, next Saturday, of United and Exeter City then going head-to-head at Plainmoor with both Devon rivals in the top seven would do no harm to derby ticket sales just before Christmas. United manager Martin Ling will not allow any thoughts of facing the Grecians to cloud today's issue.
"I'm much more interested in getting a result against Northampton than talking about Devon derbies – I can't do anything about them right now, but I can do something about Northampton," said Ling.
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The Gulls' boss faces more selection decisions today than he has done for some time.
A couple appear fairly straightforward.
Loan signing Angus MacDonald is pencilled in for the suspended Brian Saah at centre-back, and Ling has hinted that Joe Oastler, available after a one-match ban, may get the call over Danny Leadbitter at right-back.
Ling also has his captain and midfielder Lee Mansell back after a three-game suspension, and that might give him more cause for thought. "It's good to have Lee back – he's champing at the bit to say the least. He's been frustrated these last few weeks," said Ling.
Ling reshuffled his formation in the wake of Mansell's ban, playing Craig Easton and Nathan Craig in holding roles behind an attacking trio of Billy Bodin, Ryan Jarvis and Danny Stevens.
They all did pretty well in wins at York and home to Dagenham before last Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Bradford, where United held out until five minutes from time following Saah's first-half dismissal.
Ling, who is usually pretty open about these matters, has been keeping his own counsel this week. At the back, young MacDonald, 20, may well have to cope with the considerable threat of Northampton's former Torquay targetman Bayo Akinfenwa, who has just been named as League Two's player of the month after scoring seven times in five matches during November.
"He's been on fire for them recently and, even though they had a bad result last Saturday [losing 3-2 at home to Cheltenham], he still managed to get on the scoresheet," said Ling.
"If we can keep him quiet, that will help to keep Northampton quiet as well.
"We are in a situation, with Brian [Saah] missing for three games and Aaron Downes one booking short of a suspension, where it's over to Gus for the next three games.
"But we also have Kyrtis McKenzie there if we have any more mishaps."
Of Northampton, Ling added: "I thought they would be a definite top-seven side at the start of the season, so they are under-achieving at the moment.
"But Crewe came from below where Northampton are now to win promotion last season, and Northampton will be trying to do something like that this season.
"The league is so tight at the moment – there's only ten points from fourth to 18th. Anyone who can go on any type of run can fly up the table, and if you hit a bad patch, you can slip down pretty quickly."
Cobblers manager Aidy Boothroyd has several long-term casualties, including Alex Nicholls, John Johnson, ex-Gulls midfielder Luke Guttridge and Dave Artell, while winger Ishmel Demontagnac is suspended.
It would not be a surprise if Boothroyd turns to another former United forward on today of all days. Jake Robinson, who helped Torquay to the play-off final two years ago when he was on loan from Shrewsbury, can play on the wing or up front.
Torquay United (from): Poke, Rice; Oastler, MacDonald, Downes, Nicholson, Easton, Craig, Mansell, Bodin, Jarvis, Stevens, Howe, Leadbitter, Cruise, Thompson, Lathrope, Halpin, Yeoman, McKenzie, Baker, Artemi.
Unavailable: Saah (suspended), Morris, Macklin (both injured).