Martin Rice and Ryan Jarvis get chance to shine for injury-hit Torquay United
Goalkeeper Martin Rice will start his first senior game for 14 months and striker Ryan Jarvis will lead the attack in place of suspended leading scorer Rene Howe when Torquay United take on Oxford United at Kassam Stadium in npower League Two today.
Rice, 26, who made most of his 74 starts for Exeter City before he first joined the Gulls in 2007, makes his first Football League appearance for Torquay United as he takes over from the injured Michael Poke.
Both Howe and Poke – his substitution in Tuesday's 1-0 defeat at Barnet prevented more serious damage to a groin injury – will be back soon, but manager Martin Ling admitted: "We are going to be tested now."
The Gulls' boss then added: "Whenever we've been tested in recent times, we have always come up with the answers, and I expect that to happen now.
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"Martin has plenty of League games in the tank, and the same goes for Ryan Jarvis. We didn't think that playing him wide earlier in the season helped the team or him, really – he should either play as a central striker or alongside Rene Howe.
"He has to be the focal point of our attack at Oxford, he played very well and scored two goals when he started against Yeovil [in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy] the other night and I am full of confidence in him."
Rice's place on the substitutes' bench will be taken by 17-year-old scholar Conor Thompson, who only joined the Plainmoor Academy recently after being released by Swindon Town.
United are trying to bounce back from 1-0 defeats to Harrogate Town in the FA Cup and Barnet away in the League over the past week.
"The Harrogate scenario is more about finances, although we can't run the club just on a good Cup run," said Ling.
"It didn't dent our confidence, and on Tuesday night we played as well as we have done away from home. We made Barnet look a poor side, even though they've just taken ten points out of 12, but we didn't put the ball in the net."
Burton Albion's 2-1 win at Plymouth Argyle on Wednesday night lifted the Brewers up to sixth place and pushed Torquay down to eighth.
"It's a very tight league at the moment," said Ling, "and my biggest concern is our away form. We've taken 18 points at home and six away, and we've only had one away win so far.
"There isn't a Swindon, and we've not had a team do what Crawley did to us [3-1] at Plainmoor early last season. Oxford are way below where people expect them to be.
"They are under-achievers and, of course, we would rather play them when they're not in great form. But Chris Wilder [their manager] is probably thinking the same about us after our results against Harrogate and Barnet."
Even without injured senior players like Michael Duberry and Damian Batt in defence and Deane Smalley in attack, Oxford boss Wilder has plenty of selection options.
After the 3-2 home defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge left them in 18th place, he may feel that he needs them.
Former Rotherham centre-back Johnny Mullins is pressing his claims to return to a defence which includes ex-Plymouth Argyle man Tony Capaldi at left-back, and Wilder will wait on a fitness test for skilful winger Alfie Potter (hamstring).
But one department which does seem to be delivering at the moment is up front, where ex-Luton striker Tom Craddock has scored ten goals already and fans' favourite James Constable, now in his fifth season at the club, is a handful most weeks.
Torquay United (from): Rice, C Thompson; Oastler, Saah, Downes, Nicholson, Mansell, Lathrope, Craig, Easton, Bodin, Jarvis, Stevens, Cruise, , Leadbitter, N Thompson, Yeoman, McKenzie, Baker, Artemi.
Unavailable: Howe (suspended), Poke (groin), Morris (Achillles tendon), Macklin (broken metatarsal bone).
Torquay United have agreed to loan two of their Academy scholars, Alex Avraamides and Kevin MacAllion, to Carlsberg South West Peninsula League club Bovey Tracey for a month.