Red card agony as Torquay United lose again
The pain of a costly second successive defeat remains, but referee Jock Waugh's confusion may have spared Torquay United an added and damaging suspension after what went on in the 94th minute against Gillingham on Saturday.
Martin Ling's Gulls lost 2-0 at Priestfield, and they could hardly complain about that, but Waugh could hardly have got the build-up to the Gills' clinching second goal more wrong.
The match, standing at 1-0, was in the final minute of stoppage-time when United defenders Joe Oastler and Brian Saah tried and failed to clear from home striker Danny Kedwell.
The ball fell loose for ex-Plainmoor loanee Gavin Tomlin and Saah, in a bid to recover the situation, brought him down from behind.
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For a moment, it looked as if Waugh, who had an afternoon to forget all round, might have done United a favour. Even though he was in decent range and appeared to have a good view of the incident, he waved play on.
Then he spotted linesman Ashley Slaughter, further away on the right-hand touchline, flagging for a foul. Only then did Waugh point to the spot.
He then issued a straight red card for Oastler, and no protests could make him change his mind.
United's right-back made the long walk to the dressing-rooms at the opposite end of the pitch, before Kedwell put United out of their misery with a firm spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner.
Ling and his captain Lee Mansell were both waiting for Waugh in the tunnel, and the Gulls' boss emerged to confirm that the officials seemed to be no clearer about the incident afterwards than they had been on the pitch.
The main point now is whether, if the FA reviews the action and absolve Oastler, they then switch the red card to Saah.What cannot be argued is that United urgently need to stop a blip turning into a slump. When they beat promotion rivals Cheltenham Town 1-0 at Whaddon Road a fortnight ago, they were in third place and level on points with the leaders. But defeats at home to Bradford City and now Gillingham have seen them drop to sixth.
Saturday's performance included some decent defence and, at times, some of the pleasing passing moves which have been the hallmark of their remarkable run of 41 out of 48 before the recent setbacks. But Danny Stevens' first-minute shot from the left, which curled past goalkeeper Paolo Gazzaniga and hit the far post, turned out to be their best scoring effort in a disappointing attacking performance.
Gazzaniga, a young Argentinian whom Gillingham picked up from Valencia last year, did not have a serious save to make in the second half, although his big kicking often turned defence into instant attack for the home side.
Waugh might have made a rod for his own back when he booked recalled United striker Rene Howe for the tamest of fouls in the fifth minute. It seemed to have the effect of cowing Howe, who looked worried about making any sort of challenge from then on, for fear of being sent off.
Gillingham have been in a wretched winless run, and they were visibly desperate for a victory.
In Tomlin, they had the liveliest forward on the pitch – his touch and work-rate kept the Gills going forward and he nearly scored with an early 25-yarder which just cleared the angle of post and bar.
United goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, Mansell and Oastler all rescued dodgy moments at the back in a first half regularly interrupted by Waugh's annoying whistle.
Either side of half-time, United made two chances to grab the lead, and missed them both.
In the 41st minute, Howe forced a corner, Kevin Nicholson took the flag-kick and Mark Ellis, with a clear sight of goal, headed over.
Then, in the first minute of the second half, Stevens supplied a through-ball for Howe to shake off Simon King and go clear. But Howe hesitated, delayed his shot and allowed Connor Essam to recover and rob him.
Six minutes later, Gillingham, building up their first serious pressure of the match, broke the deadlock.
Mansell produced a good block to stop Tomlin scoring, at the expense of a third corner in quick succession. Danny Jackman took it, Kedwell flicked the ball on and defender King threw himself forward to power in a diving header from ten yards.
Ling tried to spark some new life from his attack by sending on Taiwo Atieno for winger Ian Morris and then Chris McPhee for Damon Lathrope, who had recovered from his ankle injury to play in midfield. A regular 4-1-4-1 formation became 4-3-3, and finally 4-2-4 when Ellis was thrown forward in the closing stages.
Gazzaniga was booked for handling just outside his area, but, when Mansell flicked on Nicholson's free-kick, United could get no one on the end of it.
They were still trying to snatch an equaliser when Gillingham broke on them deep into stoppage-time and Kedwell, eventually, was given the chance to score his 12th goal of the season.
Gillingham (4-3-3): Gazzaniga; Evans, Essam, King, Jackman; Payne, Whelpdale, Weston (C Lee 71); Kuffour (Montrose 79), Kedwell, Tomlin. Substitutes (not used): Richards, Martin, O Lee.
Bookings: Payne, Gazzaniga.
Torquay United (4-1-4-1): Olejnik; Oastler, Saah, Ellis, Nicholson; Lathrope (McPhee 80); Morris (Atieno 63), Mansell, O'Kane, Stevens; Howe. Substitutes (not used): Rice (gk), Rowe-Turner, MacDonald.
Sending off: Oastler (90+4).