Stevens strike seals another victory as Torquay dig deep and win ugly
Never a man to use two words where one would do, Notts County's gnarled old Scottish manager Jimmy Sirrell once said: "The only thing that matters is the result. The rest is only gossip."
Torquay United boss Martin Ling does like his teams to play with a bit of style, but even he could not help leaning towards the Sirrell philosophy after the Gulls had made hard work of beating weakened Morecambe at Plainmoor on Saturday.
There were several reasons to be cheerful. Danny Stevens' first goal of the season eventually clinched a victory which, coming on the back of the midweek 2-1 defeat of leaders Gillingham, made it two in succession for the first time since the end of March.
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The result saw United move into the play-offs zone for the first time this season, and stretched their unbeaten home record to eight games, five of them wins. Outstanding once again in the heart of United's defence were Brian Saah and Aaron Downes, who underlined why Ling had extolled their virtues in the build-up.
As winter reached out and tapped everyone at Plainmoor on the shoulder, United seldom warmed the hearts of their supporters in a curate's egg of a performance.
There were moments when it was easy to see just what they might be capable of when they put everything together, but they made far too many mistakes on the ball to give themselves a chance to put Morecambe to the sword.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing was that, even below their best, the Devon men still made and missed enough chances to have given their goal difference the sort of boost which would now see them in fifth place instead of seventh.
They did not make a great start. After only four minutes goalkeeper Michael Poke came to claim a Will Haining free-kick, never got there and Stuart Drummond headed wide of an open goal.
However, with Danny Leadbitter preferred to the back-from-suspension Joe Oastler at right-back, United still managed to dominate the first half, even into a biting wind.
Nathan Craig, again their most creative midfield player, fired wide on the turn and one inviting Leadbitter cross was crying out to be attacked at the far post if United had had someone with a mind to do it.
In many ways Billy Bodin's afternoon summed up his team's display – he kept giving himself chances to deliver and then squandered them.
But, in the 30th minute it was he who seized on a loose ball, slipped Stevens away on the left, and United's winger showed good composure to score with a left-foot shot across goalkeeper Barry Roche and in off the far post.
Twice, Morecambe striker Lewis Allessandra went close before half-time, the first drawing a top-drawer tip-over save by Poke from 20 yards. But Bodin should have given United a more comfortable cushion before half-time, especially when he beat two men as he cut in on goal from the right, hesitated, and then lost his footing as he was about to shoot.
Morecambe, who mustered only six substitutes, were without three of their most dangerous players – Kevin Ellison, Jack Redshaw and Richard Brodie – because of a combination of suspensions and injury, and they always looked limited going forward.
Yet United, even though Saah and Downes hardly put a foot wrong all day, kept giving them some hope of a result by losing possession too cheaply and missing more chances.
Poke had to make more good saves from Jordan Burrow and Allessandra in the second half, and in the last few minutes Morecambe threw everyone, including goalkeeper Roche, forward when they forced a series of corners and free-kicks which twanged the nerves of home fans.
Yet it really should have all over by then. Bodin missed two clear chances when he was clear with Roche to beat, but Rene Howe also had a rare day off in front of goal.
Ling eventually took off both men in the closing stages, Howe as much as anything to avoid any chance of injury or a fifth booking ahead of the FA Cup next weekend.
Poke managed to get himself booked for time-wasting in the 89th minute, although he could hardly take a goal-kick with skipper Lee Mansell still tying up his bootlaces in the penalty area. The final whistle, after four minutes of stoppage time, was greeted with relief by everyone who had the Gulls at heart.
How someone like Sirrell would have fared in the world of Twitter, Facebook and radio phone-ins is anyone's guess, but he would have had no trouble concentrating on the result over everything else. Which is exactly what most United fans will have done over the weekend. Their team is still upwardly mobile.