Torquay United pick up valuable points with resilient performance at York
Just when they needed a result to lift the worried frowns off one or two foreheads back at Plainmoor, Torquay United produced it with a determined, disciplined and thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory at Bootham Crescent, just before the weekend's storms hit North Yorkshire.
The Gulls' two goals came from recalled winger Danny Stevens in the tenth minute and an unlikely source, right-back Joe Oastler, who started and finished the move for his first League goal midway through the second half.
Stevens' smart finish, coming so early in the game, gave United just the confidence boost they needed and visibly had the opposite effect on York City. The Minstermen had won only two of their nine npower League Two home games and looked nervous.
Martin Ling's men carried out their manager's orders – he made three changes and came up with a new formation – to perfection.
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Goalkeeper Michael Poke and his back-four came up with their best collective performance of the season. And, in front of them, United's midfield and attack beavered away, always likely to create a chance on the break.
The three points – United had gone four games without a win before Saturday – may not have pushed them up the table, but, in an increasingly wide open division, only four points separate Southend United in fourth place from Torquay in 13th. The Gulls, who have a game in hand on most of the teams above them, are at home to Dagenham and Redbridge next Saturday.
Ling had hinted that he might 'tweak' the 4-1-4-1 formation which had begun to look a bit predictable and, with midfield captain Lee Mansell out with a three-match suspension, he did just that.
After recalling Poke for Martin Rice in goal, Ling restored Stevens to the left wing, switching Nathan Craig into central midfield, and played Ryan Jarvis in a support role for centre-forward Rene Howe.
It definitely worked, but only because United worked at it so diligently.
In the tenth minute Jarvis, on the right, set up Billy Bodin to switch the ball to Kevin Nicholson on the left. Nicholson crossed low to Stevens, who had drifted inside, and he took a touch before catching York goalkeeper Michael Ingham off guard with a right-foot stab from eight yards inside the right-hand post.
United should have stretched their lead in the first half-hour.
Ingham did well to deflect a Stevens shot behind after good work by Bodin, and only a poor touch by Bodin stopped him going clear after great work by Nicholson down the left.
That moment might have dismayed both men, neither of whom has been on top form recently, but Bodin and Nicholson went on to play their full parts in a highly encouraging team display.
United restricted York to few chances in the first half, stand-in captain Brian Saah and Aaron Downes again showing why there can be few better centre-back partnerships in League Two.
Both men were again outstanding, Downes underlining the fact in the 35th minute.
Up in support of a free-kick one moment, he then galloped back to his own goalmouth and got there in time to cut out Matty Blair's cross and concede a corner as City counter-attacked.
York manager Gary Mills made all his substitutions by the hour-mark, sending on Scott Kerr in midfield and then Jason Walker and Ashley Chambers up front.
Poke had not had that much to do in the first half, but he turned on the style in the second.
He has always been a good shot-stopper, and he showed it with fine saves from Alex Rodman, Danny Kearns and former Exeter City midfielder Jon Challinor.
However, Poke also worked well off his line, dealing with some dangerous crosses just when his team-mates needed him to.
In attack, Howe may not have broken a frustrating run of six games without a goal, but he made up for it with 'assists' which set up chances for the hard-working Jarvis and, crucially, Oastler.
In the 61st minute, Oastler picked up the ball in midfield, fed Bodin on the edge of the area and he slipped Howe clear on the left.
Just when everyone expected Howe to shoot, he clipped a low pass across goalkeeper Ingham and Oastler, who had continued his forward run into the goalmouth, turned the ball into the net from six yards out.
York had plenty of possession and pressure over the last half-hour, but United never looked as if they could not cope.
Oastler, Saah, Downes and Nicholson seldom missed a trick in front of Poke, and quite a few locals started heading for home well before the final whistle. Or was it before the downpours which had lashed the rest of the country finally arrived in York?
United picked up two bookings, one harsh one for Oastler and one for dissent by Howe.
It was only Howe's work-rate and his willingness to have a go for every ball which kept him in referee Rob Lewis's sights. The Devon team's centre-forward had little luck with decisions all afternoon, and he finally inquired a little too strongly after another went against him in the 87th minute.
It was his seventh caution of the season, and Ling immediately took him off.