Torquay United play the role of fall guys in FA Cup upset
A hapless display of finishing that may haunt them for many months to come condemned Torquay United to the role of FA Cup fall-guys and enabled Blue Square Bet North underdogs Harrogate Town to reach the second round for the first time in their history.
The Gulls’ failure to put the ball in the net, often when it looked harder to miss, is something that no amount of shooting practice could ever put right.
In the FA Cup, there is seldom any tomorrow. You either do it or you do not and, on a perishing day at Plainmoor, United did not.
All credit to Harrogate. The part-timers did not walk off a neutral pitch last Wednesday night until nearly 10.30pm, after beating Hyde in extra-time in their delayed fourth qualifying round replay, and they then endured an eight-hour coach trip to south Devon on Friday.
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If ever a team of outsiders had a difficult build-up to a tie nobody expected them to win, they did.
Only 43 of their supporters made the same journey from North Yorkshire to cheer them on. But Chibuzor Chilaka’s 20th-minute goal, in off both posts, gave them all the inspiration they needed to work their proverbial socks off, and keep the ball whenever they could, against an unchanged Torquay team who dominated territorially but seldom with any real conviction.
Although Chilaka’s goal came against the run of play, the Gulls’ goalkeeper Michael Poke did have to make saves from Danny Forrest and Chilaka before the breakthrough came.
Then, Kevin Nicholson lost his footing on the edge of his own area, Aaron Downes was unlucky not to rescue the situation with a thunderous tackle, but the ball fell kindly for Chilaka.
His right-foot shot across Poke hit the far post, rolled along the goal-line and bounced in off the near post.
Harrogate often posted two midfielders in front of their back-four, to try and stifle United’s attack, but they still spent the rest of the first half clinging on to their lead.
United gave them a major helping hand.
Lee Mansell, Downes and Billy Bodin all missed with free headers, while Bodin and Danny Stevens fired over from positions which should have seen them hit the target.
Then, in the 40th minute, Rene Howe chased a long ball down the left, beat a man, slipped a short, low cross to Bodin, and he blazed over from eight yards out.
It was already beginning to look like one of those days.
Into the second half, and Bodin produced a classy through-ball to set Howe free. He shrugged off defender Shane Killock and beat Town goalkeeper Craig McGillivray, only for the effort to be disallowed for offside.
It must have been the tightest of decisions.
Harrogate manager Simon Weaver took off one of his ex-League players, Forrest, in the 58th minute and sent on the man whose goal had beaten Hyde, Dan Clayton, on the left wing.
Two minutes later an increasingly worried Martin Ling made a double change – Niall Thompson for Stevens and Ryan Jarvis for Bodin.
Thompson had been on the pitch for only two minutes when he had the chance to draw United level and, who knows, turn the tie.
Again it was Howe who did the spade work, this time his low cross was drilled low across the goalmouth where Thompson, from only three yards out, again cleared the bar.
Showers of driving rain, carried in on the wind in United’s faces, only added to the growing frustration and discomfort in the home camp, but Harrogate were hardly bothered about the conditions.
They kept beavering away as United kept missing chances.
Centre-backs Downes and Brian Saah probably put each other off in their desperation to head in Nathan Craig’s inswinging corner – they both missed it.
Dwayne Samuels headed another Craig corner off his line, and then the Harrogate right-back registered a goal-saving challenge on Mansell as United’s captain went to finish a Danny Leadbitter cross.
In the 73rd minute Chilaka had the chance to deliver a knock-out blow, but he drove over from only 12 yards out.
When Poke kept United in the tie with saves from Clayton and Tom Platt near the end, you wondered whether United might yet use those moments as a lifeline.
But the nearest they came was a stoppage-time effort by substitute Ashley Yeoman, who took a pass down the left by Craig, beat McGillivray with a well-struck shot, only to see the ball skim just wide of the far post.
“Yorkshire, Yorkshire,” sang Harrogate’s small band of followers as their players danced with joy at the final whistle.
United trudged off to a mixture of boos and shaking heads.