Torquay United are thwarted by late equaliser at Argyle
MAN OF THE MATCH Aaron Downes' 78th minute goal wasn't quite enough to clinch another famous Devon derby victory for Torquay United, after 17-year-old striker Tyler Harvey snatched a last-gasp equaliser for Plymouth Argyle in front of more than 10,000 rain-soaked fans at Home Park on Boxing Day.
Downes capped a magnificent performance, in the heart of a hard-pressed Gulls defence, when he crashed home his fourth goal of the season to send 1,500 United fans wild with delight.
It seemed for all the world that Downes' goal, his fourth of the season, would be enough for United to follow up last year's 2-1 New Year triumph with another win at the home of their Devon rivals.
But after goalkeeper Michael Poke – he and young centre-back Angus MacDonald were outstanding – pulled off a couple of near-miraculous saves, Argyle scholar Harvey capped his first-ever start by shooting home on the turn in the 90th minute.
It was no more than Plymouth deserved, for they completely dominated the first half with the wind and rain behind them.
United did much better when they had the elements at their backs, but after bad misses by Lee Mansell at one end and Luke Chadwick at the other, it looked as if the game was heading for a goalless draw – until Downes struck.
That should have been all three points for Torquay, until Harvey netted the leveller.
As they headed down the Devon Expressway, with the rain pouring down, United fans must have wondered whether their trip was going to be worthwhile?
The Home Park car-parks were running with water, and the elements were spiced up by a strong westerly wind which blew the rain over the Devonport End and towards the Gulls supporters in the Barn Park End.
But the important thing, the pitch, was not a problem.
Costing some £500,000 and relaid two-and-a-half years ago, before Argyle went into administration, the surface looked good and was as near perfect as reasonably possible. The game was never in doubt.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher sprung a surprise by handing a start to 17-year-old trainee Tyler Harvey in attack for the first time.
Harvey partnered experienced Luke Chadwick up front. It was quite a decision, because it meant that Harvey was keeping players like Warren Feeney, Rhys Griffiths and Argentinian Andrew Gurrieri on the bench.
The three days 'break', after the postponement of the scheduled derby against Exeter City at Plainmoor, had given United the time to get right-back Joe Oastler and forward Billy Bodin fully fit.
But one player, Niall Thompson, didn't make it because of a hamstring strain, and the absence of the young winger's pace as an option for manager Ling must have weakened United's bench.
It was Argyle who dominated the early stages, territorially at least, with United trying to catch them on the counter, mainly through Danny Stevens down the left wing.
Young Harvey was determined to shoot on sight, and an early drive from just outside the area took a big deflection off Lee Mansell, forcing Poke to change direction at the last moment and smother the ball.
United tried to get their passing game going, but kept giving the ball away after doing some promising work.
After ten minutes Argyle left-back Robbie Williams cut in from the touchline and lashed a 20-yard not far wide of the far post.
Luke Young fired over from a headed half-clearance by Kevin Nicholson, then Williams, hoping to used the wind behind him, hit a free-kick from 30 yards and nearly sent the ball out of the ground.
Argyle were within an ace of taking the lead three times in quick succession around the 20th minute.
Onismor Bhasera burst past Oastler into the area, and his low cross-shot deflected off Nicholson and looped over Chadwick as he went to force the ball into goal.
Then Aaron Downes saved a certain goal, throwing himself to block a close-range shot on the turn by Paris Cowan-Hall after United could not clear a long throw by Curtis Nelson.
Finally, with Plymouth still piling on the pressure, Poke had to pull out the save of the match so far when he dived full-length to his right to tip a swerving 30-yard free-kick by Young round his right-hand post.
United had trouble getting out of their own half for long periods and they had little option but to try and weather the storm.
It took the Gulls until the 31st minute to force their first corner of the match, but they did follow it up with a second moments later when Bodin had a 25-yard left-foot drive deflected behind.
It was only a brief interruption to the pattern of the match and Argyle were soon back on the attack, Conor Hourihane firing over from long range.
As long as they kept forcing the home side to shoot from distance, United's midfield and defence were doing their job well, but there was precious little for their own fans to cheer.
The Torquay supporters still kept up a fair old din, but it was mostly to encourage their defenders.
Young Angus MacDonald and the more experienced Downes were justifying the applause in the heart of United's defence.
But when Mr Salisbury blew his whistle to mark half-time, there had in truth been only one side in a one-sided first 45 minutes.
After spending almost the whole of the first half under major pressure, United came out much more positively at the start of the second. And they nearly took the lead.
Only a good block by Chadwick stopped Stevens scoring with a far-post volley from Nicholson's corner, the first of three that United forced in quick succession.
MacDonald had a header deflected wide, and in the 52nd minute Howe twisted and turned inside the area before letting rip with an angled volley that Rene Gilmartin did well to parry behind.
Bodin was also not far off the mark with a 20-yard left-foot shot.
It was much better from United, but then, on the hour, they had a major escape.
Hourihane's inswinging diagonal cross from the right left Chadwick in the clear with Poke to beat.
But he headed the ball into his own shoulder and watched in horror as his attempt bounced well wide.
Poke could do nothing then, but it wasn't long before he had to drop smartly to his left to smother a firm, low half-volley by Harvey.
If Chadwick's miss had been bad, United skipper Lee Mansell came up with another one in the 65th minute.
The Gulls' midfielder blasted the ball over the bar from seven yards out, after both Stevens and Bodin had failed to force in Craig's right-wing cross.
In the 70th minute Ling made his first change, sending on Ashley Yeoman for Bodin.
But no amount of know-how on the bench could help in the face of mistakes like the one which Craig made on the ball, handing possession to Bhasera, whose cross was blasted off target by Harvey – another lucky break for United.
But just when some doubts seemed to be creeping back into United minds, they scored.
First, Gilmartin only just scrambled a fierce Nicholson free-kick behind for a corner.
But then, when Nicholson's flag-kick arrived in the goalmouth, Downes saw his first header blocked and then followed up, lashing the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out…1-0 to the Gulls.
Again the rain poured down, but at least now the wind was behind United.
Argyle sent on Rhys Griffiths for Chadwick in attack, then had Hourihane booked for a 'dive' after a tussle with Oastler.
In the 87th minute it took a wonder-save by Poke to stop Argyle equalising.
United's goalie did well to block Young's first shot, then somehow recovered to deflect Griffiths' follow-up away when a goal seemed certain.
Moments later Poke did well again, tipping a Robbie Williams free-kick out from under the angle of post and bar.
But in the 90th minute, just as the fourth official signalled three minutes of stoppage-time, Argyle equalised.
Harvey took Young's pass just outside the edge of the area, swung a boot and the shot skimmed past Poke's outstretched left hand and inside the post…1-1.
It was a great moment for the teenager, but a sickener for United.
Moments later United had Mansell carried off, after he had thrown himself into an important tackle to stop Hourihane having a shot.
Damon Lathrope went on in Mansell's place, the last act of a match which will probably have cheered United more than Argyle.
Plymouth Argyle (4-4-2): Gilmartin; Nelson, Purse, Blanchard, Williams; Cowan-Hall, Hourihane, Young, Bhasera; Chadwick (Griffiths 81), Harvey; subs not used – Cole (gk), Berry, Feeney, Lowry, Lennox, Guierri.
Booked: Hourihane 83).
Torquay United (4-2-3-1): Poke; Oastler, MacDonald, Downes, Nicholson; Easton, Mansell (Lathrope 90+1); Craig, Bodin (Yeoman 70), Stevens; Howe; subs not used – Leadbitter, Rice (gk), Halpin, Cruise, McKenzie.
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancs).
Attendance: 10,003 (1,525 Gulls fans).