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Aaron Downes proving to be more than adequate replacement for Ellis

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 17, 2012

By David Thomas

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They may have voted goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik into second place in last season's player of the year poll, before he headed off to Peterborough United, and Eunan O'Kane's departure to AFC Bournemouth obviously saddened those who delighted in the Ulsterman's mercurial midfield play, but there were many Torquay United fans, especially the ones who like to get behind a local boy, who believed that the biggest gap of Plainmoor's summer transfer sales would be left by centre-back Mark Ellis.

Crewe Alexandra, who had coveted the South Hams-born player for some time, paid £75,000 for one of the strongest headers of the ball in the lower divisions, and Ellis is now establishing himself as a regular in the Alex's League One defence.

United manager Martin Ling took his time deciding on a replacement.

He had already sold Chris Robertson to Preston North End for £60,000 in the last January window. He still had Brian Saah, who had linked up well with Ellis, but had only just offered a first pro contract to then 18-year-old scholar Kyrtis McKenzie.

The pressure was on to find someone who could really cut the mustard.

Ling held talks with a series of senior centre-backs, from Scotland as well as England. Michael Raynes, formerly with Stockport, Scunthorpe and Rotherham, was one of them. He eventually signed for Torquay's League Two rivals Oxford United.

So at the final whistle at the Kassam Stadium last Saturday, Ling could have been forgiven for nodding to himself in confirmation of a decision well taken.

Outstanding in securing a valuable point, and not for the first time this season, had been the man he had eventually signed, Aaron Downes. Raynes, with all due respect, remained on Oxford's bench.

It is worth remembering that several other managers, who must all have been looking for a player in his position, had veered away from Downes, 27, because he had been dubbed "injury prone" during the last couple of eight years at Chesterfield.

He had had to undergo two knee operations, yet he did as much as anyone could reasonably have done to prove his fitness, not least helping to turn Bristol Rovers' rocky season around during a loan spell with the Pirates during the second half of 2011-12.

Just over three months since the tall Aussie arrived at Plainmoor, you will not hear many Gulls fans lamenting Ellis' departure.

Not because he was not a good player and is – good luck to him – getting better at Crewe, but because United have hardly missed him. If at all. Downes has been a proverbial rock in the heart of United's defence.

He, Saah and leading scorer Rene Howe would be nailed on to contest the top-three places if they were to hold a player of the year poll today.

Oh, and he will probably finish up with six or seven goals this season, into the bargain.

All in all, not a bad bit of business.

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