Another punchless display in attack condemned Torquay United to a fifth successive defeat in last night’s League Two relegation ‘six-pointer’ against fellow strugglers Aldershot Town.
Shots defender Troy Brown’s 83rd minute header was enough for his side to gain revenge for their 4-3 thriller defeat at Plainmoor earlier in the season. But it was no more than they deserved.
Although United’s leading scorer Rene Howe headed against the post in the first half, the Gulls did not force Town goalkeeper Jamie Young to make a serious save in the whole match, and this result plunges them to within five points of the dreaded bottom-two.
It might prove to be the last match in charge for assistant manager Shaun Taylor, for United are expected to appoint an interim manager, in place of the ill Martin Ling, before Saturday’s home game against title chasing Port Vale.
The shock resignation of former Gulls boss Paul Buckle at Luton Town yesterday had Torquay fans wondering whether he might return to Plainmoor, but that seems highly unlikely, and Buckle is believed to be considering a move to the MLS in the United States anyway. Former Rotherham, Bury and Scunthorpe boss Alan Knill was in attendance, though.
Taylor made just one change from the XI which started Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Rochdale, with Danny Stevens coming in for Nathan Craig.
Shots boss Dean Holdsworth surprisingly left his three top scorers – Danny Hylton, Peter Vincenti and Craig Reid – on the bench, preferring recent signing Jeff Goulding from Cheltenham up front with support from on-loan Shrewsbury forward Asa Hall.
Neither side looked like scoring during a low-key, nervous first 20 minutes.
There was a lack of understanding in United’s attacking play and it was Aldershot, who weren’t much better, who came closest to a goal when Goulding turned and fired over from 16 yards.
Michael Poke juggled with a Danny Rose corner before gathering the ball almost on his goal line, and in the 32nd minute Rose crossed from Town’s right, Oliver Risser sent a glancing header goalwards and Poke dived full-length to pull off a brilliant fingertip save.
If United had played second-fiddle for most of the first half, they finished it better.
Howe rose well to meet a Bodin cross from the right, his header hit the inside of the far post, but Aldershot scrambled the ball clear of a crowded goalmouth.
Bodin then cut in from the right, past his marker Sonny Bradley, but blazed over when he might have aimed for several team-mates in the middle.
Risser hooked a Mekki corner wide just before half-time, but at the interval United had every reason to be optimistic if they could find another gear in the second half.
Holdsworth made his first change during his team talk, taking off Goulding and sending on Danny Hylton.
In the 51st minute United made and missed their best chance so far.
Craig Easton’s through-ball set Howe clear, but the ball seemed to get stuck under his feet as he bore down on Jamie Young’s goal and Bradley got back to block him. The ball fell for Stevens, but Bradley got in the way of his effort too.
The contest was more feisty than the first half, with the game opening up as both teams threw off their earlier shackles and went for a goal with real purpose.
Torquay skipper Lee Mansell was soon urging his team-mates to give more effort in a higher tempo, but the fact was that Young in the Aldershot goal had still not had to make a serious save.
Leadbitter put in another lung-bursting counter-attack, almost the full length of the pitch down the right, but Aaron Morris recovered and was just too strong for him on the Town bye-line.
A full-blooded Kevin Nicholson free-kick felled Rose in the wall, but he was able to continue after treatment.
Holdsworth sent on Reid, who had scored a hat-trick at Plainmoor, for Hall in the 73rd minute.
Mansell was booked, a little harshly, for a trip on Rose, and from Herd’s free-kick United only just got the ball clear after a desperate goalmouth scramble.
The Shots made their final change, Holdsworth sending on Peter Vincenti for Mekki with 13 minutes left, and that move sparked their big assault.
Risser hit the bar with a 25-yard drive, Reid’s follow-up deflected behind by Downes.
Taylor sent on Ian Morris, less than five months after a ruptured Achilles tendon injury and without a warm-up game, for Stevens in the 83rd minute.
But Morris had been on the pitch for only seconds before Aldershot scored.
Vincenti crashed a header against the bar from Cadogan’s left-wing corner, but the ball rebounded across the face of goal and Brown was there to head home from close range.
With two minutes to go Brown had to be helped off with a leg injury, leaving Aldershot to play out the remainder of the game, and four minutes of stoppage-time, with ten men.
Aldershot Town (4-4-1-1): Young; Herd, Brown, Bradley, Morris; Cadogan, Rose, Risser, Mekki (Vincenti 77); Hall (Reid 73); Goulding (Hylton h-t). Substitutes (not used): Lancashire, McNamee, Forbes, Morris (gk).
Goal: Brown 83.
Torquay United (4-2-3-1): Poke; Leadbitter, Saah, Downes, Nicholson; Easton, Mansell; Bodin, Jarvis, Stevens (Morris 83); Howe; subs not used – Rice (gk), Lathrope, Macklin, MacDonald, Benyon.
Booked: Mansell, Howe.
Referee: Mick Russell (Herts).