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Derby win could prove crucial in lifting United

By Herald Express  |  Posted: January 31, 2013

  • PEN PAL: Above, Rene Howe stuttered his run up but sent Artur Krysiak the wrong way with his penalty

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AFTER TWO months of picking costly late goals out of their own net, Torquay United chose the perfect night to get it right at St James' Park.

Victory against the odds over local rivals Exeter City, thanks to Rene Howe's early penalty and a they-shall-not-pass defensive display into the wind in the second half, was the perfect pick-me-up for absent manager Martin Ling.

At least Ling could watch the action via Sky Sports' live TV coverage.

It might not have made him feel much better as City laid siege to Michael Poke's goal with 13 corners after half-time, but the final whistle must have given Ling a huge lift.

The Gulls' boss has been feeling the pain and frustration of his team's six-match winless run as much as any player or supporter, and more than most.

It is hard to underestimate the psychological importance of this result.

The whole atmosphere around Plainmoor had gone flat after a Christmas and New Year blighted by postponements and squandered points.

If United had to gone to Exeter on Monday night and lost again, the gloom-and-doom merchants would have moved into overdrive.

Apart from anything else, the Grecians would have been back up to third place and the Gulls would have been looking anxiously over their shoulders at the League Two relegation zone.

As it is, City are now contemplating a seventh home defeat this season – a remarkable statistic for a team as high as they are.

United, who leaped five places on the back of this win, are up to 13th and, believe it or not, only six points off the Play-Offs with a game in hand.

It's that sort of division this year.

It's only right to say that, just as at Plainmoor many times this season, the wind played a major role on Monday night.

United had it behind them in the first half and were value for their interval lead.

Despite a lively start by City, Howe and skipper Lee Mansell – with a diving header from Joe Oastler's cross – both went close before the breakthrough came in the 17th minute.

Billy Bodin took on Steve Tully on the left and had just wriggled past the former United full-back when Tully clipped him from behind.

It was one of those moments when, once he gets 'wrong side', a defender is in trouble if he makes any contact with his man.

Referee James Adcock was in a good position to make the decision.

A penalty it was and Howe, just as he did in the 1-1 draw at Plainmoor 13 days before, drove the spot-kick into the right-hand corner after deceiving Artur Krysiak with his customary stuttering run.

It was Howe's 13th goal of the season and, after muscling past Pat Baldwin, he then forced the City goalie to save another effort soon afterwards.

As a match it was hardly a classic, but United did keep the ball better for long periods in the first half.

Centre-backs Brian Saah and Aaron Downes – they were as resolute as ever – both came up with important tackles to stop Alan Gow and Jimmy Keohane.

A rare mistake by Downes in the 35th minute led to Keohane shooting over from a good position.

But it wasn't until the 41st minute that City forced Poke to make a serious save, Mark Molseley having a go from 20 yards.

United had been forced to make a change three minutes earlier.

Danny Stevens went on for Nathan Craig, who was suffering some double-vision after a head knock in the 33rd minute.

Stevens went to the left wing, where he did well, with Bodin switching to the right.

They may have been facing the wind after the interval, but United did their best to make a statement at the start of the second half.

Krysiak just got a hand to a Stevens' shot, after Mansell set him away, and a six-man move from inside their own half ended with Bodin sliding Howe through on the left. He fired just wide of the near-post.

Poke coped well with shots from Gow and Keohane, before City boss Paul Tisdale made three changes in the space of seven minutes.

First, it was Guillen Bauza and leading scorer Jamie Cureton for Molseley and Doherty. A 4-4-1-1 formation became 4-3-3, with Cureton, Bauza and Gow all in attack.

It marked a 700th career appearance for Cureton.

Then it was Arron Davies onto the left wing for Matt Oakley.

In the 69th minute Poke pulled off the save of the match, and it wasn't from an opponent.

Gow hit a free-kick from distance on the right, Ryan Jarvis went to head the ball away in the swirling wind, got it wrong and Poke just managed to arch back and claw the ball out from the angle of post and bar.

City piled it on, with three successive corners.

United, with Mansell and Damon Lathrope leading the midfield resistance, held firm.

Every City forward was closed down, confronted or tackled so relentlessly that they could not find a way through.

Shaun Taylor, in charge in Ling's absence, sent on Lloyd Macklin for Bodin in the 75th minute, hoping that the fit-again winger might act as a 'get-out' option on the right.

Even though Macklin had few chances on the counter, six minutes from time Kevin Nicholson had a chance to settle it, but shot narrowly wide of the near-post from just inside the area on United's left.

City summoned the proverbial kitchen furniture and hurled it at United in the last few minutes.

Poke saved from Cureton twice and Gow, and Bauza headed City's 15th corner of the match wide as the game moved into stoppage time.

But there was to be no late heartbreak for United on this night. At last!

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