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Gutsy point may bolster belief in Gulls escape act

By Herald Express  |  Posted: February 27, 2014

  • GOAL: Elliot Benyon scores the equaliser with a diving header, while, right, Danny Stevens and Damien McCrory

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THE league table makes grim reading and there were only 1,500 fans at Plainmoor to see it, but somehow Torquay United may just have bolstered the belief that they can still stay up with a gutsy point against promotion-chasing Burton Albion.

It was only a draw, not the win that they so desperately need, but there were no boos at the final whistle on Tuesday night, as there had been after recent home defeats to fellow strugglers Northampton and Accrington.

United, containing six changes from the side which had lost to Accrington last Saturday, quickly wiped out Burton's opening goal with Elliot Benyon's diving header.

They gave it everything they had in a performance which left behind many of the tame efforts which have dismayed Plainmoor fans this season.

But the stark facts of the matter dictate that United must start winning again, and quickly, if they are to give themselves a chance to preserve their Football League status.

Partly by choice and partly through necessity, Gulls manager Chris Hargreaves overhauled his team pretty spectacularly.

In came Aaron Downes and Kevin Nicholson in defence. A completely new midfield featured Damon Lathrope, Ben Harding and Danny Stevens. And Benyon was recalled up front.

Stevens made his first start since February 19 last year and Harding, captain in place of the injured Lee Mansell, since tearing a muscle in his foot on October 5.

It was a big ask for Stevens and Harding, but they both rose to the challenge in a high-tempo start which deserved more than it got.

Inside the first minute Shamir Goodwin forced a corner on the left, and Conor Wilkinson rose to head Nicholson's flag-kick wide.

United's diehard fans responded to the spirit, and some pretty good football, only to see Burton score against the run of play in the 33rd minute.

The Gulls failed to clear David Gray's cross from the right, under Adam McGurk's challenge at the far post, and Brewers left-back Damien McCrory made ground to slam the loose ball through a crowded goalmouth from just over a dozen yards out...0-1.

Goodwin, shooting from the left with the outside of his right boot, hit the side-netting after a flick-pass by Wilkinson set him up.

But in the 39th minute United deservedly equalised.

Harding turned on the right, curled over a diagonal cross with his left foot and Benyon's dash through a square Burton defence left him clear to score with a diving header...1-1.

Burton winger Zeli Ismail went close with a drive just before half-time and Brewers defender Ian Sharps headed wide from an Ismail corner early in the second half.

But it was visiting boss Gary Rowett who was the first to make changes, sending on former United striker Billy Kee and Dominic Knowles for McGurk and veteran forward Gary Alexander.

It was an attacking move by Rowett, and Hargreaves responded by swapping Jayden Stockley for Wilkinson in the 59th minute.

The 19-year-old Bolton loanee was visibly dismayed to be taken off, for he had shown good awareness and several clever touches, but Hargreaves wanted Stockley's extra strength in the air for the closing stages.

Stevens, who brought his skill to bear in an attacking midfield role, forced a corner on the right in the 70th minute.

Nicholson found Harding at the far post, but he headed over when he probably should have hit the target.

As United kept going for victory, Burton sensed that there were chances for them on the counter.

Michael Poke, who must have been on a high after the birth of his new baby daughter, produced a terrific save to celebrate when he stuck out a leg to deny Knowles after Kee headed down Ismail's cross.

Ismail had attracted some rave reviews in recent games, but Nicholson was in no mood to be beaten by the Wolves loanee and he came up with a series of determined and well-timed tackles which delighted the Pop Siders.

Lathrope, another who played well on the night, did well to block a David Gray shot for a corner, while Robbie Weir and Kee both went close in the last quarter of an hour.

But United, with Billy Bodin and finally Jordan Chapell on for Stevens and Goodwin, never gave up hope of all three points. And in stoppage-time they nearly grabbed them.

Harding was fouled 22 yards out. Bodin took the free-kick, whipping the ball inches wide of the post with Burton goalie Rob Lainton as relieved as he was well beaten.

Those little breaks aren't going for United at the moment. But if they keep trying as hard as they did on Tuesday night, they just might.

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