TWO hours before kick-off at Portsmouth’s Fratton Park, Torquay United manager Chris Hargreaves sent a text to his key contacts about the debacle the night before.
The fire alarm had gone off at 2am and the players dragged out of their beds as the hotel had flooded and part of the roof collapsed.
The squad was left sitting in the lobby for three hours while alternative accommodation was found. They eventually got back under their duvets at 5am.
Most managers would probably have been grinding their teeth and growling at anyone who came near at such a turn of fortune – especially the night before such a massive game.
But, ever the opportunist, Hargreaves wanted to get the word out about the terrible night his players had experienced – on the web, radio, TV, and just about anyone who would listen.
“Unbelievable!” he wrote.
“Need to make it a story so it makes us underdogs even more today!”
By broadcasting loud and clear just how ruined their pre-match preparations had been, he figured it might just ratchet up the pressure on their hosts a little more.
After all, big-spending Portsmouth have their own worries, having slid through the leagues faster than a greased-up toddler at the playpark.
Gulls’ operations manager Tim Herbert swung into action and the story was soon up and running.
Whether the news filtered through to the home dressing room is unknown, but on the pitch, Hargreaves’ side played far from a team that looked like they needed sleep.
Billy Bodin’s 27th-minute strike – pouncing on a right-foot shot from permanent signing Joss Labadie – sent away fans into a frenzy at Fratton Park, and increased the pressure even more on the home side.
Although Portsmouth had chances to equalise, Hargreaves side rode a little luck – they probably deserved it after the night they’d had – and held on for a crucial victory.
Although it failed to lift them out of the relegation zone, the win puts them six points clear of basement dwellers Northampton – who must feel like have a mountain to climb now – and only behind Wycombe on goal difference.
Yet the win – and the tale behind it – was not just about Hargreaves’ undeniable opportunism, and his good relationship with the media.
It also displayed some shrewd tactics in getting the best out of his players, and a touch of ruthlessness in team selection.
Out of the side went club captain Lee Mansell – he had been nursing a back injury all week – player of the year Aaron Downes and experienced striker Karl Hawley.
In came Dale Tonge at right back, shifting Anthony O’Connor into the centre alongside Krystian Pearce, with Shamir Goodwin coming in on the right wing and Bodin on the left.
Labadie occupied the centre with Damon Lathrope, while Jayden Stockley was up front with Elliot Benyon.
The 4-4-2 formation is hardly revolutionary, but showed clear attacking intent. This was a game the manager clearly wanted to take all three points from, even if ‘going for it’ meant they risked a second straight defeat.
His moves in the transfer window have also rejuvenated the squad.
Although nobody can question the commitment of United’s crop of loan players, turning Joss Labadie into a permanent signing was more important that it might seem.
Not only removing the danger that Labadie may be recalled – which is what happened last season – the signing also adds the midfielder to a list of senior players who know that their careers would take a significant hit if Torquay United were relegated.
Defender Shaun Cooper – who missed out through injury sustained in training – said as much in an interview with the Herald Express last week: He simply couldn’t allow his new club to be relegated, for himself as much as anything else.
Hargreaves said playing at a place like Fratton Park in front of 15,000 fans should make his players want to smash down the dressing room door to get on the pitch, and his actions have only added to their hunger.
With a fixture list that has pitted them against a number of their relegation rivals in the next month, that hunger and fight will be needed.