If there is such a thing as a ‘plum draw’ in the first round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, then Torquay United have it with the visit of Portsmouth and, it is rumoured, around 700 of their fans to Plainmoor tonight (7.45pm).
Only tomorrow’s Bristol City versus Bristol Rovers tie grabs better billing in the southern section.
“With the greatest respect to the competition, drawing Portsmouth makes it more than your normal JPT tie. It’s a good draw,” the Gulls’ manager, Alan Knill, said.
“Usually, there’s not much atmosphere, but we should have a decent crowd for a first-round game.”
Even if Knill quietly fancied making a few changes tonight, he is unlikely to go overboard, mainly because the rules do not allow it and the business of establishing a settled team is taking priority.
Under pain of a £5,000 fine for infraction, clubs must start with at least six players who either kicked off their previous game or who are in the top-11 appearance makers in the season so far. There are also only five substitutes.
“In fact, it makes it a much better competition than it used to be years ago,” said Knill.
United, losing finalists back in 1989, will definitely be without winger Billy Bodin, who has left for Wales Under-21 international duty.
But trainee goalkeeper Conor Thompson – he is second-choice at Torquay until Michael Poke hopefully returns from a thigh injury later this week – should be available tonight before he goes off to join the Northern Ireland Under-19 squad.
Knill may well give his regular defence – Martin Rice behind Dale Tonge, Krystian Pearce, Aaron Downes and Kevin Nicholson – more time to ‘bed in’. But it is in midfield and up front where Knill could look to tweak things.
Bodin’s absence will force at least one change on the left wing, where Courtney Cameron is probably first in the queue. Knill also admitted after last Saturday’s League Two 0-0 draw with Hartlepool United that senior striker Karl Hawley has been nursing a hamstring niggle of late, so Elliot Benyon will hope for a start up front.
United have reduced prices to £12 adults, £6 concessions and £1 for Under-12s.
Torquay United (from): Rice, C Thompson; Tonge, Pearce, Downes, Nicholson, Chapell, Mansell, Harding, Cameron, Hawley, Ball, Benyon, Lathrope, N Thompson, Cruise, Sullivan, Craig, McKenzie, Yeoman, Hutchings.
Unavailable: Poke (injured), Bodin (international duty).