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Torquay United dragged into relegation dogfight

Torquay United supporters' flag (Image courtesy: Guy Henderson)

One point from six over Easter leaves Gulls on the brink

A week before Christmas, Torquay United fans could never have imagined finding themselves in a relegation dogfight by Easter.

Heading into the festive season their team was lying second in National League South, on a five-match unbeaten run and chasing down leaders Yeovil Town.

But an alarming slump in form, a change of management, the abrupt departure of the club’s owner and a 10-point deduction have left them facing just that.

With just five games of the season left, four of them away from home, the Gulls are teetering on the brink of a relegation zone which leads to the Southern League.

United haven’t won away from home since the end of November, and unless they can turn their on-the-road form around quickly, it could all come down to a final-day decider against Havant and Waterlooville at Plainmoor to see if they stay in the pro and semi-pro leagues or vanish into the thin air below.

One local consortium has already thrown its hat into the ring to buy the club as the threat of going into administration looms ever larger. It has the backing of the supporters’ trust.

And ubiquitous football everyman Neil Warnock has been in the stands for the last two home games. A former Torquay and Plymouth manager, he has heard his name chanted from the terraces at both games by fans who remember his time in the Plainmoor hot seat fondly. It will be fascinating to see what role, if any, the popular Warnock plays in the future of Torquay United.

On the pitch, the Easter double-header of local derbies produced just one point from the six available.

At Yeovil on Good Friday the Gulls gave as good as they got in the first half, and were unlucky to be trailing by a single goal at the break. Jahmari Clarke was the recipient of a lucky bounce which allowed him to prod the ball home from close range.

But a lovely finish by Jordan Young from a pinpoint cross by ex-Gull Frank Nouble put Yeovil 2-0 up after 58 minutes, and the game was done and dusted from there onwards. Clarke made it 3-0 with a powerful run and shot, and home keeper Joe Day had little to do.

On Easter Monday Torquay started superbly, romping into a 2-0 lead over visitors Weston-super-Mare inside the first 15 minutes. Jack Stobbs struck first after a clever low cross from Ethon Archer, then Stobbs turned provider with an accurate ball into the box which Arkell Jude-Boyd turned into the net.

The QPR loanee’s extravagant somersault celebrations matched the mood inside Plainmoor.

But United were left to rue a couple of missed chances to go even further ahead when Jordan Bastin pulled a goal back for Weston before the break and Bailey Kempster levelled the scores just afterwards.

Jude-Boyd had borne the brunt of some physical challenges and looked set to limp away from the fray after one fair but crunching tackle in front of the Pop Side terraces. But he got himself back to his feet for one last effort and put the Gulls back in front when his daisy-cutting shot from 25 yards somehow squirmed under Weston keeper Max Harris and into the net to make it 3-2.

The visitors were not to be denied, however, and it was veteran striker Reuben Reid who scored the leveller three minutes from time. The ex-Plymouth, Torquay, Exeter and Yeovil sharpshooter turned cleverly and fired home from 15 yards.

Torquay’s fans applauded their hard-working team off the pitch at the end, but it will take more than just honest elbow grease to save United now. The Gulls need inspiration - and goals - and they need them quickly.

 

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