Hatters Left Shell-shocked By Gulls
County’s first meeting with the ‘Gulls’ of Torquay since their shared Football League days saw the reigning National League North champions finish second-best to the National League South title-holders, whose four first-half goals – including two with the assistance of home players – gave them their first victory at Edgeley Park in 15 years.
Heavy morning rain had given way to intermittent afternoon sunshine and lighter showers by the time the Hatters took to the field, showing two changes from the starting line-up at Solihull Moors. Elliot Osborne was recalled to replace the suspended Sam Walker, who had been sent off in the West Midlands four days earlier, whilst, a day after arriving at EP, Scunthorpe loanee Adam Hammill went straight into the side in place of Connor Dimaio.
Hammill’s first contribution of note, after nine minutes, was to commit a foul just outside County’s box – but a well-organised wall kept out Ben Whitfield’s free-kick without undue ceremony. Then, moments later at the other end, the newly-arrived attacking midfielder showed a glimpse of his class, courtesy of a back-heeled pass to the feet of Joe Leesley, whose shot was deflected away.
But with 18 minutes played, the Hatters were trailing after conceding their third penalty in as many matches. Frank Mulhern tugged the shirt of Robbie Cundy, following Jake Andrews’ lofted free-kick into the area and Referee James Bell pointed to the spot without hesitation, before the Gulls’ leading scorer Jamie Reid slotted his kick past Ben Hinchliffe.
County responded positively in the immediate aftermath to earn two corners within four minutes of going behind. But shortly afterwards, the visitors’ tally was doubled when Festus Arthur, sliding in ahead of Reid to cut out a Whitfield cross from the right, prodded the ball over his own line.
As the break approached, two further goals effectively put the seal on proceedings in favour of the Gulls. With three minutes remaining, another of Whitfield’s crosses on the right deflected off Jordan Keane and into the net – before Leesley slipped near the halfway line to let in Reid, who advanced into the box and slotted home for his second, and Torquay’s fourth, of the afternoon.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Torquay 4 (Reid, 18 (penalty) and 44; Arthur (o.g.), 25; Keane (o.g.), 42).
County introduced Ben Jackson upon the resumption, and the on-loan substitute made his presence felt on the left flank with a low cross that Hammill turned into the near side-netting.
Paul Turnbull and Hammill then unleashed shots in quick succession from the edge of the box for hitherto-untested visiting goalkeeper Lucas Covalan to gather, before Hammill cut in from the right to fire narrowly wide of the far upright.
But for all the Hatters’ relative improvement following half-time, the visitors went closer to scoring just after the hour-mark when Matt Buse’s shot from outside the area clipped the crossbar.
County hit the woodwork at the other end after Dimaio had entered the fray with fewer than 25 minutes left. His shot deflected off Ben Wynter and on to the left post, before the ball ended up in the arms of a relieved Covalan.
Dimaio and Osborne had efforts saved by Covalan, and final substitute Nyal Bell, as well as Keane, fired attempts over. But even a flurry of five County corners in added time failed to reduce the arrears, as the Hatters slipped to a fifth successive defeat. A proper bunch of fives was completed with a consequential drop of five places to 17th, five points from both the play-off and relegation positions.
FULL-TIME: County 0, Torquay 4 (Reid, 18 (penalty) and 44; Arthur (o.g), 25; Keane (o.g.), 42).
Team (4-2-3-1): Hinchliffe; Minihan, Arthur, Keane, Cowan; Turnbull (Capt.), Osborne; Thomas, Hammill (Dimaio, 67), Leesley (Jackson, 46); Mulhern (Bell, 81).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Greenhalgh.
Man of the Match: Arthur.
Attendance: 4,275 (246 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.