County fell to a first league defeat under Dave Challinor, as Torquay Utd overcame The Hatters 2-1 at Plainmoor.
After last Friday’s battling 1-0 defeat at League One leaders Rotherham Utd, Challinor opted for two changes to his starting line-up for the trip to Devon, with Jordan Keane returning in place of Ben Barclay, and Paddy Madden replacing the ill Scott Quigley.
County started brightly in the first half, with Antoni Sarcevic seeing his one-on-one effort saved by Shaun MacDonald and tipped behind.
From the resulting corner, Will Collar saw his first chance of a busy afternoon come and go as the County midfielder flicked over the crossbar following Rydel’s delivery.
Just as the visitors looked to turn the screw, with Mark Kitching firing a near-post half-volley straight at MacDonald, the home side took a slightly fortuitous lead.
The impressive Sinclair Armstrong pounced on a slip in the Hatters defence to drive at goal – and, although the youngster’s effort was well wide of Ben Hinchliffe’s goal, the retreating Will Collar could only turn it into his own net as the former Brighton man looked to clear the danger.
Yet, just one minute later, Collar became the County hero when he raced upfield from the restart to head Ryan Rydel’s inswinging cross past a helpless MacDonald.
Instantly back on level terms, The Hatters sought to take a lead that their first-half efforts deserved, with Rydel half-volleying Macauley Southam-Hales’ cross wide.
Play only slowed down in a breathless first-half when Ben Hinchliffe took an accidental blow to the face from Armstrong, with Hinchliffe requiring treatment for a bloodied face – and a lost tooth – before play eventually continued.
Hinchliffe, straight back into the action after being patched up during the stoppage in play, kept County level with a superb back-to-back save, before County raced to the other end and saw Paddy Madden smash a fizzing volley off the face of the crossbar as an incredibly open first 45 minutes rolled on.
But, after Hinchliffe had made yet another stunning point-blank save, County gifted the lead back to the hosts when Sarcevic was adjudged to have barged over his man, and Torquay skipper Asa Hall lashed the penalty home on the stroke of half-time.
County may have felt bemused to go in at the interval trailing – in doing so, the first time they’d found themselves trailing in National League action under Dave Challinor.
But the hosts had threatened Ben Hinchliffe’s goal several times in the build-up to Hall’s penalty, with only Hinchliffe’s superb saves denying the Gulls before the captain eventually did step up to restore the lead.
County did warm up to the second-half task as time ticked on after the break, with Sarcevic firing over from distance as The Hatters looked to draw level for a second time.
Challinor turned to his bench to introduce Sam Minihan and Alex Reid with twenty five minutes remaining, but it was Ollie Crankshaw who went closest next when he curled agonisingly wide of the far post from the edge of the area.
From the resulting corner, County troubled the woodwork for the second time when Ryan Croasdale bundled Crankshaw’s delivery onto the crossbar.
The Hatters continued to toil in vain as time ran out, with the home side holding on to the three points to leave County with a frustrating journey home from the English Riviera.
FULL-TIME: Torquay Utd 2–1 County
(Collar o.g. 19, Hall pen. 45 – Collar, 21)
County line-up: Hinchliffe; Keane (Minihan, 62), Palmer, Kitching (Walker, 89), Southam-Hales, Croasdale, Collar (Reid, 62), Rydel; Sarcevic; Madden ©, Crankshaw.
Unused subs: Barclay, Jennings.
Booked: Palmer, Sarcevic, Madden.