Gull After Gull, As Hatters Go Nap!
The Hatters’ first trip down to the English Riviera since their Football League days saw them triumph at Torquay by a four-goal margin, to emulate their hosts’ victory in SK3 during September and propel themselves up to eighth – two points away from the play-off positions.
Second-half strikes by Tom Walker, Nyal Bell and Elliot Osborne set County well on the way – and, although the ‘Gulls’ scored with a quarter of an hour left, substitutes Devante Rodney and Frank Mulhern enhanced their team’s superiority in the closing stages to seal a first win at Plainmoor in 14 years.
County took to the field on a dry, but rather blustery, Devon afternoon showing four changes from the starting line-up at Edgeley Park against Solihull Moors four days previously. Sam Minihan and Tyler Garratt returned to their respective right-back and left-back berths in place of Dan Cowan and Joe Leesley, while Jordan Keane replaced skipper Paul Turnbull in central midfield, and, further upfield, Tom Walker was preferred to fellow Salford City loanee Rodney. Ash Palmer once again resumed his association with the captain’s armband in Turnbull’s absence.
Ben Whitfield fashioned the contest’s first chance after seven minutes, when he unleashed a drive narrowly wide of the left upright – but only two minutes later, the Hatters earned the first corner of the afternoon, which saw Keane glance Osborne’s delivery from the left beyond the far post.
Three more County corners followed in quick succession, before the Gulls, who had netted four times in the first half during the reverse-fixture at EP just over two months earlier, began to take flight. Attacking midfielder Amrit Bansal-McNulty – enjoying an impressive debut on loan from Queens Park Rangers – forced Ben Hinchliffe to dive and smother a low shot, before Saikou Janneh fired over, and Hinchliffe parried behind a well-struck effort by Ramarni Medford-Smith.
County responded through Osborne and Tom Walker, who both saw attempts blocked by home goalkeeper Shaun MacDonald’s legs, and, in between, a Bell shot that clipped the crossbar. The Hatters then earned a couple more corners, and Torquay two in added time, before the sides went in at the break with honours even.
HALF-TIME: Torquay 0, County 0.
Any attendees returning to the stands belatedly after half-time rather missed a pivotal turn of events, as, almost immediately following the resumption, the hosts had a penalty appeal – for handball by Palmer – waved away, before County scored twice within as many minutes.
First, Bell broke from halfway to advance on goal, and drew out MacDonald who deflected the shot – only for the ball to spin across the goalmouth for Tom Walker to tap into an empty net. And the Hatters’ advantage was doubled when Walker’s cross from the right was turned in by Bell at close range.
The Gulls used up the full quota of substitutions in an attempt to revive their fortunes, but two minutes after the hour-mark County went further ahead. A poorly-taken Torquay free-kick in the home half was headed on by Tom Walker to Osborne, who shimmied across from the left and fired home from just inside the box with the aid of a deflection off MacDonald.
The hosts went close to pulling one back – with Ben Wynter latching on to Janneh’s pass from the right byline and firing narrowly over. And Whitfield broke through into the box, before firing a shot that lacked pace into the arms of Hinchliffe.
Whitfield’s next attempt, from the edge of the area, yielded more – by way of a shot into the top-left corner of the net that reduced the home team’s arrears to two.
But Rodney restored the three-goal gap with five minutes remaining, after cutting in from the right and curling his shot into the same corner at the other end. And in added time, Rodney’s fellow substitute Mulhern applied a final touch to Osborne’s free-kick from the left to make it five and send more than 300 hardy Hatters home heartily happy.
FULL-TIME: Torquay 1 (Whitfield, 75), County 5 (T Walker, 47; Bell, 49; Osborne, 62; Rodney, 85; Mulhern, 90 + 2).
Team (4-2-3-1): Hinchliffe; Minihan, Palmer (Capt.), Arthur, Garratt; Keane, S Walker; Thomas (Jackson, 66), Osborne, T Walker (Rodney, 79); Bell (Mulhern, 79).
Unused Subs: Leesley, Ormson.
Booked: Arthur, Jackson.
Attendance: 2,659 (328 representing The Twelfth Man).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.