Torquay United last night continued their 100% percent victory in pre-season friendlies with a 2-0 win over Southern League Division One side Tiverton Town, following a 3-0 defeat of the Royal Marines on Friday. Yesterday’s match also marked the opening of United’s new stand, Bristow’s Bench.
Unsurprisingly, most Torquay fans chose to sit in the impressive Bristow’s Bench, with only a smattering of supporters situated in the Family Stand and even fewer in the Popside. United manager Martin Ling’s decision to play a different XI in each half provided the club’s fans with a chance to see almost the entire squad in action – including new signing Aaron Downes, whose transfer had only been completed hours earlier.
The teamsheet issued before the game carried one ominous sign, however, with playmaker Eunan O’Kane not even listed as a substitute. Having rejected a move to Crawley in June, United fans and players alike were hoping the midfielder would begin the 2012-13 at Plainmoor, but he was left out last night amid rumours of a £175,000 bid from League One side AFC Bournemouth.
With Torquay’s first half XI a blend of first-team regulars – including captain Lee Mansell and last season’s top scorer Rene Howe – untried youngsters such as Niall Thompson and Kirtys MacKenzie, and new signings Downes and Craig Easton, the Gulls predictably struggled early on against a more unified and familiar Tiverton side which contained Torquay record appearance holder Kevin Hill in midfield.
However, early pressure from the visitors was soon cancelled out by a good spell from Torquay, Howe making a nuisance of himself up front while left-back Kevin Nicholson aimed to use winger Thompson’s pace to good effect with a number of sweeping crossfield balls. The match progressed into an even, entertaining tussle, with chances at both ends – Tiverton’s Andy Taylor warmed new Torquay goalkeeper Michael Poke’s gloves with a fierce volley midway through the first half.
Despite having previously struggled to impose himself on the game from an unfamiliar central midfield role, Torquay’s Ashley Yeoman broke the deadlock on 37 minutes. Picking up possession on the edge of the Tiverton box, the 20-year-old punished United’s visitors with a low shot that flew under Tivvy goalkeeper Chris Wright.
New centre-back Downes provided further encouragement with a stellar45 minute display, combining assured defending with accurate passing and a calm on the ball unusual for a lower-league defender. Brought after the departure of aerial specialist Mark Ellis – with Ling promising an aerially “dominant” replacement – Downes won every header and repelled every high ball.
Had Ling not been forced to replace injured right-back Joe Oastler with former Newcastle defender Daniel Leadbitter on the half-hour mark, Torquay’s second-half line-up would have seen 11 new players enter the fray. As it was, 10 changes were made, with back-up goalkeeper Martin Rice replacing Poke, new signing Tom Cruise taking Nicholson’s left-back berth, and 16-year-old apprentice Jake Hutchings occupying central defence alongside Brian Saah.
The surplus of wingers in the second half side – four widemen competed for two spots – meant that United’s regular left- and right-sided midfielders Ian Morris and Danny Stevens, along with new signing Nathan Craig, were forced to alternately occupy unfamiliar central roles.
With Torquay’s first-choice wingers out of the way, much-maligned midfielder Lloyd Macklin was presented with a chance to impress the club’s fans and coaches. He didn’t disappoint. Attempting to force his way back into the first-team picture after being publicly criticized by Ling for his attitude, and subsequently trialling at Conference side Hereford, Macklin did his playing prospects no harm with a fine display.
Tormenting Tiverton’s backline with his electrifying pace, Macklin saw as much of the ball as anyone in the second half, whipping over several dangerous crosses and linking up well with right-back and off-field friend Leadbitter. Sprinting onto a through ball midway around the hour mark, Macklin found himself one-on-one but saw his shot blocked by the solid Wright.
Former Premier League forward Ryan Jarvis, occupying Howe’s role as lone frontman, was guilty of missing a guilt-edged chance soon afterwards, side-footing over the bar from close range. He was almost punished when Tiverton centre-back Dave Kendall headed narrowly over from a corner minutes later.
However, it was United’s night, and the win was assured 20 minutes from time. Leadbitter’s cross was headed against the woodwork by Jarvis, but as Tiverton’s defence breathed a sigh of relief, Stevens nipped in to convert the rebound…via the far post. The remainder of the game was dominated by Torquay, with Macklin almost extending the lead with a powerful drive on 80 minutes, Wright producing an impressive save.
As the clock wound down, Ling took the opportunity to provide substitutes George Artemi and Danny Sullivan with 20-minute cameos, with both youngsters doing well to impress in their short slots. Artemi, a Thurrock centre-half on trial at Plainmoor, was playing out-of-position at right-back, but took advantage of his wide role to embark on a marauding run late on which almost led to a third goal.
Playing on United’s left wing, pacy teenager Sullivan showed glimpses of the talent and form that has seen him net four times in his last two youth team outings. A hat-trick against Kingsteignton’s senior side last week had been followed up by a solitary strike in Torquay’s 4-2 defeat of Pulse Premier two days later – which Ling attended – and more goals could see Sullivan fast-tracked into the first team.
Result: Torquay United 2-0 Tiverton Town
Goals: Ashley Yeoman ’37, Danny Stevens ’68
Officials: Referee – Marc Whaley; Linesmen – Andy Tinkler, Ian Loader; Fouth Official – Sean Rothwell
Teams: Torquay: 1st half – Michael Poke, Joe Oastler (Daniel Leadbitter 30), Kirtys MacKenzie, Aaron Downes, Kevin Nicholson, Niall Thompson, Lee Mansell, Craig Easton, Ashley Yeoman, Billy Bodin, Rene Howe.
2nd half – Martin Rice, Daniel Leadbitter (George Artemi 68), Brian Saah, Jake Hutchings, Tom Cruise, Lloyd Macklin, Damon Lathrope, Ian Morris, Nathan Craig, Danny Stevens (Danny Sullivan 68), Ryan Jarvis.
Tiverton: Chris Wright, Josh Concanen, Lewis Tasker, Kevin Hill, Paul Kendall, Adam Faux, Andy Taylor, Harry Nodwell, Michael Nardiello, Joe Bushin, Josh Searle, Liam Ellis, Tom Tricker, Owen Howe, Tom Gardner, Jules Emati-Emati, David Steele, Russell Jee, George Swain, Mark Saunders.