Category: League Two

[Note: this interview was conducted in June 2013 for TQM Magazine.]

As Torquay United’s season reached a crucial point in their battle against relegation, I caught up with midfielder Craig Easton, currently in his first season at the club, to discuss his career so far and plans for the future.

Craig Easton is not your stereotypical professional footballer.  While at Livingston in 2004, he confessed to the club’s matchday programme, “It sounds really boring, but I am quite into my gardening”. He’s also articulate – in 2012, he wrote a 10,000-word essay entitled The Future of Scottish Football, exploring his country’s tactics and youth coaching.

His off-field hobbies differ from those of his Torquay United team-mates, then, and so does Craig’s CV: with over 250 appearances in the Scottish Premier League (the country’s top division, commonly known as the SPL) and having captained Scotland at under-21 level, the midfielder is a pretty high-profile signing for fourth-tier Torquay.

In a way, it’s not surprising Easton has enjoyed a successful career in football: born in Bellshill, near Glasgow – the same place as footballing greats Sir Matt Busby, Ally McCoist, Billy Shankly and Jock Stein entered the world – Craig also comes from a family of footballers. His father represented Livingston United at junior level, while his brother, Stewart, has played for Airdrie and Elgin City.

Craig started his career at Dundee United, graduating from the club’s successful youth team in 1996. A league debut followed soon afterwards, and as early as July 1997 he was representing Dundee United in international competition. Craig’s first UEFA Cup game couldn’t have gone better: a 9-0 trouncing of Andorran minnows CE Principat in which he came on as a substitute.

Easton (left) scoring for Leyton Orient against Fulham

Easton (left) scoring for Leyton Orient against Fulham

Easton continued to make a name for himself at Tannadice in the following years, and was a regular in the starting line-up from 1997 until his departure in 2004. That departure was brought about by the arrival of Ian McCall as manager, whose reign saw Craig somewhat fall out of favour.

By late 2003, the midfielder had decided not to sign a new contract with the club when his current deal expired, and in April 2004 McCall confirmed that Easton was free to leave at the end of the season. Of course, McCall’s verdict was irrelevant; as Craig himself said at the time, “It was clear I wasn’t going to be in the manager’s plans, so when the club said they didn’t want to offer me a new deal, it came as no surprise.”

However, the news did upset many supporters, and a May 2004 statement on the club website paid tribute to his popularity: “News that Craig Easton is to leave the club at the end of the season has sparked a flood of mail in appreciation of his contribution to the club, both on and off the park…Off the park, he has attended countless events on behalf of the club and has always been amongst the first to volunteer to help out when required.”

United’s SPL rivals Livingston offered a fresh start, and Easton immediately justified the club’s interest in him by scoring on his debut against Inverness.  He went on to play in 30 of Livingston’s 38 league games, even scoring the crucial goal that saved them from relegation on the last day of the season – sending Dundee, his first club’s rivals, down at Livingston’s expense.

Despite this, Livingston declined to renew Craig’s contract, and he spurned interest from mid-table Motherwell to move south and join Leyton Orient of the English fourth division. It was there that Easton would meet Martin Ling, then Orient’s manager, who would eventually bring the player to Torquay in 2012.

His first season in England couldn’t have gone better. Almost ever-present in the league as Orient won promotion to League One, the third division, on the last day of the season (with Craig scoring again), Easton also opened the scoring at Craven Cottage as Orient pulled off a huge shock to knock Premier League Fulham out of the FA Cup in January 2006. Unsurprisingly, it meant a lot to Craig, who revealed after the match, “I would put that down as my greatest achievement and my most enjoyable moment in football so far.”

Easton’s appearances the following season were slightly decreased, playing two-thirds of Orient’s games in League One, and in June 2007 he opted to join Swindon Town of the same division. His first season with the Robins yielded his highest ever goal tally for a single season – six goals in League One. However, it was a similar story to at Orient, as Craig’s second campaign saw him used more sparingly and in a variety of positions. He made fewer appearances still in 2009-10, and at the end of the season he rejected a new deal with Swindon.

Graduating from Staffordshire University

Graduating from Staffordshire University

It was while at the County Ground that Craig was approached by the editor of a newspaper in Scotland to write a column about his life as a footballer. Although the editor initially planned to ghost write the column himself – as is often done when journalists interview players for similar features – Craig asked for the opportunity to practice his writing skills, and this step would eventually lead to his enrolling on a Journalism and Broadcasting degree course at Staffordshire University. He would graduate from the course with a first-class honours degree.

Craig subsequently signed for Southend United, immediately being named club captain, scoring his first Shrimpers goal shortly afterwards against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the League Cup. It was a return to regular playing time, with 38 appearances in all competitions, but at the end of the 2010-11 season the player rejected a reduced contract and found himself a free agent once more.

What followed was a return to Scottish football after six years away, but unfortunately Easton’s six-month deal with Dunfermline Athletic was not a homecoming to remember.  Struggling with injuries, Craig managed just three games for Dunfermline before his contract ended in January 2012.

Many players would no doubt have been disheartened by such a downturn of fortunes, but Craig continued to search for a route back up the football ladder, and, thanks to their Leyton Orient connection, was handed a two-week trial by Torquay boss Ling towards the end of the Gulls’ successful 2011-12 campaign.

Easton impressed sufficiently to be awarded a permanent deal in June 2012, with Ling hailing the 34-year-old as “the ideal type of character for our squad. He was a massive part of my successful time at Orient…I just know I can trust him.”

Adapting well to life on the English Riviera, Craig was a mainstay in the Torquay side early in the season, and helped the club to a comfortable mid-table position by Christmas, with the play-offs firmly in sight.

However, things took a turn for the worse after Ling was forced to return to London to recuperate from a mystery illness early in 2013, leaving the club to slide down the table under assistant manager Shaun Taylor before Alan Knill was appointed caretaker manager in late February.  Torquay struggled to stay in the division, only securing their safety on the last day of the season against Bristol Rovers.

Craig was unable to help his team-mates in their relegation battle as much as he would have liked towards the end of the season – owing to a calf injury that kept him on the sidelines since March – and he was released by Ling’s successor Alan Knill at the end of the season. The midfielder will now look for his eighth club of a distinguished career, and it will be interesting to see what follows when he eventually hangs up his boots: will he pursue a career in journalism or coaching?


Craig generously gave up his time to answer my questions about his career and plans after retirement.

Which has been the highlight of your career: scoring against Fulham, captaining the Scotland under-21s, winning promotion with Orient, or something else?

I’m really proud of all the highlights you’ve mentioned. Captaining my country is very special and something I’ll never forget. I’ve got to say that winning promotion with Orient is the greatest achievement in my career.  The atmosphere in that game was amazing, and to do it in front of my wife and both our Mums and Dads just made it one of the best days of my life.

What are the best and worst parts of being a professional footballer?

The best part is a bit of a cliché; doing something I love and the only thing I ever wanted to do since I can remember.  I absolutely love being a footballer.  However, I don’t think people really understand what really goes on, especially at our [Torquay’s] level.  There’s no financial security, and that’s more of an issue as you get older.  Football’s a profession where how hard you actually work doesn’t necessarily reflect how you’re treated by those in charge.

At Plainmoor in 2012-13

At Plainmoor in 2012-13

Do you have any funny anecdotes you can share from your time in football?

Dave Bowman [Craig’s team-mate at Dundee United] was one of the funniest/maddest players I’ve ever played with.

He enjoyed having ‘banter’ with the cleaning ladies Rose and Ann. One day we returned to find Rose, stuck in a bin with her legs and arms sticking out the top and Bow trying to roll her down the corridor. Another time we found her inside one of the industrial dryers in the kit room with Bow threatening to turn it on. I know this might sound harsh, bordering on harassment, but it was hilarious and wee Rose was a great sport.

What is the best game you have played in? The worst?

It’s difficult to narrow down a single game, so I’ll give you a top 3 in no particular order.  Dundee United v Aberdeen in the semi final of the League Cup was one of my first games when I broke into the Dundee United first team as an 18-year-old.  I scored my first professional goal and we won 3-1.  There’s two Leyton Orient games that stick out: the promotion game against Oxford and also the FA Cup game against Fulham when we won 2-1 at Craven Cottage.

My worst game?  There’s too many to mention!  Probably any game where I’ve picked up an injury.

How many more years do you want to play for, and do you see your future in journalism or coaching after retirement?

I would say as long as I feel fit enough I’ll keep going and barring the little injury I’ve got at the moment, I feel as fit as at any point in my career.  I would love to stay in football.  I want to coach and ultimately manage at the highest level possible.  I’ll always write, so an ideal scenario would be to continue writing about football whilst managing.

What made you study journalism at Staffordshire University? Did you consider becoming a journalist as a teenager?

I never really considered doing anything other than playing football, although I did well in my exams at school.  I suppose, looking back on it now, English was one of my favourite subjects and I did like writing, so I’m not surprised that I’m enjoying the print side of journalism the most.  At Swindon, I was approached to do a ‘Diary of a Pro’ piece for the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, my local paper back home. I asked if I could have a go at writing it myself;  I really enjoyed it and things just snowballed from there.  I then managed to get on the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] course a couple of years later.

Was there a mix of footballers and normal students on your journalism course?  If so, how did the other students react to having professional players on their course?

We did a similar degree to other students, although we crammed it into two years and our classes were separate.  That was because most of our work was done on a distance learning basis.  There were about 15 of us in the class, either pro footballers – mainly from the lower divisions – or ex-players.  We attended Uni in Stoke once a month and for a week in the close season before the beginning of each semester to do most of the practical work. We very rarely crossed paths with the other students, but I did meet one who’s a fellow Scot and we’ve become really good friends and are currently working on a project together.

How have your team-mates reacted to your slightly unusual hobbies for a footballer off the pitch (gardening; writing)? Are there any other budding writers at Torquay?

I’m not sure they knew about the gardening until now!  I’m not into it as much as I used to be because I’m living in a rented property, but I love being outdoors and going for walks and swimming in the sea.  I got a wetsuit for my birthday because it got a bit cold in the winter. That’s what I like about living here – it’s a very outdoorsy area.

[Torquay defender] Aaron Downes is a good writer.  He was in my class on the course and we’re hoping to maybe work on something together in the future.

What are the differences between life in Torquay and life in Scotland?

Obviously the temperature’s a bit different to start with!  The amount of rain we’ve had down here in the last year has made me feel right at home, though.  It’s a very similar sort of lifestyle, especially compared to when I lived in Dundee.  I love being close to the sea and going for walks and exploring the area.  There are so many lovely places to visit, and Dartmoor reminds me a lot of Scotland.  I know this area pretty well as we used to come to Devon and Cornwall most summers when I was growing up.  My Dad used to drive down with the caravan – it used to take us 12 – 14 hours!  My first ever holiday with my wife was when we went to Torquay on the bus together as teenagers.  I have a great affinity with this part of the country.

What were you like as a teenager at school?

I was hardworking and enjoyed some subjects more than others  – P.E., Physics, Economics and English were some of my favourites.  I didn’t hate it, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could go home and play football.

You have made a career in a very competitive environment. What advice would you give teenagers to help them achieve success in their chosen field?

I would just say, give it everything you’ve got.  Things might not always work out how you would like and you’ll probably have some disappointments, but don’t have any regrets that you could have worked harder.  Sometimes you may have to be single-minded and sacrifice things to achieve what you want to, and not just follow the crowd.

What has been the most motivational thing (words or action) you have witnessed from any of your managers?

Martin Ling gave a few brilliant team talks in my time at Leyton Orient, but the biggest motivator I’ve come across in my career has been Terry Butcher.  When he was at Dundee United I remember him getting us going before a game against his old team, Rangers, at Ibrox.  He was ranting and raving and telling us that they were overpaid prima donnas and how we were just as good as them on our day.  By the time the whistle went, we were ready to run through walls for each other and we ended up winning 2-0.

Finally, what are your views on the Scottish independence referendum next year?

I want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.  I’m proud to be Scottish, but also proud to be British.  I feel we already have a big say in how things are run in our own country and would be weakening our global position by severing our ties with the rest of the UK.

You can see more of Craig’s writing at



Relegation-battling Torquay United look set to finalise deals for at least one, and possibly two attacking players before Saturday’s trip to Southend United. The Gulls this afternoon confirmed that they had reached an agreement to sign Sheffield United winger Jordan Chapell on loan until the end of the season, while just hours previously, former Torquay striker Taiwo Atieno hinted on his Twitter account that a return to Plainmoor could be on the cards.

21-year-old Chapell, able to play both on the wing and as a striker, joins straight from Sheffield United’s reserves. The youngster only made his league debut for the club’s senior side in December, and has only made one other appearance in League One this season. Finding first-team opportunities limited at Bramall Lane, Chapell was loaned to Torquay’s fourth-tier rivals Burton Albion in October, scoring just three minutes into his debut against Port Vale, just hours after the move was finalised.

Jordan Chapell joins on loan until the end of the season

Four appearances in all competitions for Burton followed, but was recalled in early December by his parent club after The Blades suffered injuries to several other wingers. This paved the way for Chapell’s league debut on 29 December in a 3-2 defeat to Hartlepool, but the youngster has been consigned to the club’s youth team and reserves ever since.

Since taking over the managerial reigns at Torquay in February, Alan Knill has preferred to use forward Ryan Jarvis on the right-wing, with Billy Bodin occupying the left-hand side of midfield. However, Bodin will miss crucial games against Chesterfield and York next week after being included in the Wales under-21 squad, and Knill may also have to move Jarvis up-front to replace the ineligible Benyon, who is unlikely to be able to face parent club Southend.

Knill revealed that his northern base helped him to spot Chapell several months ago, and was clearly pleased to have got his man: “Jordan is quick, direct and the important part is that he knows the league – he was out on loan at Burton and did really well. I live in Sheffield and when the United youth team had a good cup run, I watched a lot of their games and Jordan was one of their outstanding players,” adding that the Chapell “can play either wing or behind the striker, and he is technically very good.”

Although Torquay have yet to confirm it, ex-Gulls forward Taiwo Atieno today claimed on his Twitter page that he was “going back to Torquay”, matching Knill’s belief that the club needed to add “another new face at the top end of the pitch before Saturday”.  Kenyan international Atieno joined United in July 2011 in a one-year deal, and despite helping The Gulls to an impressive fifth-placed finish in 2011-12, scoring six times in 43 league appearances, he was released at the end of the season.

Taiwo Atieno could be on course for a return to Plainmoor

Jarvis was the cause of Atieno’s release then, with manager Martin Ling – currently absent through a long-term illness – admitting that he could only choose one of the two forwards due to budget constraints. He chose Jarvis, saying: “It came down to a flat choice between Tai and Ryan Jarvis. I feel I’ve had the peak of Tai but not the peak of Ryan Jarvis, and I feel the peak of Jarvis will be better. I only had the money to keep one of the two and that was the big issue.”

Atieno then chose to take several months out of football, returning from his half-season hiatus in late December to join a struggling but Edgar Davids-inspired Barnet side. However, the 27-year-old went on to make just four appearances for The Bees, netting his only goal for the club in the 2-0 victory over Barnet on 5 January. He left the club by mutual consent on 1 February, but challenged claims that he had been released, revealing “Due to personal reasons I have decided to take time out from football…I opted not to sign a new deal at Barnet and I chose to leave on my own accord.”

Knill had last week made room for new arrivals by loaning out wingers Saul Halpin and Karl Baker to Evo-Stik Southern Premier Division outfit Bideford Town and lending central defender Kirtys MacKenzie to Taunton Town of the Evo-Stik Division 1 South & West league. However, Aaron Downes’ red card in Torquay’s 2-2 draw at Dagenham yesterday – in which The Gulls played with 10 men for 86 minutes – and subsequent suspension means Knill may have to add another defender on loan or recall MacKenzie almost immediately.

Chapell becomes Knill’s second signing for United following the loan acquisition of Notts County midfielder Joss Labadie last week. Labadie made his debut in the 3-1 home reverse against Oxford on Saturday and scored his first goal for the club in yesterday’s game.

Labadie Loan Lends Lift

Alan Knill has today completed his first signing as Torquay United’s interim manager, adding Notts County midfielder Joss Labadie to the club’s confidence-hit squad. Labadie joins on a loan deal until the end of the season, and Knill will be hoping the 22-year-old can help United avoid the drop in a tense run-in to the campaign.

Croydon-born Labadie arrives with a fine footballing pedigree, having come through the youth system at West Bromwich Albion to sign a professional contract with the Hawthorns club in 2008. As a teenager at a Premier League club, loan spells further down the football pyramid inevitably followed, and Labadie enjoyed two stints at Shrewsbury Town in 2009. His second loan at the Greenhous Meadow was infinitely more successful, with the midfielder netting a 30-yard free-kick in his first game back at the club, and going on to record five goals from 12 league games from the middle of the park.

Unfortunately, his relationship with Shrews boss Paul Simpson was less smooth, and following a 40-minute dressing room lock-in after an FA Cup defeat to Staines Town in late 2009, Labadie was sent back to the Midlands, with Simpson explaining “I’ve been disappointed with his recent attitude.”

Labadie has struggled to break into Notts County’s starting XI this season

First-team football at his parent club remained elusive and Joss was forced to settle for temporary stays at Cheltenham Town and Tranmere Rovers, the latter stint resulting in a permanent contract in July 2010 following Labadie’s release by West Brom. Despite becoming a regular fixture in his first season at Prenton Park, and still making over 30 appearances in his second campaign, he was released by the Merseyside outfit at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Tranmere’s loss proved to be League One rivals Notts County’s gain, with ex-Torquay boss Keith Curle signing the 6 foot 3 in youngster last summer on a one-year deal with an option of a second year. Just four league starts have followed, with Labadie struggling to hold down a regular place in a talented County midfield also containing the likes of playmaker Alan Judge, captain Neal Bishop and Trinidad & Tobago international Andre Boucaud.

Although Labadie has shown signs of promise and impressed County fans in some of his 16 cameo appearances from the bench, the player appears eager to play regular first-team football, and the loan move suits both him and the club – the Magpies are thought to be looking to slash their wage bill as the end of the season approaches. With it unknown whether County will choose to keep Labadie on for another year, the midfielder will be looking to use his loan spell at Plainmoor to put himself in the shop window for League One and Two clubs.

Torquay have struggled for quality and creativity in midfield this season, with playmaker Eunan O’Kane leaving for AFC Bournemouth at the start of the season and captain Lee Mansell struggling to emulate his fine goalscoring form of 2011-12.  Manager Martin Ling, his assistant Shaun Taylor – who took over in February due to Ling’s illness – and current boss Alan Knill have generally preferred to parter the industrious Mansell with a defensive midfielder like Damon Lathrope or Craig Easton. To the dismay of the club’s supporters, Welshman Nathan Craig, believed by many to be the most creative player in the squad, has been deployed on the right-hand side of midfield (despite being left-footed) and even left out of the matchday squad in recent weeks.

Knill is thought to be looking for further additions before the visit of Oxford on Saturday

Knill will be hoping that Labadie can add some much-needed quality and help United in their battle to survive in League Two; he hailed Labadie as a “big powerful player who can also pass the ball,” adding “He has always been someone that I thought I’d like to sign and never really had the opportunity.” County have a 24-hour recall on the midfielder after an initial 28-day stay in Devon.

United’s interim boss also confirmed that Labadie, his first signing for the club, would go “straight into the squad” for Saturday’s clash with Oxford United. Further loan arrivals may also be on the cards, as the Western Morning News today reported that Knill was looking to free up wages and squad space by loaning young wingers Saul Halpin and Karl Baker to Bideford and first-year pro Kirtys MacKenzie to Taunton Town, whilst simultaneously concentrating on “another forward signing”.

BBC Sport’s Brent Pilnick similarly expects Knill to make further additions in the coming days, revealing that he believes “at least one more” player will join United before the end of the week. That can only be good news for Torquay who need all the help they can get, having gone without a win since the 1-0 Devon derby victory over Exeter City on 28 January.

Torquay United finally ended their mammoth seven-game losing streak yesterday, grinding out a 0-0 draw with fellow League Two strugglers Accrington Stanley. In doing so, Torquay avoided equalling an unwanted club record of eight consecutive defeats. The club have slipped down the league table since Martin Ling’s absence through illness, and their freefall began under assistant manager Shaun Taylor’s temporary reign before the board appointed former Scunthorpe boss Alan Knill in late February in a bid to stop the rot.

United are without a win since the defeat of Exeter on 28 January, and the seven consecutive losses since that game saw the side drop from a position of mid-table anonymity into the depths of an incredibly close relegation battle. Just two points now separate the Gulls from bottom club AFC Wimbledon, and although Torquay have the best goal difference of the bottom nine clubs, they unsurprisingly have the worst form of those around them.

United goalkeeper Michael Poke helps earn a much-needed draw

United goalkeeper Michael Poke helps earn a much-needed draw

However, the point gleaned from the draw with Accrington – themselves only one point above the drop zone – should provide a much-needed injection of confidence into a United side that has scored just twice in their last five games (and even that goal was heavily deflected!) and provide a platform for further improvement. Supporters will be hoping that ex-Bury boss Knill can use his contacts at Everton and Manchester United to deliver the handful of loan signings necessary to freshen up his squad, but as new Plymouth manager John Sheridan has found out, attracting players to clubs based in the South West is more of a challenge than some would imagine.

Indeed, despite previously  predicting new signings to arrive before the Accrington game, Knill admitted earlier this week: “It is proving quite difficult [to sign players] but the players are definitely there. We’ve tried for about 10 players; some have said ‘no’ straightaway because the location is such that they don’t want to move.” Knill now has a full week to complete any loan deals before mid-table Oxford United visit Plainmoor next Saturday, and it is crucial that he delivers. Although goalscoring remains a huge problem, central defence cover may be a priority for Knill with key defender Aaron Downes sidelined for a further 2-3 weeks.

York have relieved Gary Mills of his duties with 10 games to go

Elsewhere in League Two, the division’s other side in freefall, newly-promoted York City, have sacked manager Gary Mills after a torrid run of 11 winless games. Mills had been in charge at Bootham Crescent since October 2010 and guided the club to both promotion from the Conference and the FA Trophy last season, but his board felt a change was necessary after this weekend’s 2-0 reverse at home to Bradford if they were to avoid an immediate return to non-league football. The club’s directors must now move quickly to appoint Mills’ successor, with York now only four points clear of the League Two trapdoor, and with limited time for the new man to turn things around.

One Knill To Torquay

League Two strugglers Torquay United yesterday announced the appointment of Alan Knill as the club’s interim manager until the end of the season. Knill will work with assistant manager Shaun Taylor, who had taken over the first-team reigns following normal boss Martin Ling’s illness which has kept him out of action since late January. Knill, a former Wales international, now has fourteen games to save Torquay from the relegation battle that they have slipped into in Ling’s absence.

Since hanging up his playing boots in 2001, Knill has managed Rotherham United, Bury and Scunthorpe United, enjoying most of his managerial success to date at Bury. The 48-year-old’s first foray into management came in January 2005 as caretaker boss of Rotherham, and despite only leading the side to two victories in his 11 games in charge, Knill was given the job permanently in December of that year. Knill was slightly more successful during his permanent spell at Millmoor, recording a win rate of 28.13%. However, was sacked by Rotherham in March 2007 after a dire run of 14 games without a win, and it took him just under a year to find another job, as manager of League Two side Bury.

Knill has a tough job on his hands at Torquay

Knill’s stay at Gigg Lane was vastly more successful, and after saving the club from relegation to the Conference after his appointment in February 2o08, he led the club to a fourth-placed finish in his 2008-09, his first full season in charge, only missing out on automatic promotion by one goal. The 2009-10 campaign followed a similar pattern until February, when a disastrous run of form saw The Shakers drop out of the promotion race and end the season in mid-table. Towards the end of 2010-11 Knill left for Championship strugglers Scunthorpe United; shortly afterwards Bury finally secured promotion to League One, with new manager Richie Barker building on the foundations that Knill had laid.

Knill could have been forgiven for soon questioning his decision to leave a Bury side on the up – his first game in charge of Scunthorpe was a 6-0 loss to Norwich – and with only eight games remaining, he was unable to prevent the second tier’s bottom club from relegation to League One. His first full season in charge culminated in a disappointing bottom-half finish, and on 29 October 2012 the club lost patience with Knill and sacked him. Two months earlier he had been lucky to escape without serious injuries after a cycling accident caused by a squirrel; his subsequent comment that “the situation we [Scunthorpe] are in at the moment, I don’t cherish, but there are worse situations” possibly led the board to believe he was not the man for another relegation battle.

However, that is exactly what Knill finds himself in now after joining Torquay, who are currently five points clear of the drop zone, having lost their last five games under makeshift boss Taylor. It’s a far cry from last season, in which Ling’s side rallied after Christmas to push for automatic promotion, only missing out on the final day of the season. Knill will inherit a squad low on confidence, and with his first game against rampant league leaders Port Vale, he will do well to avoid a repeat of his first game at the helm at Scunthorpe.

It appears that Tuesday’s 1-0 loss at fellow strugglers Aldershot Town was the final straw for United chairman Simon Baker, who had revealed Taylor had previously turned down his offer of a coach to provide assistance. One Torquay fan even claims that when asked during the defeat to Aldershot if Taylor knew “what he was doing”, Baker replied “I don’t think so, no”!

Shaun Taylor has been shown to be out of his depth in Ling’s absence

The chairman yesterday revealed that Knill’s appointment came on the back of recommendations from his former colleagues: “Alan was suggested to us by some people in the football industry,” said Baker. “We had drawn up a shortlist and we checked up on Alan with people he had worked with, and they all gave him a glowing reference.” Baker also hinted that Knill’s contacts and “good relationship[s] with Manchester United and Everton” could lead to an influx of loan players to aid Torquay’s fight for survival.

With the new man having attended the Aldershot game in order to run the rule over the club’s players, Torquay fans will be hoping Knill recognises the need to move creative midfielder Nathan Craig – too often wasted on the right-hand side, despite being left-footed – into the middle of the park, and to make more use of recent loan signing Elliot Benyon, who has been borrowed from Southend United. Despite being brought in by Taylor to score the goals needed to convert 1-0 losses into draws and victories, Benyon has played just 55 minutes, all from the bench, in the three games he has been available. Supporters will also have been encouraged by Knill’s reputation as a fan of passing football, developed at Bury – too often this season United have resorted to playing aimless long balls in the vague direction of targetman Rene Howe.

Torquay remain in the dark about the extent of Ling’s illness – although Baker vaguely revealed that the manager is “making progress”, it is still unclear whether or not he will be able to take over the reigns from Knill at the end of the season.

Calf injury rules out Logan deal

Former Exeter City striker Richard Logan has revealed that he will not be joining Torquay United after sustaining an untimely calf injury while on trial at the League Two strugglers.  Torquay manager Martin Ling had taken Logan on loan on 24 January as part of his search for back-up for top-scorer Rene Howe, but the hunt for a new striker has become even more pressing this week following Howe’s two-match suspension for reaching 10 yellow cards in the 2-1 defeat to Cheltenham Town on Saturday.

Beginning his career as a trainee with Ipswich Town in 1998, Logan was loaned to Torquay during the 2001-02 season, netting four times in 16 league games. More loan spells throughout the Football League followed until Logan settled down first with Peterborough United and then Exeter; his five-year stay with the Grecians included scoring against local rivals United in the 2007-08 Conference play-offs, and bagging the goal that sealed Exeter’s promotion to League One a year later.

In happier days: Logan has missed out on a contract with Torquay through injury

However, any nostalgia between club and player was lost when Exeter released Logan and several of his team-mates following their relegation to the fourth tier in 2011-12. A move to League Two rivals Wycombe Wanderers quickly followed, but the forward lasted just 10 scoreless games before he was on the move again. Equally brief stop-gap spells with non-league Dorchester and Bury Town took Logan up to the January transfer window, and the 31-year-old used his contacts at United – including goalkeeper Martin Rice, a former team-mate at Exeter – to negotiate a trial at Plainmoor with a view to a permanent move.

Ling suggested that Logan could be the perfect fit for the Gulls, who were looking for a cheap striking reinforcement to replace Howe in the event of injury or suspension to the club’s sole targetman; he told BBC Sport, “[Logan] is now available and we’re just having a little look to see what he brings…He is a player out there doing nothing at the moment. He is 31 and had an effect with Exeter last year.”

Although the January transfer window slammed shut without any new arrivals at Plainmoor, Ling remained keen to bolster his threadbare strikeforce, which currently contains just three forwards:  Howe, Ryan Jarvis and rookie pro Ashley Yeoman. A combination of Ling’s illness – he has missed Torquay’s last two games against Exeter and Cheltenham through a virus, and will not be on the sidelines for Saturday’s fixture against Fleetwood – and the club’s location hampered a possible signing: earlier this week chairman Simon Baker revealed, “We  were actually rebuffed on our first enquiry this week because the player in question is not keen on relocating to the south-west.”

Benyon (left) could be in with a chance of returning to Plainmoor on loan

The forward Baker refers to has since been speculated to be Bournemouth frontman Jayden Stockley, who chose a loan to Conference outfit Woking over a trip to Devon. That decision seemed to open the door once more to Logan, who could have provided a like-for-like replacement for Howe in the home games against Fleetwood and Rotherham. However, with a one-month contract seemingly on the table, Logan was forced to limp out of training on two occasions this week due to a calf injury, which also ruled him out of Tuesday’s reserve fixture at Plymouth Argyle. The striker confirmed his injury on his Twitter account, adding that he was “gutted” to be missing out on the one-month “prove yourself” deal.

Logan now fully expects Torquay to sign another striker on loan in his place; local newspaper the Herald Express believes that the club have shortlisted ex-Bristol City forward John Akinde and out-of-favour Southend attacker Elliot Benyon as possible transfer targets. Akinde was released by Crawley Town this week, having scored just once in 40 games in two years at the League One club. Benyon, 25, is well-known to Torquay fans having spent four years at Plainmoor, averaging a goal every three games. His impressive work-rate and form warranted a move to Swindon Town in January 2011, but was soon loaned to Wycombe before joining Southend in last year’s winter transfer window. However, Benyon has made just 11 appearances in over a year at the Roots Hall club, and is likely to be open to loan offers having fallen behind the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Gavin Tomlin, Freddy Eastwood and Barry Corr in manager Paul Sturrock’s pecking order of strikers.

Mid-table League Two outfit Torquay United will unveil Plainmoor’s new “big screen” this weekend in the Devon derby clash with Exeter City, and its success could influence the future monetization of England’s lower leagues.

United last progressed beyond the English fourth tier when they won promotion in the 2003-04 season; they are one of the Football League’s smallest clubs in terms of budget and crowds. Considering Premier League giants Liverpool – who regularly enjoy home attendances of over 15 times that of Torquay – do not have a big screen at their Anfield stadium, you could be forgiven for wondering why a club on the bottom rung of professional football is investing in such a high-profile addition.

Like any lower-league club, Torquay are keen to maximize revenue in order to be able to compete and even tread water. As long as millionaire investors remain elusive, managers at this level are often pressured to sell before they buy, and Martin Ling, United chief since the start of the 2011-12 campaign, fits this image perfectly. The ex-Leyton Orient manager has operated successfully in the transfer market without spending a penny on transfer fees, yet has still managed to earn a hefty profit for his club: goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik was recruited for free in summer 2011 but sold for £300,000 a year later, while Ling also cashed in on previous manager Paul Buckle’s signings Eunan O’Kane and Mark Ellis, who both departed for League One for a joint total of around £230,000.

Torquay’s big screen is set to be unveiled on Saturday against rivals Exeter City

Despite this, Ling’s transfer kitty remains small, and major dealings in the January window remain unlikely. Much of the money made from selling the aforementioned key players went towards paying for Bristow’s Bench, Plainmoor’s new grandstand. Although the new stand makes Plainmoor “a stadium, rather than a ground” (in the words of chairman Simon Baker), attendances have not increased from last season; if anything, atmosphere has been diluted as home supporters are now spread across three stands, rather than two.

The club has consequently turned to other avenues in an attempt to manufacture extra revenue streams. While the idea of the big screen, first mooted during the 2011-12 season but only put into action a few weeks ago, was met positively by supporters dreaming of high-definition highlights and Sky Sports round-ups during half-time, the club’s later announcement of what the screen would entail left fans decidedly disappointed.

Earlier this month an article on the club’s official website attempted to sell the idea of the screen to potential investors: hailing the addition as a “sensational advertising tool” that would allow investors to see their business “emblazoned across this digital investment at Torquay United”, the club revealed its rates for the big screen. The sheer volume of sponsorship opportunities sadly show that the screen is more for the benefit of the club than its supporters – United are looking for a wide range of cash investments, ranging from the predictable “Goal sponsorship” (£2000) to the bizarre “Clock sponsor” and desperate “Throw-in sponsorship” and “Injury sponsorship.”

Given that an advert for the corresponding business is shown every time the match witnesses a goal, penalty, yellow card, red card, throw-in, injury, or a shot against the woodwork, it is fair to say that fans are likely to soon grow tired of watching the same tedious adverts pop up hundreds of times in a match, and this advert overload is also potentially impractical. As one United fan humourously put it, “there won’t be time for anything other than adverts…Imagine the advert overkill if a throw in *advert* goes just inside the box *advert*, where the player fouls and a penalty is given *advert*, he is red-carded *advert*, the penalty-winning player is injured *advert*, the resultant penalty is saved *advert* by the keeper who tips it onto the post *advert* and it rolls across the line before being bundled in for a goal *advert*!

Much of the screen’s fate will depend on the circumstances in which it is launched: United’s derby clash with Exeter could potentially make or break their season going into the busy Christmas period. The extreme closeness of the chasing pack in League Two – just six points separate fifth-placed Bradford from fifteenth-placed Rochdale – means that wins are crucial if either side is to mount a serious promotion challenge. Torquay are without long-term injured midfielders Ian Morris and Lloyd Macklin, while winger Billy Bodin is also a doubt, but the biggest loss to United’s starting line-up is centre-back and vice-captain Brian Saah, suspended for the Christmas period following a straight red card received in the loss at Bradford last weekend.

In short, the result against Exeter could be just as important to the screen’s fate as its own performance; a humiliating defeat on home turf to their bitter rivals may cause some fans to reject the screen, associating it with defeat and embarrassment, while a comfortable, morale-boosting victory would provide the perfect conditions for it to be accepted as a worthwhile instalment to the ground.

Cardiff’s drastic rebranding earlier this year caused controversy and shocked the football world

The introduction of the screen follows increased sponsorship and monetization of the lower leagues; several stadiums in League One and Two have recently been renamed, such as Huddersfie ld’s John Smith Stadium, so named by Heineken after the alcohol giant bought the rights to the ground’s name. Chesterfield’s b2net Stadium, opened in 2009, was renamed the Proact Stadium in August after the original sponsors were acquired by Proact. Needless to say, the Swedish company has no relation whatsoever to Chesterfield or its team.

However, perhaps the most extreme example of sponsorship in the Football League is that of Cardiff City, who saw their club colours changed to red and black in June by the club’s Malaysian investors. Bizarrely, the owners’ justification for Cardiff’s kits after over 100 years of playing in blue was that the club needed to rebrand itself in order to appeal to the Asian market, and that they believed blue to be an unlucky colour; only in football could organisations be more concerned about potential, unlikely supporters than long-serving existing ones. That such a radical move has been largely accepted, however, shows that sponsorship is only likely to increase in severity in the coming years as wealthy backers continue to stretch the limits of what is acceptable. Likewise, the owners’ ability to subdue angry Cardiff supporters by offering large cash investments to assist the club’s transfer policy demonstrates sponsorship’s worrying ability to triumph over tradition.

The monetization of the lower leagues is, for many, removing the appeal of supporting lower-league clubs; though the situation is still controllable at present, the viral greed of the Premier League is beginning to seep into England’s lower professional divisions. Plainmoor may have retained its original name since 1910, but if present trends continue, it may be in a minority among clubs in Leagues One and Two by the end of the decade.

Images: Torquay Big Screen – Lee Mansell (Twitter); Cardiff Shirts –

Torquay United will face Conference North side Harrogate Town in the first round of the FA Cup on Saturday after the North Yorkshire club finally emerged victorious from a qualifying round clash with Hyde FC.

With 87 minutes played at Hyde’s Ewen Fields ground on 20 October, Harrogate had looked to be heading out of the competition. Former Everton striker Phil Jevons had given the hosts the lead early on, but Harrogate scrambled an equaliser late on through substitute Leon Osbourne to secure a replay on home turf.

Leon Osbourne (third-from-left Harrogate player) is mobbed after scoring a late equalizer in the 1-1 draw at Hyde

Although a lethal combination of bad weather and an over-used Wetherby Road caused the replay to be postponed and moved to Station View (home of neighbours Harrogate  Railway Athletic), when the sides finally met again yesterday Harrogate prevailed… just. Although Hyde’s pre-match preparations were severely hampered by heavy traffic that meant their coach arrived so late that kick-off had to be delayed by 15 minutes, Harrogate showed admirable determination to match their opponents for the duration of normal time.

180 minutes had failed to separate the two sides, but when Harrogate’s winner came deep into extra time, it was again from the boot of a substitute – this time 19-year-old defender Dan Clayton emerged as his team’s hero.

The victory sets Harrogate up for a long trip to Plainmoor, home of League Two Torquay United, in a replica of the 2005 first-round draw. That year, Harrogate deservedly earned a 1-1 draw in the Westcountry before again matching their professional counterparts at home – only to be cruelly beaten on penalties. That first-round replay remains the furthest Harrogate have ever progressed in the FA Cup.

Although Simon Weaver’s men will be hoping to avenge that loss and surpass their club record, they will face a strong Torquay side that is now sitting in the League Two play-off places after recovering from an indifferent start to the campaign. The Gulls are still unbeaten at home in the league and have won their last four games at Plainmoor – even recovering a 3-0 deficit to beat Aldershot 4-3 and pipping league leaders Gillingham 2-1.

Exits at the first hurdle of both the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy  – to Leicester City and Yeovil Town respectively – leave this fixture as United’s last chance of cup success; Martin Ling’s side will doubtless be looking to continue a fine record in the FA Cup that has seen them reach the third round in five of the last seven seasons.

Torquay boss Ling is hoping for a fund-raising Cup run

However, Ling has also admitted that he sees the competition as a chance to boost the club’s coffers – with the January transfer window looming, Torquay need all the cash they can get to fund mid-season signings, and the £18,000 reward for beating Harrogate is a good start. Former Premier League midfielder Ling told BBC Sport: “It’s about money. It’s cruel to say that, because of the glory of the Cup, but it may mean me signing a player or having the the wages to sign a player that can help us go up [to League One]. That’s what the FA Cup’s about to me.”

United’s midfield has been particularly decimated by injury this season, with Ian Morris, Lloyd Macklin and Saul Halpin all currently suffering lengthy spells on the sidelines, while holding midfielders Damon Lathrope and Craig Easton have only recently returned to action after limping out of early games against Cheltenham and Chesterfield respectively. Though Ling resisted a late foray into the loan market earlier this month, the temptation to reinforce may prove too great if funds are made available through a decent cup run.


Images: Hyde 1-1 Harrogate –; Ling –

Season So Far: Torquay United

A steady start to the 2012-13 campaign sees Torquay United lie mid-table in League Two after seven games, a return that is considerably more respectable considering the Gulls have taken in away fixtures at title favourites Rotherham United and Fleetwood Town, a local derby against Plymouth Argyle, and a clash against last year’s play-off finalists Cheltenham Town.

Twelve months ago such a start would have been seen as cause for optimism; Torquay’s unprecedented success in 2011-12 – during Martin Ling’s first season at the helm – has raised expectations, and keen to satisfy fans’ demands, Ling has set his sights on promotion. Where last season a play-off spot was seen as a huge achievement for a club that is typically among the smallest in the Football League in terms of both budget and support, Ling is aiming for a top-three finish “with the play-offs as the safety”.

Ling’s new-look squad will look to challenge at the right end of the table in 2012-13

Like last year, Torquay have lost only once in their opening seven league games (a 1-0 defeat at big-spending Rotherham), but the club are two points down on last season’s tally at this stage in the campaign. United won three of their first six games in 2011-12, but then embarked on a barren 9-game winless streak between 10 September and 22 October.

Supporters will hope Ling has learned sufficient lessons from his first season in charge to be able to avoid such runs this time around, and the early omens look good. Torquay exhibited both sides of their game in the first three fixtures: a steely defensive resolve earned a point at Fleetwood on the opening day; attacking prowess (if not the same defensive protection) were displayed in the first two home games – a 2-2 draw with Cheltenham and a 4-2 win over Rochdale.

When on their game, United remain tough to beat, with a competent, determined defensive unit which contains three veterans of last season’s campaign; the club are unlikely to receive too many hidings this season unless injuries ravage Ling’s back four. Though the four goals scored against Rochdale suggested an attacking verve – with exciting youthful arrogance in the form of skillful winger Billy Bodin and lightning-fast wideman Niall Thompson – supporters remain unconvinced that the side will score enough goals to earn promotion.

Plainmoor’s new stand, Bristow’s Bench, will witness its first season in 2012-13

Despite finishing fifth in League Two last term, Torquay were the lowest scorers of the top nine teams in the division, and backup to lone striker Rene Howe remains sparse – particularly with the summer departure of last season’s fourth-top scorer Taiwo Atieno. Indeed, 1-0 wins look set to be a more common occurrence than large victories, and tellingly, despite 20 shots on goal during Tuesday’ s 1-0 victory at AFC Wimbledon, the winner came courtesy of home goalkeeper Seb Brown’s clearance that bounced off Howe and into the net when the striker’s back was turned.

United will hope to pick up at least four points from the next two home fixtures, against Burton Albion and Aldershot, because upcoming away games pit the Gulls against Chesterfield and Wycombe – both of whom were in League One last season. Much depends on whether Torquay can make it to Christmas without embarking on a losing run; if they can, a serious promotion challenge is possible if last season’s New Year form is repeated.

Torquay United recorded their first league win of the 2012-13 campaign on home turf, defeating visitors Rochdale in the third league fixture of the season. Succeeding a thrilling, end-to-end 2-2 draw with Cheltenham, this game had it all and even more: 6 goals, a penalty, shots hitting the woodwork, a red card (and four yellows) and a blatant handball.

Both sides came into the match with two draws to their name; Torquay had earned a point at promotion favourites Fleetwood Town before conceding a late equalizer at home to Cheltenham, while Rochdale had also begun their season with a goalless draw, at home to Northampton, and, just like Torquay, had conceded a late equalizer at Chesterfield that spoiled an otherwise impressive display.

With midfielders Damon Lathrope and Lloyd Macklin having joined United’s growing injury list against Cheltenham, Torquay manager Martin Ling was forced to hand former Southend skipper Craig Easton and youth-team product Niall Thompson their first league starts for the club. Rochdale boss John Coleman, meanwhile, named an unchanged line-up from the team that faced Chesterfield four days earlier.

Despite being relegated from League One in 2011-12 after finishing bottom of the table, Rochdale boast a squad that is the envy of many of their new divisional rivals and in former Accrington boss Coleman, they have a manager who is vastly experienced in lower-league football. Making full use of the summer transfer window, Coleman has added ex-Birmingham striker Dele Adebola as well as his former Accrington charges Kevin McIntyre, Ray Putterill, Phil Edwards and Ian Craney.

Looking confident on the ball, despite being away from home and playing in the driving rain at Plainmoor, Rochdale dominated the early stages of the game, playing aesthetically pleasing passing football and even taking short goal kicks, to the chagrin of lone Torquay forward Rene Howe, who soon found himself overworked by the enthusiastic passing of the Rochdale defence.

The visitors enjoyed the first chance of the game, former Plymouth Argyle striker George Donnelly horribly miscuing from a promising position on the right-hand side of United’s penalty area. Rochdale didn’t have to wait long for the opener, however: just seven minutes had elapsed when Jason Kennedy’s low corner found ex-Manchester City midfielder Andrew Tutte, who fired beyond Michael Poke in the Torquay goal. The strike represented Tutte’s second in four days; at the age of just 21 the England youth international has already racked up over 60 Football League appearances.

Aaron Downes scrambles home the second Torquay goal of his career in as many appearances

To their credit, Torquay responded brilliantly. Good work from left-back Kevin Nicholson and captain Lee Mansell allowed winger Billy Bodin to dart in behind the visiting defence, and the Welshman slammed the ball past Josh Lillis from a tight angle. Just five minutes separated the goals, but despite the high-tempo opening, few could have predicted the nature of the game that would follow.

As the rain continued to fall on a sodden Plainmoor, the chances came thick and fast at both ends: Rochdale skipper Peter Cavanagh curled a beautiful, dipping effort onto Poke’s crossbar before a Tutte shot narrowly cleared the goal; at the other end Mansell and Ian Morris forced Lillis into spectacular saves, while Rene Howe failed to direct a free header from Bodin’s pacy cross.

A third goal was inevitable and it arrived on the half-hour mark, Australian centre-back Aaron Downes eventually finding the net after a prolonged one-man goalmouth scramble against the Rochdale defence in which Downes somehow beat Lillis and several men on the line.

The goal seemed to break Rochdale and within minutes it could have been 3-1. Flying winger Thompson, a highly-rated speed merchant, had already proven his worth using his pace to run at defenders, but he now appeared in a central position to thread a fine pass into the path of Howe. Unfortunately for Torquay, the former Peterborough frontman failed to convert his one-on-one opportunity and the ball was soon smothered by Lillis. Howe had wasted a great chance to put daylight between the teams – captain Mansell made sure the striker knew it.

If controversy was all that was lacking in a pulsating first half, Rochdale defender Ryan Edwards duly obliged in first-half stoppage time. A seemingly innocuous long ball was misjudged, and, realizing the ball was bouncing over his head, leaving Howe through on goal, last man Edwards jumped up and punched the sphere to safety, to the disbelief of the 2,700-strong crowd. Thankfully for Rochdale, referee Gavin Ward showed mercy and only awarded a yellow card, despite the deliberate and obvious handball and the fact that Edwards had denied Torquay a clear goalscoring opportunity.

The interval provided little respite for Rochdale and soon after the restart they were pegged back in their own half. Growing in confidence, Thompson was causing havoc on both wings, first testing Lillis with a curling effort from the left before moving back to the right touchline to send in a great cross that Bodin met, only to be denied by a heroic block from new villain Edwards before Howe’s ambitious overhead kick on the rebound went narrowly wide.

When Bodin cracked a powerful shot against Lillis’ crossbar moments later, a third Torquay goal seemed to be on the cards, and it duly arrived on 59 minutes. Kevin Nicholson’s long-range effort was too hot for Lillis to handle, and this time Howe took advantage of the rebound to fire into the bottom corner.

This goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Coleman’s men and morale was further damaged nine minutes later. Ironically, given all of their well-carved out chances, Torquay’s fourth goal was curiously simple: a long clearance out of the United penalty area found Howe with just one Rochdale defender for company. Outmuscling and outpacing his marker, the targetman bore down on goal before producing a deft, delicious chip to seemingly secure the points with more than 20 minutes still to play.

The goal should have put the result beyond all doubt, but a rare error from the otherwise outstanding Downes let the visitors back into the game and set up a far nervier ending than anticipated. The fatal mixture of a fine Rochdale move and some complacent defending from their hosts culminated in Donnelly preparing to pull the trigger from inside the box; Downes, the only Torquay player able to prevent the shot, allowed defensive instincts to take over and brought the striker to the ground with a late tackle.

Although he would have been better served letting Donnelly shoot from a narrow angle against the impressive Poke, rather than desperately trying to prevent a goal that would, in all likelihood, done little to change the destination of the three points, Downes had denied Donnelly a clear goalscoring opportunity and on this occasion referee Ward brandished a straight red card.

Howe about that? – After three games, Rene’s tally already stands at three goals

Succeeding penalty-saving expert Bobby Olejnik between the Yellow posts is, by all accounts, a challenging task, but Poke made it look easy by diving to his right to stop Kennedy’s penalty. The three-goal lead had been preserved, but with teenage rookie and Football League virgin Kirtys MacKenzie the only centre-back among Ling’s substitutes, the pressing issue of Downes’ replacement at the heart of Torquay’s defence needed solving.

Ling responded by understandably withdrawing the impressive Thompson with left-back Tom Cruise, but less fathomable was his decision to play the left-sided Cruise at right-back, moving that position’s previous incumbent Joe Oastler to partner Brian Saah in central defence.

The red card provided Rochdale with the hope necessary to launch a sustained late attempt to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat, and the visitors began to pile on the pressure against a tired Torquay team. Rochdale winger Ray Putterill, introduced early in the second half, had been largely contained by Oastler but now began to cause problems against the out-of-position Cruise, forcing Poke into an impressive stop before Putterill’s team-mates Kennedy and Craney also saw efforts repelled by Torquay’s no.1.

With five minutes of normal time remaining, Putterill finally reduced the deficit, firing home from close range after a lengthy goalmouth scramble. Despite time being against them, Rochdale gamely continued to pour men forward, resulting in a nervy finale for Torquay supporters, with much of the angst being unfairly taken out on midfielder Ian Morris, who was somehow blamed for 10-man United’s collective inability to break out of their half.  As manager Ling admitted after the final whistle: “If Lee Mansell makes a bad touch or bad pass, they cheer. If Ian Morris does it, the crowd groans a bit…we need the fans to get behind everybody, not just the players they like.”

Torquay had to survive one more late scare when Kevin Nicholson was forced to clear a goalbound Kennedy effort off the line, but the hosts’ cobbled-together defence held on for a hugely impressive three points at the end of a thrilling, exhausting contest. This is only the second time United have hit four at home under Ling in competitive fixtures, but similar displays of attacking intent throughout the season will surely yield more high-scoring games.

The only black mark against a fine performance, Downes’ red card gives Ling a selection headache ahead of Saturday’s trip to Port Vale: MacKenzie, the only other centre-back in Torquay’s small squad, has no Football League experience and was only promoted to the first-team in April; Cruise and Oastler and more comfortable at full-back; and with transfer deadline-day looming, not to mention a lack of funds, Ling will do well to secure a late loanee to provide short-term cover.

Torquay United: Poke; Oastler, Downes (sent-off 73), Saah, Nicholson; Thompson (Cruise 74), Mansell, Easton, Morris, Bodin (Craig 80); Howe (Jarvis 75). Subs not used: Rice, Leadbitter, MacKenzie, Yeoman.

Rochdale: Lillis; Cavanagh, R.Edwards, P.Edwards (Craney 70), Pearson; Kennedy, Tutte, Grimes (Putterill 55), McIntyre; Donnelly, Adebola (Curran 70). Subs not used: Rafferty, Bennett, Barry-Murphy, Smith.

Referee: Gavin Ward.

Attendance: 2,731 (207 away).


Images: Downes goal –; Howe –