Alan Knill sympathises with Aaron Downes as Torquay United's focus turns to Dagenham clash
Manager Alan Knill has told defender Aaron Downes to put last Saturday's 3-1 npower League Two defeat by Oxford United behind him and has fully backed him as Torquay United travel to Dagenham and Redbridge tonight.
The Australian centre-back was involved in Oxford's first two goals at Plainmoor, beaten by James Constable for the first and then conceding a penalty against the same forward for the second.
Knill, a former Wales international centre-half, insisted: "In his mind, Aaron is blaming himself for Saturday, but I sat him down the next day and went through it with him.
"We've all been there as defenders. You make a decision, it goes wrong and unfortunately it costs. Looking at the replay, maybe we could have done more to help Aaron with both of those goals.
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"The fact is that he and Brian Saah have been excellent all season. I'm putting what happened against Oxford down as a one-off."
Torquay desperately need a result to halt a headlong plunge towards the relegation zone, after collecting only one point from nine games. But Knill does not see the next two away games – the Gulls return to Essex to play Southend United at Roots Hall on Saturday – as any more daunting than if they were at home.
"I'm not sure whether it's the same in other divisions, but in League Two teams are finding it more and more difficult to win at home, especially at this stage of the season," he said.
"Exactly what the reason is, I don't know for sure, but many teams seem to be far more comfortable playing away.
"The onus is on the home side to go out and attack, and that suits quite a lot of away teams who like to play on the counter.
"I wouldn't have a penny bet on a home win in League Two at the moment."
The top two, Gillingham and Port Vale, as well as promotion-chasers Exeter City, have all taken more points on the road than in front of their own fans. In the relegation scrap, York City, Aldershot Town, AFC Wimbledon and Accrington Stanley have better records away than home.
Knill, who last night went talent-hunting, is unlikely to make many changes when he links up with the squad at Dagenham, although midfielder Craig Easton remains on the sidelined with a calf injury.
The Gulls' boss is keen to follow the signing of Notts County midfielder Joss Labadie with at least one other loan deal this week. "We need to be better at both ends of the pitch than we were against Oxford," he said, "but I do think that we are competing. I've not seen any signs that the players are not committed."
United's 2-1 win over Dagenham way back on December 1 was their last victory at Plainmoor and three more points, on another hugely important night in League Two, would be both timely and precious for the Devon side.
Torquay United (from): Poke, Rice; Oastler, Saah, Downes, Nicholson, Labadie, Mansell, Jarvis, Benyon, Howe, Bodin, Lathrope, Macklin, MacDonald, Stevens, Craig, Cruise, Yeoman, Leadbitter, N Thompson, Morris.
Unavailable: Easton (hamstring), Halpin, Baker, McKenzie (all out on loan).
Torquay are set to lose winger Billy Bodin to international duty for two matches next week.
Bodin is in the Wales Under-21 squad to meet Moldova in a European Under-21 Championship qualifier at Llanelli next Friday (March 22).
Torquay have agreed a new loan deal with striker Elliot Benyon that will keep him at Plainmoor for the rest of the season. Benyon originally moved from Southend United in a one-month switch.
"He is getting better with each game and gives us another striking option," said Knill. "He was somebody who needed games when he first arrived and he is now looking stronger.
"It was easy for us to make that decision and I also think he is getting better at working with Rene Howe. He has been quite unlucky in that he's not had great chances, but we expect them to come.
"His record says that Elliot can score goals and that's the reason we've kept him."