DEVON DERBY COUNTDOWN: Fed up Martin Ling knows the importance of winning run for Torquay United
"I'm fed up with talking about results we should have got," said Torquay United manager Martin Ling as his stuttering Gulls get ready to face Exeter City in tonight's Devon derby at Plainmoor (8pm).
United face City, in the 114th meeting of the old local rivals, on the back of a five-match winless run which has yielded only two points and seen them slip down the npower League Two table to 16th place.
What a difference three weeks can make.
"Before we were going to play them on December 22, there were only three points between us and Exeter," said Ling. "Now there's 11 points between us, and that proves the difference in form.
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"We haven't won a game for six weeks and, although postponements have played a part in that, we do need to put a couple of wins together.
"We have talked about our games in hand and using them to get back into the play-offs, but you've got to be naïve not to take notice of what's going on below us at the moment.
"Exeter have gone into the top three, they've started to buzz and they feel it's going to be a good season for them. But football is about people levelling things out, and derbies are all about that.
"The only way for us to change our luck is by working hard. It's no good moaning about bad luck."
Despite a 2-1 defeat at Burton Albion at the weekend, Ling said: "We certainly passed the ball with a purpose on Saturday, which we haven't done quite so well for a while. We may be in a run where we are expecting the worst to happen, but if we play to our best, and as well as we did at Burton, we can win this game."
Three players – skipper Lee Mansell and Kevin Nicholson for United plus ex-Gull Steve Tully for City – played in the last match between the clubs, a dramatic Conference play-off semi-final in 2008, when the Grecians came from 3-1 down with 20 minutes left to win 5-3 on aggregate at Plainmoor.
Most of the players will have no memory or little knowledge of that extraordinary day, but it still resonates with fans of both sides, and that will ensure a proper atmosphere.
United have no new injury worries. Indeed, Ling said: "Players like Ryan Jarvis and Billy Bodin coming back from injuries mean that the squad is looking stronger."
Jarvis returned at Burton only a month after suffering a cracked rib and punctured lung in a 1-1 home draw with Northampton Town, but he scored his sixth goal of the season at the Pirelli Stadium.
Leading scorer Rene Howe picked up his ninth booking of the season at Burton – one away from a two-match ban – and Ling admitted that the prospect of losing his eleven-goal target man is concentrating his mind in the January transfer market.
"If Rene does go out for a couple of weeks, and the person coming in knows he's going to play rather than sit on the bench, you tend to get a better quality of player," he said. "So there's some advantage in waiting until it happens, and I've got several players on my list."
Ling admitted that Plainmoor would have been "a quagmire" if the match had kicked off yesterday afternoon. Even with drier weather moving in, it is bound to be soft, and that may dictate tactics. "We like to pass the ball, and Exeter want to play and pop the ball about as well, but we'll have to see how the pitch is before kick-off," said Ling. He has named a 22-strong squad, but he may not look to make too many changes from the team which lost at Burton.
The attendance will almost certainly be lower than it would have been on December 22. Torquay have refunded more than 400 tickets from fans who were down for Christmas, but cannot make it tonight, and the game is not all-ticket for United supporters.
South Yorkshire's Championship referee Craig Pawson will take charge.
Torquay United (from): Poke, Rice; Oastler, Saah, Downes, Nicholson, Lathrope, Mansell, Craig, Jarvis, Stevens, Howe, Bodin, MacDonald, Easton, Cruise, Yeoman, Thompson, Leadbitter, McKenzie, Halpin, Baker.
Unavailable: Morris, Macklin (both injured).