Alan Knill backs 'unplayable' Rene Howe to lead struggling Torquay United to safety
Rene Howe's 15th goal of the season, a coolly dispatched penalty which belied the time (88 minutes) and importance of the strike, earned ten-man Torquay United an important 2-2 draw at Dagenham & Redbridge in midweek – and underlined his importance to the Gulls' fight to beat relegation.
United manager Alan Knill confirmed his membership of the Howe Fan Club as he prepared the team to meet Paul Sturrock's play-off chasing Southend United at Roots Hall this afternoon.
"When Rene is on his game, he's almost unplayable," said Knill.
"When you speak to other managers and coaches about our team, it's usually Rene's name which comes up.
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"It's in everybody's interest that Rene is at the top of his game, and I thought he was at the top of his game on Tuesday. He had to lead the line on his own again, and he did it well.
"I'm a big fan, and I get on really well with him. I think Rene is someone who should be playing in a higher league. But only Rene can do that.
"He can play in League Two for the rest of his career, and be fairly comfortable. But I like people who challenge themselves, and give themselves options.
"Instead of just getting through the season, and then having a select group of people who may require your services – us among them – if you play well and score goals, that group widens."
With Southend ruling that loan striker Elliot Benyon cannot play against them, Howe could well have a new attacking partner today.
That man may be Knill's latest loan signing Jordan Chapell.
The 21-year-old Sheffield United forward can play on the wing or up front, but Knill has other options out wide and he knows that United's best bet of a result at Southend is to go at them.
On-loan midfielder Joss Labadie shrugged off a knee injury to impress at Dagenham, and he has trained since, so Knill is odds-on to continue Labadie's partnership with skipper Lee Mansell.
And a third loanee, young Reading defender Angus MacDonald, is booked to deputise again for the suspended Aaron Downes at centre-back. Downes was sent off in the third minute at Dagenham.
United may still be looking for a first win in 11 games, but they head back up the M4 for their second game in Essex in five days in much better heart after their spirited display in the East End.
"We played really well, considering the circumstances, and we dominated the game in the second half," said Knill.
"We had enough chances with ten men to take the three points. It would have made a massive difference, and that's the result we're still looking for," said Knill.
"No one expects us to beat Southend, and we go there as underdogs. But I'm hoping it's going to be a tough game for them too.
"When we are competitive, we are a match for anybody in this league."
Former Plymouth manager Sturrock was stunned by the Shrimpers' 3-1 home defeat by relegation-haunted AFC Wimbledon in midweek, especially as it came after an impressive win away to title-chasing Port Vale last Saturday.
Injuries have eaten into his squad, making Southend's run to the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy all the more creditable, and also prompting the return of mercurial French-Tunisian player Bilel Mohsni to Roots Hall after a loan spell at Ipswich.
But, with six points now separating the Shrimpers from a play-off spot, today is being billed as a "must win" game for them.
Torquay United (from): Poke, Rice; Oastler, Saah, MacDonald, Cruise, Jarvis, Labadie, Mansell, Bodin, Chapell, Howe, Nicholson, Lathrope, Macklin, Stevens, Craig, Yeoman, Leadbitter, N Thompson.
Unavailable: Downes (suspended), Easton (injured), Baker, Halpin and McKenzie (all out on loan).