Lifeless Torquay United left second best as Wycombe fight their way to victory
Less than four days after their second-half heroics against Aldershot Town, Torquay United slumped to the tamest of defeats against struggling Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park.
Whatever it was that had galvanised them on that wet and windy night at Plainmoor in midweek, United could summon up precious little of it in Saturday's sunshine in Buckinghamshire.
Wycombe, with a caretaker player-manager in charge and without a win in eight games, did not have to play out of their skins to beat the Gulls 2-1, but they did offer plenty of heart and hard work. It was enough to prevail. More than enough.
Torquay manager Martin Ling refused to countenance it as a mitigating factor, but his squad has been affected by a sickness bug over the past week. Some of Saturday's team looked well below-par.
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When Rene Howe equalised just before half-time, United's travelling fans must have hoped that it would inspire them to move out of second gear and finish the job. Instead, it was Wycombe who shrugged off the setback, dominated the second half and clinched their first npower League Two home win of the season.
Hardly anyone contributed more than their temporary boss Gareth Ainsworth. At 39, he should really be letting his younger charges do all the hard work, but on Saturday he was scuttling about like a lad half his age and, when he was not giving United's defence all the grief they could handle, he was acting as an unpaid cheerleader to an enthusiastic home crowd.
At one stage, during an injury stoppage which would normally be a chance to talk tactics or gee up his players, Ainsworth left them to have a swig of water on one side of Adams Park while he lifted the fans beyond the opposite touchline.
United did offer brief spurts of the passing moves they are capable of in a generally scrappy first half, but they seldom got the basics right. For instance, they left the veteran Gary Doherty unmarked in the first few minutes and, although the former Norwich City centre-back headed wide then, United did not heed the warning and he punished them in the 33rd minute.
Joe Oastler saved United with some alert covering to deny former Torquay striker Joe Kuffour, but, when they failed to clear the lively Josh Scowen's corner, it was Ainsworth who retrieved the ball on the left, crossed it back into the goalmouth, where Doherty made no mistake this time and headed home.
Torquay had made one or two half-chances, but they left their shooting boots behind, Billy Bodin firing off target three times when he should have hit the target at least once or twice. Still, Howe always posed a threat, and in the 42nd minute he scored his eighth goal of the season.
Nathan Craig's diagonal ball from left to right picked out Howe, and the centre-forward cut inside past one defender and tucked a low left-foot shot between goalkeeper Jordan Archer and his near post.
Wycombe were forced to take off promising young striker Matt McClure at half-time, but substitute Dean Morgan was soon buzzing about to good effect. Kuffour twice and Joel Grant went close to regaining the lead before Scowen did it in the 63rd minute. Morgan beat Oastler on the left by-line and crossed to the far post where Scowen, one of the smallest players on the pitch, headed past Michael Poke from close range.
A minute later Ryan Jarvis – he and winger Lloyd Macklin were recalled to United's attack – hit a 25-yard drive which Archer tipped over the angle of post and bar with the save of the match. It was by far Torquay's best attempt of the match and produced their first corner, after 64 minutes.
Ling sent on Danny Stevens, Niall Thompson and Ashley Yeoman in an attempt to salvage something in the closing stages. Although they did lift themselves near the end, the nearest they got to a second equaliser was a strong, goalbound volley by Howe which rebounded off full-back Charlie Dunne, and a left-foot shot by Oastler which hit the side-netting in stoppage-time.
It had been a day to forget for United. If only they could have bottled up the spirit of the Aldershot revival.