Martin Ling concedes Torquay United are struggling to hold on to points as Dons plunder last-gasp win
Having conceded last-minute equalisers in their previous two matches, Torquay United once again took unerring aim at their own foot and duly hit the target, handing bottom-of-the-table AFC Wimbledon all three points in a quite crazy finish at Plainmoor.
When Rene Howe headed his 11th goal of the season to make it 2-2 in the 90th minute of yesterday's npower League Two encounter, it looked for all the world as if Torquay had managed to salvage at least a draw from a match they really should have won.
But, at a time when it should have been United pressing for the winner, the visitors had one shot off target and then, in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time, lured Torquay defender Aaron Downes into an off-balance clearance.
Downes – he had just been named 'man of the match' – missed the ball, caught Rashid Yussuf and referee Ollie Langford had little option but to point to the spot.
Stacy Long stepped up, blasted the penalty down the middle of the goal as Michael Poke dived to his left, and it was 3-2 to Wimbledon.
As another example of how to chuck points away, it took some beating for Torquay. For long periods, even on a pitch which featured one large 'glue pot' patch just inside the Ellacombe half of Plainmoor, they were the better side.
Torquay manager Martin Ling admitted that his side's inability to see out matches has become a mental problem.
Ling said: "In the last three games, they [the opposition] have all scored against us after 90 minutes. We didn't concede last-minute goals last year, and we finished fifth.
"We're not in a relegation scrap, but I do feel we've chucked away points this year, where we didn't last season.
"People say it must be a fitness thing. That's rubbish. We've done exactly the same this year as last year, in training and match preparation, and we've worked on the same stuff. It's a mental thing.
"When it happens once, and then twice, it's in the back of your mind. But, overall, we were poor. We didn't really open them up enough."
Wimbledon took the lead after five minutes when winger Toby Ajala was given far too much room down the visitors' right and Paul McCullum was there to head home his cross from five yards out. No matter, Torquay were level by the eight minute.
Nathan Craig latched on to a half-clearance, chipped the ball back into the goalmouth, Danny Stevens was first to a defensive mistake, poked the ball past 42-year-old goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, and Lee Mansell was there to fire in from close range.
It was a second goal of the season for skipper Mansell, who played with three stitches in a knee wound. The Gulls dominated the next 20 minutes, with Ashley Yeoman lending good support to Howe.
Yeoman, right-back Joe Oastler and Craig all went close, Sullivan doing well to tip Craig's 25th minute free-kick over his bar. But in the 32nd minute, against the run of play, Wimbledon regained the lead.
Centre-back Mat Mitchell-King, up for a half-cleared free-kick, could hardly believe his luck when, after Long had delivered the ball back into the goalmouth, it dropped kindly for him and he shot home off Poke's fingertips.
United did not play well in the second half, but they still created enough good chances to have won the match.
Howe should have hit the target with a close-range header from Nicholson's 63rd minute corner. Seconds later Craig Easton got nowhere near enough power on his shot after great work by Yeoman had left him with Sullivan to beat.
In the 72nd minute, substitute Saul Halpin beat two men down the left, delivered a teasing cross, but no one finished.
With a precious victory in sight, Wimbledon worked increasingly hard to protect their lead. Torquay looked to have shot their bolt but in the 90th minute, after Kevin Nicholson had forced Sullivan into a smart save from 25 yards, Howe forced a corner on the right, and Nicholson took it.
Torquay's left-back curled the flag-kick to the far-post, where Howe just got in front of Downes to head home. That should have been it, game over, but give Wimbledon credit.
The ball seemed to spend more time in United's half than in theirs – and the winning penalty was their reward.
United now have eleven days before their next match, a trip to Burton Albion on January 12. That is quite a time to stew over such a stunning setback.