Martin Ling to recall Damon Lathrope to Torquay United midfield
Midfielder Damon Lathrope is poised to make a quick-fire return to Torquay United's first team as the Gulls begin what manager Martin Ling calls a three-match "crunch time" against Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium today.
Ling rested Lathrope for the midweek Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie against Yeovil Town after recalling him for last weekend's 3-1 home win over Accrington Stanley.
The former Norwich City player had been sidelined for nearly two months by a knee injury, and Ling said: "Damon played against Accrington without any pitch time after his injury, and for him to get through 90 minutes last Saturday was an achievement in itself.
"Sometimes you have to save people from themselves, and Damon was upset when I told him he wasn't playing against Yeovil – that was typical of him. But he was only rested in midweek, and he will play against Rovers. He deserves to start."
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Also back into the side will surely come centre-forward Rene Howe, who was on the bench against Yeovil but will equal the club record of scoring in seven successive League matches if he nets today.
In the space of the next eight days United play Rovers and then return to Plainmoor for home games against leaders Gillingham on Tuesday night and Morecambe next Saturday.
With his team currently a point off the League Two play-offs, Ling said: "I think we're coming to crunch time. The next three games will take us to 15 this season, and I always think that's when you can start seeing where you are and how the rest of the league looks.
"With nine points available in a week basically, it's going to be an important time."
It was in the second League match of last season that Torquay went to Bristol and beat Rovers 2-1, a result which galvanised their supporters and did much to cement their relationship with Ling, who had taken over from Rovers' then new boss Paul Buckle. "The fact that Paul had walked out and gone to Rovers, and took up a nucleus of Torquay players as he went, made our fans bitter, and I can understand that," said Ling.
"The rivalry was more than a South West derby last year, and I had our fans coming up and telling me 'Please, let's beat Rovers and Paul Buckle'.
"It was a massively pleasing result up there, and I sort of got shoehorned into the whole occasion. This game certainly hasn't got the venom that it had last year."
Ling is under no illusions that early impressions of Rovers, who are only four off the bottom after a slow start, are probably deceptive.
"They've had their injury problems, and I think they are in a false position in some respects," he said. "I don't expect them to stay where they are at the moment. If you had to pick one team in the bottom half of the table that would come through the field, it would be them. And their recent form has been a lot better."
Rovers boss Mark McGhee is still without injured Cian Bolger in defence, Matt Gill in midfield and Matt Harrold up front, as well as former Gulls goalkeeper Scott Bevan (wrist). McGhee may wait for a fitness test on experienced Scottish forward Derek Riordan (hamstring) before finalising his side.
But Rovers still have some pretty useful attacking players, including promising home-grown striker Eliot Richards, ex-Bristol City favourite Dave Clarkson and 6ft 3in centre-forward Tom Eaves, 20, signed on loan from Bolton Wanderers last month.
With rookie centre-back Kyrtis McKenzie recovered from a sickness bug, Ling's only absentees are long-term casualties Ian Morris and Lloyd Macklin, who has had an operation to pin the broken foot bone he sustained against Accrington.
Torquay United (from): Poke, Rice; Oastler, Saah, Downes, Nicholson, Mansell, Lathrope, Craig, Bodin, Howe, Stevens, Jarvis, Easton, Cruise, Leadbitter, McKenzie, Thompson, Yeoman, Halpin, Baker, Artemi.
Unavailable: Morris (Achilles tendon), Macklin (broken metatarsal).