Poke preserves a point for Torquay United as Accrington Stanley assaults are thwarted
Ducks seldom turn into swans overnight, even in make-believe, but Torquay United at least started making the right noises as they dug deep to hold relegation rivals Accrington Stanley to what might prove a crucial 0-0 draw at the Crown Ground.
A record-equalling eighth successive defeat might have inflicted desperate psychological damage, just as new boss Alan Knill tries to turn things around, but the Gulls dug deep on a ground where they had never taken so much as a point in four previous visits.
Yes, Michael Poke was the busier of the two goalkeepers, making two outstanding saves in the first half and a couple of very decent ones in the second, but this wasn't an 'alamo' job.
United were the better side for most of the first half, passing the ball with an intent and a work-rate which was worryingly missing from the midweek 2-1 home defeat by Wycombe Wanderers.
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Accrington, trying to follow up their 3-0 thumping of local rivals Rochdale four days before, cranked up the pressure in the second half, but Torquay resisted well and then had chances to have scored themselves.
The major talking point afterwards was a disallowed goal for Stanley four minutes from full-time. Poke dived to parry Rommy Boco's shot, substitute Will Hatfield followed up to net the rebound, but linesman Glen Hart called Hatfield offside and United survived.
Home manager Leam Richardson was not happy with the decision, but replays – camera coverage isn't quite so comprehensive in npower League Two – were inconclusive. It was a tight one.
Knill recalled skipper Lee Mansell in midfield and Joe Oastler at right-back, while a key area promised to be central defence, where efforts to bolster the unit with a loan signing had been frustrated and all eyes were on how young Reading loanee Angus MacDonald would play in the circumstances.
MacDonald and Brian Saah were up against former England striker James Beattie and the lively James Gray and, although MacDonald got himself in one or two interesting positions at times in the first half, he showed real determination to emerge with credit from a testing afternoon.
The Crown Ground slopes diagonally, yet both sides played better uphill, United forcing the pace in the first 20 minutes.
Ryan Jarvis, supplied by Damon Lathrope, and Billy Bodin, on a Saah through ball, both went close to a goal during that spell.
The game was held up for more than five minutes when fourth official Matthew Bristow had to swap places with injured linesman Peter Wright, with all the 'rewiring' which that change involves these days. There were also a couple of injuries, which made referee Jeremy Simpson's decision to allow only four minutes of stoppage time a bit mystifying.
Accrington went closest through two shots by Lee Molyneux. The former Plymouth Argyle player had scored with two long-range 'specials' at Rochdale in midweek, and he nearly did it again. He can certainly get power, swerve and dip on his free-kicks, and Gareth Bale would have been proud of one 25-yarder and another from 30 yards. Poke did well to parry both efforts.
For all Accrington's raised tempo in the second half, they found United's defence in resolute mood, although former Torquay loanee Tom Aldred headed just over after MacDonald had done well to scramble a Molyneux cross for a corner.
No one worked harder in attack than Elliot Benyon, and he was twice unlucky not to make the breakthrough, Boco clearing his flick off the line and then watching his looping header just clear the bar after a slick six-man move.
Mansell also had a goalbound volley blocked and Rene Howe volleyed over from a Kevin Nicholson delivery.
There were times when United nearly undid themselves with sloppy passes, and it was from just such a mistake, between Howe and Bodin, that Boco was able to counter-attack four minutes from time.
Thankfully for Torquay, Mr Hart's flag rendered Hatfield's follow-up shot irrelevant, but that wasn't the end of the action. Both teams nearly scored in stoppage-time.
Poke dived to keep out a Gray shot, then threw himself at the feet of Peter Murphy as he tried to finish the job.
Seconds later home goalkeeper Paul Rachubka only just got down to his left to deny a free-kick by Nicholson to ensure that honours remained even.