Torquay United's profligacy evident again in their defeat at Rochdale
There may still be 15 games to go, but anybody who doubted that Torquay United are now in real danger of relegation from npower League Two can hardly deny it after Rochdale beat them 1-0 without having to play very well at Spotland.
It was the hosts' first win in seven games – they made it Reg Jenkins Day in memory of the former Rochdale and Torquay centre-forward who died recently – and their first since manager Keith Hill returned to the club last month.
It considerably eased their own worries about being dragged into the mire, but the figures are much more worrying for the Gulls.
They have won only once in 11 games, and this was their fourth successive defeat since they beat Exeter City on January 28, the day that their own manager Martin Ling fell ill.
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They are still decent in defence – Rochdale could not breach them after what turned out to be Rhys Bennett's winner as early as the 18th minute – but it is another question in attack.
Dale goalkeeper Josh Lillis had only once serious save to make in the whole match. That stop came after seven minutes, and the chance for Rene Howe was gifted to him by a bad mistake from home defender Shane Casdell-Sherriff.
Howe, back from a two-match suspension, was left clear, but tried to chip the advancing Lillis from just outside the area and saw his effort tipped behind.
United's leading scorer has dispatched several similar finishes, and you had to admire his confidence in trying it again, but it proved to be a big moment for his team.
Torquay do not hit the net enough, anyway. They have scored only once from open play in their last six games.
Assistant manager Shaun Taylor was rightly frustrated by the way Rochdale scored their winner. Andy Haworth cut some way in from the left wing before spotting right-back Bennett on a run which took him round the back of United's defence unmarked.
Haworth delivered a smart diagonal pass across the heart of United's back-four but inside left-back Kevin Nicholson, Bennett's first shot was well parried at close range by Michael Poke, but the Gulls' goalkeeper could not stop Bennett tapping the rebound over the line.
Moments later a back-pass by Lee Mansell put Poke in trouble against George Donnelly, and United had to survive shouts for handball outside the area as the goalkeeper just about managed to scramble the ball to safety.
Torquay did fashion a couple of half-chances midway through the half. A quick free-kick by Mansell set up Howe to beat Bennett on United's left, Howe crossed low and Billy Bodin shot over from ten yards on the turn when he should probably have hit the target. Then Ryan Jarvis put in a good run and cross from the right and Bodin headed over at the near post.
Taylor had resisted the temptation to pair Howe with new loan signing Elliot Benyon, but he did recall Craig Easton in midfield for Damon Lathrope.
Even trailing 1-0 at the interval, there was plenty of time for United to get something from the match, but they seldom looked like doing it.
Rochdale, who are not a patch on the side that Hill took up in 2010, still looked more like scoring in the second half of a match which seldom rose above the ordinary.
Donnelly forced Poke into a good save, after Haworth beat Leadbitter and crossed from the left in the 50th minute.
It took a typically gutsy header by skipper Mansell to stop Terry Gornell from making it 2-0 on the hour, after Andrew Tutte had beaten Bodin and delivered a dangerous cross from Dale's right.
After a collision with Bennett which left Aaron Downes with blood streaming from a wound above his left ear, United had to take off their Australian centre-back and send on Angus MacDonald in the 65th minute.
United thought they had a good shout for a penalty when Jarvis appeared to be barged over by Phil Edwards, but Mr Davies waved play on.
Benyon was introduced for Bodin in the 82nd minute, with Jarvis switching to the left wing and United did keep trying to the end, at the risk of being caught on the counter.
In stoppage-time, Benyon dived to force a save from Lillis with a header, but the offside flag went up and it would not have counted anyway.
Tomorrow's rearranged game away to one-from-bottom Aldershot is a proper six-pointer, and the fact that bottom club Wimbledon are at home to Northampton Town will only up the ante. Bristol Rovers (18th) take on Rotherham United at the Memorial Stadium as well.