VIDEO: Defensive deficiencies again cost Torquay in their defeat at Wycombe
AHEAD at half-time, and pretty good value for it, Torquay United were undone again by the defensive problems which continue to undermine manager Alan Knill's rebuilding programme.
Paris Cowan-Hall's 76th minute winner for Wycombe Wanderers – the former Plymouth Argyle winger scored with two headers to complete the Chairboys' second-half fightback at Adams Park – was the 15th goal that the Gulls have conceded in their last six matches. You can't hope to win games with defending like that.
Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth was quick to confirm afterwards that he had to issue a call to arms in blunt terms at half-time, after goals by Ade Azeez and Krystian Pearce had seen United in front at the interval. Azeez was the star of that first-half show.
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After a cagey opening from both teams, the tall Charlton Athletic loanee burst into life in the 22nd minute, going past three men in a startling display of pace and intent, although he could not quite deliver a final ball to match the run.
Wycombe looked distinctly uneasy, and United took the lead in the 27th minute.
Jordan Chapell linked up with full-back Kevin Nicholson on the left, Nicholson hit a firm, low cross which beat Wycombe's central defence and Azeez was at the far post to shoot back across goalkeeper Matt Ingram and into the net.
It was only the second time that Torquay had taken the lead this season. But since the first time had led to a 4-2 League Two win over Cheltenham Town, their travelling fans had every reason to relish what might lay ahead.
Their cheers were silenced only a minute later, and it was one of their former favourites that did it. Ex-United striker Jo Kuffour is no real match for Pearce physically, but at 31 he is pretty cute these days and he managed to get goal-side of the Gulls' centre-back inside the area.
Pearce could not deliver a proper challenge without giving a penalty away, and Kuffour took his chance to beat Martin Rice with an unconvincing shot but one that was on target and good enough.
It was a day that Pearce will not forget in a hurry.
Back in action after the nasty turn that had caused him and United so much concern in recent weeks, Pearce followed that goal-against by missing a clear far-post heading chance on Nicholson's 34th-minute corner.
However, seven minutes later, he made amends by regaining the lead.
Chapell forced a corner on United's left, skipper Lee Mansell took it and Pearce met the ball with a powerful downward header which went in off defender Sam Wood and the underside of the bar.
Knill had picked an attacking side, including strikers Karl Hawley and former Wycombe man Elliot Benyon, but it was down the wings where United carried their main threat.
Azeez and Chapell switched flanks before half-time, but Azeez did not look as comfortable on the left and they switched back later.
The first ten or 15 minutes of the second half were always going to be crucial.
With Ainsworth's team-talk ringing in their ears, Wycombe restarted in a visibly higher gear. Knill had warned his team what to expect, but United were forced back almost immediately.
In the 52nd minute, Nick Arnold's over-hit cross from the right was retrieved by Matt Bloomfield on the left and his cross back into the goalmouth was headed home by Cowan-Hall, with no United defender close enough to put him off.
Twice in the second half, Wycombe left-back Wood had to clear off his line from Pearce and Chapell, but Wycombe's equaliser had been all that they needed to go all out for victory.
Bloomfield and Cowan-Hall both went close, and around the 65th minute Rice pulled off two wonderful close-range saves, first from Wanderers defender Anthony Stewart and then from substitute Jon-Paul Pittman, who had replaced Kuffour.
The winner came in the 76th minute. Billy Knott took a corner from Wycombe's right and United's marking was again found wanting as Cowan-Hall looped a 12-yard header in off the far post to make it 3-2.
Knill had just sent on new loan signing Jak McCourt and, although performances off the bench can be deceptive, the Leicester City teenager showed a good touch, awareness and an eye for a pass in the closing stages.
Nathan Craig and Courtney Cameron also joined the action in the last ten minutes, but Wycombe's ball retention had improved markedly from their first-half efforts and they saw out the game well.