Woodwork bars spirited Gulls from earning a point
EVEN a point would have been something, and only the woodwork stopped Aaron Downes' stoppage-time header from earning it, but Torquay United still ended up with nothing from a spirited display at Plainmoor.
The second half at Cheltenham (1-2) the previous weekend had been unacceptably poor, but nobody could complain about the approach, the commitment and much of the quality which they delivered on Fleetwood's first-ever visit.
It's true that United weren't quite as good in the second half last Saturday. But if they had matched the level of their first-half display, there's surely no way that they would have lost.
Only Fleetwood goalie Scott Davies stood between United and a healthy lead at half-time.
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Davies pulled off six saves, all decent and a couple of them outstanding, before the interval.
Gulls left-back Kevin Nicholson had a shot cleared off the line, and United also had what looked like a pretty good penalty shout for 'handball', by Alan Goodall on Lee Mansell's early snapshot, turned down by referee Paul Gibbs.
Billy Bodin put Fleetwood right-back Conor McLaughlin through a torrid time and, even without the suspended Rene Howe, Ryan Jarvis and Ashley Yeoman gave Fleetwood centre-backs Rob Atkinson and Goodall plenty to think about.
Jarvis received precious little 'protection' as Atkinson kept steaming into him from behind.
In fairness, Mr Gibbs was just as lenient for both teams.
For all United's first-half pressure, they found themselves behind at the interval, to Fleetwood's only effort on target.
Downes had just returned from treatment to a nick over his right eye when, in the 26th minute, Town left-back Dean Howell aimed a long, high cross at the far post.
Jon Parkin hoisted his considerable frame up between Downes and Nicholson and nodded an eight-yard header back across Michael Poke and just inside the near-post...0-1.
"You fat b*****d," sang the Fleetwood fans gleefully, echoing the earlier chants of Gulls supporters.
Parkin seemed unlikely to last the match out anyway, and he retired through injury in the 39th minute.
Fleetwood manager Graham Alexander sent on French centre-half Jean-Michel Fontaine, but used him up front, and early in the second half they also took off their new £300,000 striker Jamille Matt.
The 'Cod Army' may have been lucky to be in front, but they defended their lead positively in the second half. Jamie McGuire was a feisty livewire in their midfield.
Alexander was furious that Fontaine's 48th minute header was disallowed for a foul, and Poke pulled off a fine save to deny substitute David Ball on the hour.
But United, with Danny Leadbitter eagerly pushing forward from right-back, did keep going.
Downes and Nicholson both went close, and Jarvis was within an inch or two from getting his head to a penetrating ball from Nathan Craig.
Finally, just as the match moved into four minutes of stoppage-time, Nicholson curled a right-wing free-kick to the far post, Downes rose above everyone to beat Davies with a firm header, but the ball rebounded off the bar and away.
Torquay United (4-2-3-1): Poke; Leadbitter, Saah, Downes, Nicholson; Lathrope, Mansell; Craig (Macklin 81), Yeoman (Stevens 78), Bodin; Jarvis; subs not used – Rice (gk), MacDonald, Easton, Cruise, N. Thompson.
Fleetwood Town (4-4-2): Davies; McLaughlin, Atkinson, Goodall, Howell; Brown, McKenna, McGuire, Crowther (Charnock 90+3); Matt (Ball 52), Parkin (Fontaine 39); subs not used – Barry, Milligan, Lucas (gk), Gyorio.
Booked: Atkinson (foul 10), Davies (time-wasting 89).
Referee: Paul Gibbs (W. Midlands).
Attendance: 2,207 (122 Fleetwood fans).
Statistics: Fouls – United 6, Fleetwood 13; Offsides – United 1, Fleetwood 0; Corners – United 7, Fleetwood 7; Shots/Headers On Target – United 9, Fleetwood 5; Off Target – United 2, Fleetwood 6; Hit Woodwork – United 1, Fleetwood 0.