'That wasn't good enough' blasts Knill
IF TORQUAY United eventually work their way up the League Two table this season, they will hopefully look back on this defeat as a low point, not to be repeated.
The Gulls were comprehensively beaten by a Fleetwood side which would have had the match won by half-time had it not been for the acrobatics of United goalkeeper Martin Rice.
As it was, the contest was all over in the 62nd minute, when the Shrimps' centre-forward Jamille Matt accepted a gift to make it 3-0.
By the end of the afternoon – even Elliot Benyon's 89th minute consolation goal was immediately followed by a fourth from the home side – United's band of followers were fed up of hearing Fleetwood's goal-celebration music.
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It's the theme from 'Captain Pugwash'. No, let's not go there!
Apart from an early stab wide by Callum Ball from Courtney Cameron's left-wing cross, United were under the proverbial cosh almost from the start.
Steven Schumacher hit the post from 20 yards, Matt headed over and Rice pulled out two top saves – all before Fleetwood took the lead through Antoni Sarcevic's header in the tenth minute.
United had the blustery wind and rain behind them in the first half, but you'd hardly have known it from the play.
Fleetwood, dominant in midfield, remained emphatically on top, Nathan Pond sending an unmarked header over and Rice saving well from Matt and Schumacher.
If United, who did put together a decent spell of passing around the half-hour mark, could have kept the deficit to one goal at half-time, they might have gone in for the break in better heart.
But in the 37th minute, from a headed clearance by Aaron Downes, Sarcevic took a Jeff Hughes pass, made ground and drove a 22-yard shot past Rice's diving right hand...2-0.
Things did not improve at the start of the second half, Rice pulling out another excellent save to tip a Richard Creswell header over his bar.
But in the 62nd minute Rice made his first real mistake, trying and failing to cut out a Gareth Evans corner, and it was punished.
The ball fell at the feet of Matt, who gratefully stabbed it over the line from close range...3-0.
Gulls boss Alan Knill made a double substitution in the 68th minute, sending on Danny Sullivan for Cameron and Benyon for Karl Hawley.
The edge had gone from Fleetwood's play, while United did keep going, forcing a series of corners through the persistence of right winger Jordan Chapell.
But the Gulls did not cause home goalkeeper Scott Davies any real worry until the 85th minute, when Sullivan tested him for the first time in the match.
Four minutes later it was the two subs who combined for United's goal.
Sullivan's pass set up Benyon for a 22-yard shot which flew in off the left-hand post, Davies well beaten...3-1.
That might have given United something encouraging to take on the long journey home, but they hardly had time to enjoy that.
Fleetwood manager Graham Alexander had sent on former York striker Matty Blair straight after Benyon's goal.
As the match moved into stoppage-time United were caught on the counter, Blair planting his first touch of the ball past Rice from fellow sub David Ball's right wing pass...4-1.
Cue that Pugwash jingle again.
Knill did not beat around the bush afterwards.
"As a performance and as a group, that wasn't good enough," he said.
"It's taken us ages to get going – we've been like that in nearly all the games away from home – and against a quality side, they are going to punish you.
"I will be surprised if Fleetwood aren't up there at the end of the season, but we didn't compete with them."
Delighted with his team's display, Alexander was even happy to find his players having a heated discussion over how they could have stopped Benyon's goal.
"It's a great sign," he said, adding that he'd grappled for two days before deciding who would play from his impressively strong squad.
"We were outstanding all over the pitch, from back to front.
"Positions (4th) are irrelevant. Points are what's important.
"We just want to make sure we are in contention when the season comes down to it."
Fleetwood Town (4-3-3): Davies; McLaughlin, Pond, Creswell, Howell; Sarcevic (Murdoch 80), Schumacher, Hughes; Brown, Matt (Ball 80), Evans (Blair 89); subs not used – Roberts, Parkin, Hogan, Lucas (gk).
Booked: Hughes (foul 51).
Torquay United (4-4-2): Rice; Tonge, Pearce, Downes, Nicholson; Chapell, Mansell, Harding, Cameron (Sullivan 68); Hawley (Benyon 68), Ball; subs not used – Lathrope, N. Thompson, Craig, Cruise, C. Thompson (gk).
Booked: Harding (foul 28), Mansell (foul 30).
Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincs).
Statistics: Fouls – Fleetwood 9, United 14; Offsides – Fleetwood 2, United 3; Corners – Fleetwood 9, United 13; Shots/Headers On Target – Fleetwood 9, United 2; Off Target – Fleetwood 7, United 3; Hit Woodwork – Fleetwood 1, United 0.