Football League Two
Match rating: 3
Having always quite fancied a visit to the English Riviera, I booked a bargain Travelodge two night stay for £12 a night way back in August, with a view to taking in this game. Given the quite shocking recent form of Torquay United, I probably would have altered my plans had the hotel stay not been pre-paid and that there were plenty to entertain me in Torquay itself.
Having spent the morning in the company of penguins, fur seals, otters and other maritime animals at the excellent Living Coasts coastal zoo, I made my way one and a half miles northwards to Plainmoor - much of it uphill - which took about half an hour. The distance is slightly less from the nearest railway station, Torre. Based on the overall impression of the town and memories of seeing Plainmoor on the telly from a few years ago, I imagined that Plainmoor would be an interesting, quaint stadium. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. There is very little to advertise the football club on the outside, apart from an attractive mural hidden away behind one of the stands. To start with the positive, fans have a refreshing choice on whether they wish to sit or stand with a length and behind one of the goals housing seating, the other length and area behind the goal being terracing - although the terracing behind the goal is allocated to visiting supporters. With no obstructing pillars in any of the stands, views are excellent and all stands are fully covered. Seating in the main stand along one of the lengths is also pitched highly, which I imagine would give excellent views. However, although facilities are excellent considering the compact size of the stadium, the ground now has almost no character, built or breeze blocks and uninteresting metallic covers. The 64 page programme was refreshingly different from the usual type of programme one finds in the Football League these days, with plenty of interest to read for regular and neutral visitors alike, although the cover was disappointingly just paper, meaning it would get defaced rather readily.
Torquay started the season fairly well, being in and around the top ten up to the end of 2012. However, in January they picked up just four points from four games - happily for Torquay all coming in two games against bitter local rivals Exeter - however in February, they lost all seven games played, although they slightly stopped the rot with a 0-0 draw at Accrington Stanley last Saturday. Such a poor run of form has left Torquay down in 20th place, just two points above the bottom two teams. Oxford United had a similarly shocking run of form back in September, when they lost six games on the bounce. Recent form has been better though, as they picked up 10 points from the four games before a 0-4 home defeat to promotion chasing Rotherham. In twelfth place going into this game, they will still have faint hopes of reaching a play-off position, although they are nine points adrift with ten games left to play. When the two teams met in Oxford back in November, the game finished goalless.
On an overcast, damp afternoon, the first half was quite an even affair, with both sides having reasonable chances, although it was little surprise that the scoreline remained goalless at half time.
As the second half started, increasing mist descended on Plainmoor, although it never looked like becoming severe enough to cause the game to be in danger. Five minutes after the interval and disaster struck for the home side, when some poor defending saw the ball sloppily given away to James Constable, who burst forward, outmusucled the defender before taking the ball around the keeper and slotting it home into an empty net. Just four minutes later, and there was more calamatous defending from Torquay. John Oastler gave the ball needlessly in midfield to Constable, but three defenders appeared to have the situation under control, until somehow Constable took the ball away from Aaron Downes, who then brought Constable down in the box for a clear penalty.Damien Batt shot powerfully to the right hand corner with the keeper going the other way. However, to Torquay's credit they didn't throw in the towel and four minutes later on-loan Joss Labadie forced a finger tip save from Ross McCormack from 25 yards. From the resulting corner, Downes partly made up for his earlier errors when he glanced in Lee Mansell's corner. Torquay were back in the game, and they battled gamely for the remainder of the game, although Oxford always looked dangerous whenever they broke forward. Any hope of a Torquay equaliser was finally extinguished with what turned out to be the last kick of the game, when Simon Heslop, who had only been introduced as a substitute in injury time, took the ball out wide and drove the ball across the keeper and into the net. There was not even time to restart the match as Oxford reduce the gap to the play-off positions to seven points with a win they certainly deserved, whilst Torquay will rue throwing the game away with some comical defending and are now just one point above the relegation places.