And a point was the most we deserved - maybe more than we deserved. We were slightly the better side during the first half and I doubt Torquay were surprised to trail at half-time. But I suspect they were very surprised about how easily they took control after the break and, over the full ninety(-two) minutes, they certainly threatened our goal more frequently than we threatened
Offering up a disappointing display by the seaside were:
And on a beautiful bright afternoon we kicked-off defending the Babbacombe End well populated by the City support, with the Muss shielding his eyes from the low February sun with a black cap, in replacement for last week's red version. The plucky Torqs opened briefly brightly. But their perkiness didn't last. Happily the majority of the play flowed Dearden-wards as Torquay, a nippy
but small side, were second-best as the half took shape. A Greaves header earned a corner, which was comfortably defended, but Matthews hurled the ball back into the box and Alexander, allowed an inviting amount of space, flicked a header just wide of the far post. From another corner our height advantage again played its part, and a powerful Greaves header was smothered on the line.
It wasn't particularly good football, and a fussy referee eliminated any pretence at fluency, but we were on top. Torquay's principal attacking ambitions were directed down their right, our left, but if they had hoped to find an ailing Holt fit for a savaging they were in for a disappointment. Van Blerk performed securely, and Matthews, on the left side of midfield, tracked back to offer defensive assistance in a way that the injured Beresford never would - nor should be expected to. They are different players with different strengths.
We took the lead in an odd manner. A ball was hoofed straight down the middle, and headed on into the path of Alexander who usually times his runs rather well but who looked a long distance offside on this occasion. But his finishing was immaculate, as he watched the dropping ball on to his boot and stroked it into the corner of the net, and the goal was allowed to stand. The Torquay captain proceeded to place his head two inches from the referee's and hurl a torrent of abuse at him, while brandishing his captain's armband as if that somehow gives him the right to behave as if he were at a press conference prior to a top boxing match. The referee booked him, which was a lesser punishment than I would have meted out in the face of such snarling aggression, and we got on with it, with the Tigers a goal to the good, an advantage we sustained with little alarm until the half-time whistle.
The attentions paid by a small flock of ravenous pigeons to a small area of turf just outside the centre-circle offered the main talking-point of the early stages of the second period. Which is to say, the football was tame. But Torquay had emerged from Mr MacFarland's discussion with a far more vigorous demeanour and the home side soon took control. Their impressively lively midfielder Brandon sent a vicious 22-yard shot dipping just under the crossbar until a Muss glove flicked it over the top for a corner. Only some poor crossing from the Torqs, combined with corner routines which achieved the rare distinction of looking feebler than ours, spared us further damage until an equaliser, which had frankly looked inevitable, arrived from yet another all-too-easy incursion into our territory. A long free-kick to the back-post was headed in unopposed, and the game was - quite rightly - level.
And our listlessness endured as Torquay forced the pace. A shot skimmed just wide of the Muss's right-hand post. Another chipped ball into the back-post was volleyed straight back across the face of our goal by one of theirs, and the ball ran away to safety. We were undeniably being outplayed - by Torquay.
Dudfield, who had scarcely touched the ball all afternoon long, was replaced by Roberts, but the real problem area was not attack. Midfield was lost - far from the first time this has occurred this season. And - another familiar tale - we seemed to delay over-long in making a change. Greaves seemed to play ever deeper as the second half ran its course, while Johnsson was simply not capable of getting the ball and keeping it. With Williams wasteful in possession down the right and Mike Edwards enduring an uncharacteristically error-prone afternoon behind him, we were in real danger of losing this match. Eventually Sneekes came on for Johnsson and, after the Dutchman acquired an immediate yellow card for an enthusiastic but crude challenge, he settled down in the middle of the pitch to play a calm role, accepting the ball when offered and passing it neatly to the nearest team-mate. Simple stuff, properly executed - playing in this style, he should be in the team every week. Sneekes was also helped in his mission to bring some order to our midfield vacuum by the entry of Whitmore, replacing Williams and looking eager for possession on the right side of midfield.
Torquay weren't quelled, and a swerving free-kick demanded an alert save from the Muss, but as the game entered its final ten minutes we had finally managed to correct the imbalance that had flowed to our disadvantage ever since half-time. But, even though Sneekes and Tappa combined well, we did not look at all likely to create a decisive chance for the frustrated strikers. Until minute 92. And a broken glimpse of the mercurial talent of Theodore Whitmore.
1-1 - against such lowly opposition at this stage of the season, it's a result that feels more like a defeat than a draw. But, after such a sterile display, we could easily have brought not even one point home from Devon. Luton's slide back into the pack makes it entirely possible that a clutch of teams will be chasing two, not one, promotion places behind Plymouth as we move into the last few weeks of the season. More performances like this and we will not be one of those hungry teams. Yesterday's result at Torquay matches last season's, but, as scoring draws go, it was infinitely less cheering. Our sights are higher in 2002. And for me too, what a difference a year makes. Last season I had the opportunity pre-match at Plainmoor to chat amiably with my close friend "Big" Kevin Francis, sharing thoughts on the latest in Ordnance Survey paraphernalia and developments in the absorbing Kasparov/ Kramnik rivalry. Whereas, only this morning, by bitter contrast, I shared a hotel breakfast room with none other than "Big" John Fieldhouse. The HDM writer (sic), tucking into a hearty breakfast (no muesli!), looked to have enjoyed a lively night. I observed that his charming but queasy-looking female companion may have fared less well.
Report by: Steve Weatherill