Torquay United 1, Wycombe Wanderers 2.
A LATE turnaround secured the points for Wanderers just when Blues looked on their way to slipping to a fourth straight loss.
Inspired by player/manager Gareth Ainsworth, on as a substitute, Sam Wood and Matt McClure scored the goals that tipped the tie on its head.
For so long it looked like the home side would hold on for a smash and grab win, having somehow gone in at half time ahead.
If you were to look up ‘against the run of play’ in the dictionary you’d find an admittedly fine opening strike from Ryan Jarvis that put the Gulls in front after they survived an almighty battering from the visitors.
That was until Wood rammed home from on the goal line after Stuart Lewis’s shot was blocked and McClure scored a delightful winner from an equally excellent cross from Ainsworth.
It was no less than Blues deserved to condemn Torquay to a seventh consecutive defeat, having dominated from start to finish.
They gave a taste of what was to come right from the off as Wood – deployed at left back – hit his shot against Daniel Leadbitter and out for a corner and Bruno Andrade, drafted into midfield, flicked the ball over the bar from a long throw in as the freefalling Gulls struggled to clear their lines.
Torquay’s defence played with the nervousness you’d expect of a side who had lost their last six games and Josh Scowen, on his return from suspension, won the ball back before having a searing drive from the edge of the box parried away by keeper Michael Poke.
Another panicky clearance from the home defence produced another in a series of corners Blues forced early on, which resulted in top scorer Matt McClure shaving the upright with a header.
A superbly talented one-two between the Wanderers strike force of McClure and Dean Morgan resulted in the latter’s cross being desperately hacked to safety as Wanderers piled on the pressure without reward.
When the Gulls eventually got it together enough to break into the visitors’ half they forced a corner which was greeted with almost sarcastic applause. Yet it almost produced an undeserved opening goal as Jordan Archer flapped at Kevin Nicholson’s inswinging delivery and was relieved to see it curl out of play.
Over the last couple of seasons Wanderers have made a habit of letting in goals at corners but this time it was the other goal that was taking a battering at set pieces as McClure was again wasteful with a headed chance.
After a lull in play Blues cranked up the pressure again as Andrade curled wide off the outside of the boot before Morgan and McClure were both inches away from connecting with Joel Grant’s lovely low ball across goal.
Then, completely against the run of play, Blues fell behind. Billy Bodin did superbly to keep a hopeful lofted ball in play before he wormed his way past Michael Harriman and pulled it back for Jarvis to thump home past a helpless Archer.
Andrade responded by drawing a save from Poke’s foot but back down the other end Archer was called into action to produce a fine clawing stop from Bodin’s curling free kick.
A further indication Lady Luck wasn’t smiling on Wanderers came moments into the second half as Grant broke down and had to go off injured, with player/manager Ainsworth replacing him.
In a contrast to the first half Torquay’s players looked hungrier for the ball and livelier in attack and striker Rene Howe was narrowly off target with a header that only just cleared the bar.
Former Wanderers loanee Elliot Benyon, who generally struggled to make much of an impression, had a close range effort blocked by Wanderers skipper Dave Winfield before McClure didn’t get enough on Morgan’s cross to divert it goalwards.
More injury woe struck Blues as Andrade was also forced off, although his replacement Anthony Stewart almost levelled the scores when he scraped wide from a corner.
But without their two potent wingers the supply line was cut off to the Blues’ front men and the number of chances created by the visitors dried up after their first half onslaught.
And it was Torquay who came closest to scoring the next goal as Bodin’s pass down the left freed Howe, whose cross was then met by Bodin and the striker was only denied by a heroic last-ditch block from Winfield.
Eventually Wanderers got the leveller their efforts deserved. McClure’s shot was blocked as far as Lewis, lurking on the edge of the box, and the midfielder hammered the ball towards goal.
It looked to have already crossed the line but Wood followed in to bundle it into the net, despite desperate Torquay appeals the midfielder was offside.
Buoyed by that McClure had a curling shot gathered in low down by Poke before he fired Blues into the lead.
With Morgan in possession a simple pass to McClure looked to be the only option, but the striker cleverly sent the ball down the right for Ainsworth to run onto. The gaffer sent over a peach of a cross that McClure controlled well before spinning on a sixpence and rifling past Poke to put Wanderers into the lead their dominance of the game warranted.
Wanderers: Archer, Harriman, Winfield, Dunne, Wood, Andrade (sub Stewart), Lewis, Scowen, Grant (sub Ainsworth), Morgan, McClure. Substitutes not used: Harrison, Spring, Oli, Kuffour, Hause.