Brave United defeat big-spending Dragons

Torbay Weekly

Torquay United 1 Wrexham 0

'Captain Fantastic' Asa Hall's towering first-half header was enough for Torquay United to upset hot favourites Wrexham on a day when 'Fawlty Towers' beat 'Sunset Strip' in front of a boisterous Plainmoor crowd!

All Wrexham's Hollywood ownership and the millions they've spent on their team this season were brought to nought by a brave, battling Gulls performance and a tactical masterclass by manager Gary Johnson.

Hall rose at the far-post to head home Armani Little's eighth minute free-kick from the left, and then Johnson's team selection - midfielder Hall at the heart of defence, and tireless midfield players making up for no strikers up front, took over.

Rightly in front at half-time, United had to withstand almost non-stop pressure in the second half, but a back-five of Ben Wynter, Hall, Joe Lewis, Dean Moxey and Dan Martin held firm, while the rest of the side ran themselves into the Plainmoor turf to keep the big-spending Red Dragons at bay.

With Danny Wright still injured, but Klaidi Lolos and Dan Holman available, Johnson started without a specialist striker.

Lewis and Moxey were back in defence after their Covid issues, Tom Lapslie in midfield as well, and Johnson played Hall as a centre-back in a 3-5-2 formation.

On counts of physique, experience and, of course, transfer value, United appeared to be outgunned by Wrexham. But what did that matter?

The Gulls took them on with work rate, pace and organisation, and they threw the visitors out of their stride in the first half.

Wrexham right wing-back Reece Hall-Johnson did beat Dan Martin and cross after four minutes, but Ollie Palmer put that chance over the bar at the near-post, and only three minutes later Torquay were in front.

Stephen Wearne was fouled wide left, near the by-line, Armani Little floated the free-kick to the far-post where Hall rose way above anyone else to plant a downward header firmly past Rob Lainton…1-0.

Lapslie, working his socks off as usual, was given the job of marking former Gulls midfielder Luke Young, but he found time to join in several key moves.

Joe Lewis came up with great block to stop James Jones volleying home in the 20th minute, but United generally dealt well with Wrexham's set-pieces, notably the feared long throws of Ben Tozer.

Moxey was in imperious form at the back, and when he was booked in the 38th minute, it was after he 'took one for the team', stopping Hall-Johnson mounting a dangerous breakaway.

Wrexham started making mistakes on the ball, Palmer often seemed isolated up front and United were on top in territory and possession until just before the interval.

Then, defender Max Cleworth had a shot deflected behind by Moxey, who also got enough on another set-piece to stop Tom O'Connor equalising.

But a standing ovation from many in the home stands at half-time underlined that United deserved their interval lead.

The Gulls knew that Wrexham would throw the kitchen furniture at them in the second half, and they were not disappointed.

MacDonald had to pull out two fine saves to keep out a 20-yard drive by Young and a left-footer by Jones, which was heading for the left-hand corner.

Wrexham started making changes first, manager Phil Parkinson eventually sending on Liam McAlinden, Dior Angus and Kwame Thomas to lift their attack.

The traffic was one-way, as United soaked up relentless pressure without being able to mount anything serious in attack themselves.

It looked as if Lapslie's race was run when he went down, beating the ground as if he'd had a recurrence of groin trouble, but he was soon back on his feet and beavering away again.

Palmer pulled a couple of shots well wide, to the delight of Gulls fans after his £300,000 move from AFC Wimbledon.

United pulled all eleven players back into their own penalty area to defend one Tozer long throw, but United's defenders continued to put their heads and bodies on the line, as tired as they must have been after such a lung-bursting effort.

Johnson eventually sent on Holman and then Ali Omar, centre-half Omar playing just in front of the trio of Lewis, Hall and Moxey, who had missed so little all afternoon.

Referee Aji Ajibola stretched everyone's nerves by adding on seven minutes of stoppage time, but not even that was enough to deny United a result which had the Plainmoor faithful celebrating as if they'd just forced their way into the Play-Offs. Not yet..!

Torquay United (3-5-2): MacDonald; Lewis, Hall, Moxey; Wynter, Duke-McKenna (Omar 89), Lapslie, Little (Holman 79), Martin; Lemonheigh-Evans, Wearne; subs not used - Halstead (gk), Omar, Felix, Lolos.

Booked: Moxey 38, Wearne 69, Lapslie 83, Holman 87.

Wrexham (3-5-2); Lainton; Hayden, Cleworth (Thomas 75), Tozer; Hall-Johnson, Young, Jones (McAlinden 61), O'Connor, Hosannah; Ponticelli (Angus 61), Palmer; subs not used - French, Dibble (gk).

Booked: Ponticelli 22, Tozer 87.

Referee: Aji Ajibola (Birmingham).

Attendance: 3,181 (790 Wrexham fans).