Concentration the key for Torquay United

Joseph Bulmer

Gary Johnson took his Torquay United squad for a paddle at Oddicombe Beach this week.   Which, as regulars there will confirm, entails one of Torbay's steepest walks back up the hill.

The players gave their 65-year-old manager a round of applause when he eventually made it the top, but that will sound like a ripple to the roar which will greet him and his men if they beat Hartlepool United in Sunday's '£1 Million' National League Pay-Off Final.

Only 3,100 Gulls fans have managed to get tickets. But less than 2,000 made enough noise for triple that number in last weekend's 4-2 Semi-Final win over Notts County, so atmosphere should not be a problem.

There's no trip to Wembley this year and, with all due respect to an Ashton Gate Stadium which has been lifted to Premiership-level in recent years, at least the setting for this showdown should hardly spark any 'freeze' factor.

Torquay fans know all about that potentially key element.

The Gulls have won these huge games as outsiders - remember Blackpool (1991) and Cambridge (2009) at Wembley.  And they've lost when we thought they were nailed-on - let's not remember Stevenage at Old Trafford (2011).

Johnson has seen it, done it and still owns all the T-shirts. But not only he knows how vital it is for his players to bring their 'A-game' on Sunday, his players do too.

New Player of the Year Connor Lemonheigh-Evans stressed only this week that, although he and his team-mates are disappointed not to be playing at the National Stadium, he'd be happy to play Hartlepool in his back-garden as long as United win promotion back to the Football League after a seven-year gap.

Whether it's Wembley or Ashton gate, the pitch will be green, the lines white and the ball still round, and Johnson insists: "When that game starts, you can be anywhere."

If there's one word which sums up Johnson's message in the build-up, it's been 'concentration'.

He says: "Both teams have got good quality players, and it's what comes out on the day.

"These games are always close, because there's so much at stake, so you have to make sure you play the percentages, especially in danger areas.

"The biggest thing you have to do is put in the work-rate and the work ethic, so the opposition know that you're up for it.

"We have to gain energy from our supporters, but don't lose concentration."

The return from injury of centre-forward Danny Wright against Notts was not only a major boost but a well-guarded secret, as was the selection of defender Kyle Cameron on the left of midfield.

Johnson, who's not thought to have any new injury concerns, has so much faith in the versatility of his players that you wouldn't put it past him coming up with another surprise to throw Hartlepool off the scent.

Pools, who finished the league fourth to Torquay's second, beat Bromley 3-2 in the PO First Round and then upset favourites Stockport County 1-0 in the second 'Semi' at Edgeley Park.

Manager Dave Challinor, who enjoyed considerable success at AFC Fylde, has some key players whom United must combat.

They include attacking right-back Jamie Sterry, veteran duo Gary Liddle and Nicky Featherstone in central defence and midfield and the in-form strike duo of Rhys Oates and Luke Armstrong, who have scored 32 goals between them this season.

Will United's 5-0 victory at Victoria Park last October or Pools' 1-0 win at Plainmoor in March have any bearing on this week?  Probably not.

Showers are forecast, and the Bristol Bears do host Harlequins in the Premiership Play-Off Semi-Final on Saturday, but the pitch should still be fine for United to bring that 'A-game' to bear…