Altrincham 1 Torquay United 2
Overcoming eleventh-hour Covid and injury problems, plus a ten-minute floodlight delay at the start of the second half, Torquay United beat Altrincham at Moss Lane to make it 15 points out of the last 21 with another important victory.
Goals at the start of each half by Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, his fifth of the season, and new Sunderland loanee Stephen Wearne earned the Gulls' fifth win in seven games and lifted them up to eleventh place, seven points off the National League Play-Offs.
It was never easy, and a combination of Toby Mullarkey's 30th minute equaliser and United's own missed chances meant that a reshuffled defence, without virus victims Joe Lewis and Dean Moxey, came under nerve-shredding pressure towards the end of the second half.
But they held on to avenge a 3-1 first-day defeat by Altrincham at Plainmoor, and keep that encouraging run going.
Those pre-match problems prompted four changes from the side which had drawn 2-2 with Dagenham & Redbridge 14 days before.
There was an unplanned debut for new QPR loan signing Stephen Duke-McKenna in midfield, with Wearne also holding his place on the left wing.
But manager Gary Johnson had to come up with a new defence because of the absence of Lewis and Moxey. In came Chiori Johnson, who did a good job at right-back, and Ali Omar in a new centre-back pairing with Ben Wynter.
Midfielder Tom Lapslie, who had hoped to play after injury, was ruled out by a slight recurrence of his groin problem on the morning of the game, but Armani Little was fit to return alongside skipper Asa Hall.
Altrincham had conceded more goals (43) than anyone apart from bottom two Dover and King's Lynn, and United decided that attacking them was the best option. It paid off.
After less than six minutes, a good move between Duke-McKenna and Johnson was carried on by a lovely flick from Danny Wright, which put Lemonheigh-Evans in to round keeper Tony Thompson and score into an empty net…1-0.
It would have been 2-0 five minutes later, if the crossbar had not kept out Omar's header from a Little corner.
But Altrincham, helped by moments of erratic passing from the Gulls, gradually gained a foothold in the game, with their biggest threat coming from wingers Ryan Colclough and Dan Mooney.
Full-backs Johnson on United's right and Dan Martin on the left had their hands full.
Torquay still had moments on the counter - Little had to check his run on a Lemonheigh-Evans cross and couldn't quite keep his header on target in the 25th minute.
For all their improvement, Altrincham had not looked like testing Shaun MacDonald seriously until the 30th minute.
Then Mullarkey, who had also scored at Plainmoor, received the ball from the left, realised that no one was closing him down, had a go from 25 yards and MacDonald barely moved as the ball flew past him into the bottom right-hand corner…1-1.
From looking in firm control just over ten minutes before, United now had a real game on their hands, and they were lucky not to concede again from Colclough twice, once with a header and then when he cut out a risky crossfield pass by Martin but failed to punish the mistake.
In an increasingly open game, United then suddenly clicked back into gear just before half-time and nearly regained the lead.
Twice Lemonheigh-Evans went close, with a header and a shot deflected over, before Little fired over when he should have hit the target on a Hall pass on the stroke of half-time.
Both teams came out and then went off again, as Alty officials tried to get the floodlights to work properly. When play did resume, United were back on it again.
But it was a mistake in the home defence which helped to create the second goal.
Wearne seized on a misplaced pass across his back-four by Kennedy Digie and then had the poise to pick his spot with a well-struck shot from the edge of the area…2-1.
Colclough hit the bar with a curling free-kick from the angle of the penalty area and MacDonald made a good save from Josh Hancock, but United were also looking as dangerous as they did at the start of the match.
And they had a wonderful chance to make it 3-1 in the 63rd minute when Lemonheigh-Evans, in space from a Martin cross, shot over when he seemed certain to score from ten yards out.
Duke-McKenna also came up with a moment of quality to beat a man, advance and pull the save of the game from Thompson before Altrincham sent on ex-Gulls loanee Ben Pringle and A-Jay Leitch-Smith for Mooney and Hulme with just over 20 minutes to go.
Colclough - how he's playing at this level is a mystery - was still the big threat, and only an excellent save by MacDonald tipped another of his shots over the bar in the 72nd minute.
It was Dan Holman for Wright with 15 minutes left, and Holman immediately had a chance - again care of a Digie mistake. Thompson kept Altrincham in the game, at the expense of a corner.
United's failure to kill the game off, or clear their lines properly at times, kept the hosts in with a chance and it meant that the Gulls, with Joe Felix and Keelan O'Connell on for Duke-McKenna and Wearne, had to soak up worrying pressure in the closing stages.
MacDonald had to pull out another smart save to deny Leitch-Smith before Hall came up with a timely block from Pringle.
Then Felix conceded a clumsy foul just outside the area, Osborne's free-kick flew through the 'wall' and only a combination of Johnson and MacDonald kept the ball out of Torquay's net.
United put their travelling fans through agonies in the last few minutes, but when Colclough sent another free-kick over the bar in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time, it was all over.
Altrincham (4-4-2): Thompson; Morgan, Digie, Mullarkey, Berkoe; Mooney (Pringle 69), Osborne, Moult, Colclough; Hulme (Leitch-Smith 69), Hancock (Marriott 78); subs not used - Densmore, Drench.
Torquay United (4-4-1-1): MacDonald; Johnson, Wynter, Omar, Martin; Duke-McKenna (Felix 86), Little, Hall, Wearne (O'Connell); Lemonheigh-Evans; Wright (Holman 77); subs not used - Halstead (gk), Lolos.
Referee: David Richardson (W Riding).
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