Gulls walking Covid tightrope ahead of Solihull visit

Torbay Weekly

Torquay United are counting the hours, not just the days, from negative Covid tests before finalising their side to meet Solihull Moors in Plainmoor's first Tuesday night game of the season tonight (7.45pm).

First-choice centre-backs Joe Lewis and Dean Moxey were both ruled out of Saturday's 2-1 win at Altrincham after 'positive' tests before the weekend, but the Gulls are hoping that at least one of them might be cleared to return.

What had looked like a pretty clean bill of health after training last Thursday evaporated in the space of 36 hours, with midfielder Tom Lapslie also dropping out with a recurrence of groin trouble.

But the Altrincham win, achieved with new loan signing Stephen Duke-McKenna from Queen's Park Rangers making an unplanned debut in midfield and Ali Omar enjoying a rare start at centre half, did take United's current run to 16 points out of 21 ahead of a spell of four out of five home games.

Manager Gary Johnson said: "The lads who came into the side did well, so we'll be quite happy going with them again if needed.

"Solihull are one of the teams that we've got to catch and get above, it's a very important game because of that and I am looking forward to playing them."

Even without injured players like Justin Donowa, Callum Howe and experienced schemer Kyle Storer, Moors under Neal Ardley have lost only to promotion-chasing Stockport and Bromley in the last nine games, including FA Trophy wins over AFC Fylde and Southport.

Currently in ninth place, they also beat Torquay (11th) 2-1 at Damson Park in September, when the Gulls were aggrieved not to be awarded a late penalty for what looked like a clear foul on Connor Lemonheigh-Evans.

All Moors' recent headlines have been grabbed by Andrew Dallas, who has scored their last eight goals - three against Southport and all five against Dover (5-0) at the weekend - but their good form has really been built on a defence which has conceded only three goals in those nine games.

Meanwhile, just when you thought that this season's National League spending spree couldn't get any crazier, it did.

Wrexham, who are next at Plainmoor on February 5, have broken their own club transfer record by paying £300,000 - yes, you read it right - for 30-year-old AFC Wimbledon striker Ollie Palmer.

The Red Dragons, and their Hollywood actor owners Ryan Reynolds and McElhenney, had already lured forward Paul Mullin from League One Cambridge United, and they have now gone back to the same division to recruit Palmer on a three-and-a-half year deal.

Wimbledon are reported to say: "We couldn't have offered him anywhere near what he was being offered (by Wrexham)", describing his new contract at the Racecourse Ground as 'irresistible'.

Clubs like Wrexham, Notts County, Chesterfield and Stockport County have taken National League spending to unprecedented heights, ahead of the introduction of a salary cap next season.

The ambition and size of clubs in the NL is also leading to renewed calls for at least a third promotion place up to League Two.