Gulls welcome the big-spending Hatters

Torbay Weekly

Four points, from an opening-day 1-0 win at Plainmoor and a high-quality 2-2 draw at Edgeley Park, gave Torquay United a clear edge over Stockport County last season. But that was then and this is now.

Having topped up their considerable investment in 2020-2021 with more big spending this year, the Hatters come to town on Saturday (3pm) to meet a United side in transition, but lifted by the way they beat Weymouth away last weekend.

The scoreline (2-1) may not have been emphatic, and Stockport will finish much higher in the table than Weymouth will.

But the Gulls could easily have won by four or five in Dorset, and there were glimpses, especially into the wind in the second half, of what manager Gary Johnson likes to call the 'relentless' quality that all his best teams display.

They often say you can judge a side by its subs' bench, and United's on Saturday should be the strongest they have named this season.

Even with Jake Andrews headed to Havant & Waterlooville on loan, Johnson has only Chiori Johnson (hamstring) definitely unavailable.

Centre-forward Danny Wright (foot) and attacking midfielder Connor Lemonheigh-Evans (Covid isolation) are both expected back, and new loanee Jack Sparkes from Exeter City also joins the fray.

The talismanic Wright may be over his injury, but he hasn't kicked a ball in anger since the 2-2 draw at Chesterfield on September 25, and Johnson has plenty of options up front, including last week's highly effective sub Sinclair Armstrong.

"Stockport (9th) are a very good team. They probably should be a little bit higher in the league for the team they've got," says Johnson.

"It will be a tight affair, I hope, and both teams will need to get their tactics right.

"They've got goals in them, that's for sure, but if it's a close game, we've got to make sure we come out on top.

"I'm really looking forward to it, and so are all the players."

Incidentally, two of them, Armani Little and Joe Lewis, are a booking away from a one-match suspension.

Stockport gave League One leaders Rotherham a run for their money in the FA Cup (0-1) last week, but they go into this game unbeaten in five league matches.

A slower start than their investment predicted soon cost manager Simon Rusk his job, prompting County to lure Dave Challinor from Hartlepool, only four months after he had led them into the EFL via that NL Play-Off Shoot-Out win over the Gulls.

It was yet more evidence that some National League budgets are more attractive than a League Two post, although Challinor was also returning to a club he once played for.

No one who saw County knock Bolton Wanderers out of the Cup can be in much doubt about their potential, and their Away record reads W6 D1 L2.

Ex-Torquay winger Ben Whitfield is injured, but Challinor still has a formidable attacking roster - Scott Quigley, Paddy Madden, John Rooney, Macauley Southam-Hales, Alex Reid, Antoni Sarcevic to name a few. Indeed, he has a job to accommodate them all each week.

The Hatters have had their blank-firing days, as nearly all the promotion contenders have this season, but United have also conceded 14 goals in eight home games. Keeping things tighter could be the key this time…