Gulls bow out of FA Cup in 11-goal thriller

Danny Wright leaps the highest during the FA Cup First Round match between Torquay United and Crawle

Danny Wright leaps the highest during the FA Cup First Round match between Torquay United and Crawley Town at Plainmoor. Photo: Dave Crawford/PPAUK - Credit: Dave Crawford/PPAUK


(Emirates FA Cup First Round)

Torquay United are out of the FA Cup after one of the most remarkable matches in Plainmoor’s history - an 11-goal thriller in which they led 2-0, 3-2, and 5-3 before Crawley Town finally took the lead and won the tie two minutes from the end of extra-time.

The televised game, which kicked off at 12.45pm, lasted almost three hours because of a long stoppage from the 47th minute, when Crawley goalkeeper Tom McGill suffered a neck injury.

But Gary Johnson’s Gulls, who looked certain to register a seventh successive victory so many times during the afternoon, will still be trying to work out how they came to lose it.

United outplayed their League Two opponents in the first half, scoring quality goals through wingers Aaron Nemane and Ben Whitfield.

Back came Crawley through former Exeter City striker Tom Nichols with a penalty and sub Max Watters (2-2), before Gulls sub Josh Umerah (92) and Jordan Tunnicliffe (95) sent the tie into extra-time.

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When two Asa Hall penalties (102 and 107mins) made it 5-3 to United, they were odds-on to win.

But Nichols (109 and 114) completed his hat-trick and, as a tiring United cracked in defence, Ashley Nadesan ran through to snatch the winner just as everyone was getting ready for a penalty shoot-out.

Johnson resisted the temptation to change the XI which started last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing of Hartlepool United in the league, and that decision was justified from the first kick.

The Gulls, passing and moving with pace and confidence, forced five corners in the first 15 minutes and nearly scored twice.

Crawley keeper Tom McGill tipped a Kyle Cameron header over from Connor Lemonheigh-Evans’ corner and, in the tenth minute, Adam Randell sent Danny Wright through the middle of the Town defence for a left-foot shot narrowly wide.

Crawley’s Tyler Frost did hit the bar with a volley after Lucas Covolan had mispunched on a hosts’ set-piece in the 16th minute.

But two minutes later United, who repeatedly threatened on the counter, did it again and right-winger Nemane’s pace carried him down the outside of Tony Craig for a cool right-foot shot past McGill and inside the near-post... 1-0.

In the 24th minute United stretched their lead.

A move down the left between Dean Moxey and the ever-wandering Nemane set up Whitfield for a precise left-foot shot low past McGill’s left hand from just inside the area... 2-0.

Covolan did not have to make a save of any consequence until the 28th minute, while McGill was called into more action to deny Cameron with a header and Adam Randell with a 22-yard shot as the sound of fireworks carried across Plainmoor.

No one could have argued if United hadn’t led 3-0 by half-time, and in the 41st minute they nearly did just that.

Whitfield jinked his way into shooting room on the edge of the area before hitting the bar with a right-footer.

It was two minutes after the restart when McGill went in bravely for a challenge, and it was immediately obvious that he was in trouble.

When McGill was eventually carried off, Friday signing Stuart Nelson, 39, took his place.

Crawley also sent on in-form striker Watters, sparking the fightback.

Here’s how that crazy last hour went.

67mins - Sherring appeared to clip Nadesan from behind - Nichols converts the penalty... 2-1.

Johnson sends on Little, Umerah and then Warren.

But 88mins - As United appealed for a head injury to Randell, Watters dashed through the middle... 2-2.

90+2mins - Little crosses low from the right and Umerah pokes home... 3-2.

90+5mins - After a good move down the left, Crawley cross and Jordan Tunnicliffe scores at the far-post... 3-3.

Into extra-time...

102mins - Archie Davies pushes Umerah in the back, another penalty, Hall converts to Nelson’s left... 4-3.

107mins - Tunnicliffe tugs Cameron in the area, another penalty, Hall goes the same way... 5-3.

109mins - United fail to clear first a corner and then the next cross, Nichols drives in from close-range... 5-4.

114mins - Crawley cross high from their right and Nichols heads in at the far-post... 5-5.

118mins - Nadesan outpaces a tired Gulls defence on another through-ball and shoots under Covolan... 5-6.

You simply couldn’t have dreamed it up!

Torquay United (4-1-4-1): Covolan; Wynter, Sherring, Cameron, Moxey; Hall; Nemane (Warren 75), Lemonheigh-Evans (Little 68), Randell, Whitfield (Waters 109); Wright (Umerah 68); subs not used - MacDonald, Kerr, Andrews.

Booked: Wright 63, Little 82, Wynter 104, Waters 110.

Crawley Town (4-4-2)): McGill (Nelson 49); Davies, Craig, Tunnicliffe, Doherty; Powell (Allarakhia 63), Bulman (Ashford 103), Hessenthaler, Frost (Watters 56); Nichols, Nadesan; subs not used - McNerny, Sesay, Galach.

Booked: Craig 27, Nichols 50, Ashford 112

Referee: Charles Breakspear (Surrey).