Gaffer: 'I've got us in this mess - and I've got to get us out of it'
- Credit: Dave Crawford/PPAUK
Torquay United manager Gary Johnson is reluctant to mention the 'R'-word, but he is already describing this Saturday's National League game at fellow strugglers Weymouth as a 'six-pointer', and the Gulls' boss is almost certainly facing the biggest test of his three years at Plainmoor.
The NL South championship in his first season, mid-table in the curtailed 2019-2020 campaign and then that roller-coaster run to the NL play-off final last summer have suddenly been followed by nine defeats in the first 17 league games and a first-hurdle FA Cup exit at the hands of Havant and Waterlooville.
Things seemed to be looking up after seven points out of nine (King's Lynn 2-0, Wrexham 1-1, Dover 2-1), but a third loss in eight days, 3-2 at home to FC Halifax Town, leaves United in 17th place.
They are four points above the relegation zone ahead of this weekend's West Country derby against the Terras (19th) in Dorset.
Johnson's reaction to the Halifax game was unprecedented.
"I've got us in this mess, and I've got to get us out of it - and I will," he said.
"It was nice to get the two goals at the end (Klaidi Lolos and Armani Little), but it doesn't paper over the cracks.
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"I don't want to talk about that (relegation). But we are looking second-best against most of the teams we play, and I've got to turn that around.
"The games down there now are six-pointers."
Before Christmas, United go to Weymouth, then face big-spending Stockport County at Plainmoor on December 11 before travelling to NL South side Tonbridge Angels in the third round of the FA Trophy on December 18.
Johnson has had to push previously injured players, like Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, skipper Asa Hall and Tom Lapslie, back into the side without warm-up games.
And the Gulls are still without their talismanic centre-forward Danny Wright because of a foot injury that's sidelined him for two months.
The play-off shoot-out defeat to Hartlepool United hit the club hard on all fronts and Johnson now finds himself having to steer a ship with rebuilt crew out of some stormy waters.