Torquay United 0 Sutton United 0
- Credit: Dave Crawford/PPAUK
Ten-man Torquay United weathered the 56th minute sending-off of Dean Moxey to draw with second-placed Sutton United and maintain their nine-point lead at the top of the National League.
Left-back Moxey was dismissed for two bookings – the first looked harsh, the second less so – as Gary Johnson’s Gulls, with new permanent signing Joe Lewis back in defence, followed up their similar scoreline away to promotion rivals Notts County at the weekend.
Lewis, 21, who earned many friends on loan from Swansea City last season, was cleared to play just in time, and he was needed in a hard-fought encounter which never quite lived up to its billing.
Neither side settled for a draw in such a key game, but neither produced enough quality to deserve much more, and Torquay probably emerged the happier with their clear lead still intact.
Johnson made two changes – Lewis for the injured Gary Warren in defence and Armani Little for Max Sheaf in midfield. Little actually played just behind lone targetman Josh Umerah, with Connor Lemonheigh-Evans in a genuine midfield role.
Unchanged Sutton certainly hadn’t come for a point, and only a lung-bursting run back into defence by winger Aaron Nemane foiled an early visitor attack at the expense of a corner.
Shaun MacDonald was the busier of the two keepers, without having to pull out more than routine saves.
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Little and Lemonheigh-Evans should both have done better on shots from half-clearances, and Whitfield was also off target on a Lemonheigh-Evans pass.
Sutton took no risks at the back, but United did not play well enough in the first half to put them under real pressure.
Johnson made a typically proactive change at half-time, sending on Crystal Palace loanee Rob Street for his debut in place of Umerah. Within five minutes, Street headed United’s clearest chance so far over the bar after Lewis’s cross from the right.
Moxey had been cautioned for what appeared to be a routine tackle in the first half, but when a loose touch forced him to try and correct the error in the 56th minute, he got it wrong and referee Lewis Smith pulled out his yellow card again, followed by the red.
Lewis switched to left-back with Adam Randell going to right-back, and that’s the way it stayed in defence, even when Jake Andrews, who has played at left-back several times, went on for Little.
To United’s credit, they responded well to Moxey’s departure and stopped Sutton from building up any real steam in the last half-hour.
Indeed, Kyle Cameron headed another good chance over from a Lemonheigh-Evans corner and Whitfield and Lemonheigh-Evans, both set up by Street, forced fingertip saves front Dean Bouzanis.
MacDonald did get right down and behind a Craig Eastmond shot and Rob Milsom whipped a 20- yard free-kick just over the bar in the 80th minute, but that was all Sutton had to show for their extra man.
It was a missed opportunity for the Ambers, who must now try and do better in two more away games at rivals Hartlepool United and Stockport County, while Torquay head to bottom-of-the-table Barnet on Saturday.
Torquay United (4-4-1-1): MacDonald; Lewis, Sherring, Cameron, Moxey; Nemane, Little (Andrews 72), Randell, Whitfield; Lemonheigh-Evans; Umerah (Street 46); subs not used – Waters, Hamon, Sheaf.
Sent Off: Moxey 56.
Booked: Moxey 40, Lewis 70, Lemonheigh-Evans 74, Andrews 83.
Sutton United (4-4-2): Bouzanis; Barden, Goodliffe, John, Milsom; Ajiboye, Eastmond, Beautyman, Randall; Olaofe (Browne 68), Bugiel (Dundas 84); subs not used - Wyatt, Davis, Sho-Silva.
Referee: Lewis Smith (Lancs).