Notts County 1 Torquay United 1
- Credit: Steve Bond/Pinnacle
Down to ten men for 65 minutes, Torquay United battled to a draw which must have felt almost like a victory against Notts County in front of nearly 7,000 fans at Meadow Lane.
Gary Johnson's Gulls had young centre-back Ali Omar sent off in the 24th minute for a 'last man' foul on County striker Kyle Wootton, interrupting what had been up to then a positive start.
When Danny Wright punished some hesitant defending to head United in front in the 36th minute, 360 noisy travelling fans started to dream of a win to wipe out the memory of a first-day 3-1 home defeat by Altrincham.
A disciplined rearguard action kept County at bay until the 68th minute, when Wootton finally rewarded almost non-stop pressure, much of it centred on former Gulls winger Aaron Nemane, to head the equaliser.
But United were not for cracking again and they dug deep to get their National League season up and running with an important result.
Johnson made one starting change from the team beaten by Altrincham - Chiori Johnson into right midfield for Gabby Rogers - but Connor Lemonheigh-Evans also returned from injury to nudge Klaidi Lolos off the subs' bench.
Ex-Torquay defender Kyle Cameron led the Magpies against his old club, while Nemane was one of the hosts' replacements.
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If all the pre-match odds favoured Notts, you'd never have known it from the way that Torquay set about them.
Johnson and Keelan O'Connell on the wings helped to carry the fight to County, on the ball and off it with an aggressive 'high press' that disrupted the opposition's attempts to play out from the back.
Joe Lewis, as he had done against Altrincham, sent one early header just wide from Armani Little's free-kick when he possibly should have hit the target.
From less possession and threat, Notts suddenly posted notice of their menace when Ruben Rodrigues headed against the post in the tenth minute after United had only half-cleared a free-kick.
Then dangerman Callum Roberts cut in from the right and fired inches wide with his left foot.
United were still giving at least as good as they got when Omar was given the slip by Kyle Wootton in the 24th minute.
A tackle from behind just outside the area was always a perilous thing to do, and it was little surprise when referee Martin Woods showed a straight red card.
Johnson sacrificed striker Dan Holman, a shame since he was just looking as if he might get on the end of something in the County area, and sent on Dan Martin for his debut.
Martin went to left-back, Dean Moxey moving in alongside Lewis to preserve a back-four in a 4-4-1.
It looked like a tall order for the Gulls, but after a smart low save by Mark Halstead from Rodrigues, they took the lead in the 36th minute.
Wright anticipated the flight of Halstead's long free-kick better than anyone in the County defence, looping a clever header over Slocombe, who had also come off his line to no avail…0-1.
Connell Rawlinson headed a Roberts free-kick over the bar just before Johnson could get his ten men into the dressing-room for a key half-time talk.
Notts manager Ian Burchnall decided during the break that he needed to change things - Nemane for Kelly-Evans on the right wing and Jim O'Brien for Ed Francis in midfield.
And so the siege began…
United were angry when Roberts went down all too easily, but just outside the box - Rodrigues headed wide after the free-kick had been half-cleared.
It was all Notts when Gary Johnson sent on Lemonheigh-Evans' fresh legs for Johnson, who had done well on the Gulls' right.
Lewis and Wynter blocked a series of shots and headers before the pressure finally told in the 68th minute.
Adam Chicksen supplied the cross from the left and, unlike many others, this one was perfect for Wootton to score with a glancing header…1-1.
Martin performed minor heroics to combat the pace and trickery of Nemane, but still County poured it on.
O'Connell and Lapslie both went down with cramp before Asa Hall replaced the hard-working O'Connell in the 78th minute.
Moxey did force one good low save from Slocombe - United's only attempt at goal in the second half - before they had to soak up a final ten minutes of more relentless pressure.
In the wake of Johnson's comments about opposition time-wasting at Plainmoor, Torquay certainly weren't adverse to a little of the same here, and it finally got Halstead booked deep into six minutes of stoppage-time.
And the Gulls had to survive one last scare - a free-kick from the harshest of 'handball' decisions against Lemonheigh-Evans - before they could celebrate the gutsiest of away points.
Notts County (3-5-2): Slocombe; Brindley, Rawlinson, Cameron; Kelly-Evans (Nemane 46), Palmer, Francis (O'Brien 46), Chicksen; Roberts, Wootton, Rodrigues (Mitchell 84); subs not used - Lacey, Sam.
Booked: Roberts 56.
Torquay United (4-4-2): Halstead; Wynter, Lewis, Omar, Moxey; Johnson (Lemonheigh-Evans 59), Lapslie, Little, O'Connell (Hall 78); Holman (Martin 26), Wright; subs not used - Rogers, Brzozowski (gk).
Sent Off: Omar 24. Booked: O'Connell 62, Halstead 90+2.
Referee: Martin Woods (Lancs).
Attendance: 6,960 (360 Gulls fans).