Super Gulls soar to play-off final
- Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK
Torquay United 4 Notts County 2 (AET)
(National League play-off semi-final)
Ashton Gate, here we come! Torquay United beat Notts County after extra-time to reach the National League play-off final in one of the most dramatic matches that Plainmoor has seen for many years.
Gary Johnson's Gulls now head for next Sunday's final at Bristol, to meet the winners of tomorrow's other semi between Stockport County and Hartlepool United.
Twice United took the lead, with two 'fairytale' goals by fit-again centre-forward Danny Wright, and twice Notts fought back to equalise.
But in extra-time it was United skipper Asa Hall who regained the lead with the bravest of diving headers - his 14th goal of the season - before left-back Dean Moxey clinched victory with the coolest of penalties.
It was Moxey's first goal of the campaign, and the spot-kick was awarded for a foul on new Player Of The Year Connor Lemonheigh-Evans by former Gulls defender Mark Ellis.
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It was an epic encounter in every way.
Johnson's men had to dig deep and find a way to win, long after the tactical plan which he had devised, and worked so well for so long, had been left behind.
United had heroes in all departments, and in the end it was their three oldest players - Wright 36, Hall 34 and Moxey 34 - who scored the goals that sent them through.
Plainmoor's best-kept secret was out when Johnson named Wright up front after an injury absence of two months.
But he also sprang another surprise when he started with defender Kyle Cameron on the left of midfield, in place of Jake Andrews, who reverted to the bench.
Notts boss Ian Burchnall, perhaps remembering the threat that Dion Kelly-Evans posed in the 2-2 draw here last month, brought him back on the right wing.
Gulls fans must have been hoping for a dream start - and they got it.
The clock had been running for only 36 seconds when Dean Moxey shaped to take a long throw, sent it short to Joe Lewis instead, he hit a diagonal cross into the goalmouth where Wright rose to send in a header which took a flick off Cameron past Sam Slocombe's despairing right hand…1-0.
Ex-United defender Mark Ellis was roundly booed every time he touched the ball, which was quite a lot.
Notts' back-three of Brindley, Ellis and Chicksen had loads of the ball, but United forced them to keep passing it backwards and sideways.
It was a long time before Lucas Covolan had a moment's concern, while United posed a major threat on all set-pieces.
In the 14th minute Asa Hall flicked on a Moxey throw, but Connor Lemonheigh-Evans could not keep his own header down and the ball sailed over the bar.
Lemonheigh-Evans was nearly in on an Adam Randell pass, and Armani Little was inches away from latching onto a Wright header in the 35th minute.
For all their possession, Notts posed little threat until they equalised.
In the 39th minute Enzio Boldewijn held the ball up to give Kelly-Evans the chance to cross from their right and Rodrigues ran across the face of the six-yard box to dispatch a firm header past Covolan from eight yards... 1-1.
It was the signal for County to finish the first half strongly.
Brindley fired just over the bar from long range, Joe Lewis did well to block a Rodrigues shot behind and Wootton headed a Boldewijn cross over on the stroke of half-time.
United needed to take the initiative back, and they did just that.
Three minutes into the second half Wynter won the ball in a tackle on the right wing, set Randell off on a powerful run, he pulled a low cross back and Wright was there to score with a first-time right-foot shot from ten yards... 2-1.
Again County would not be denied.
Back they came only three minutes later.
Kelly-Evans forced a corner on their right, Wootton headed down Mike Doyle's flag-kick and the Gulls were not quick enough to stop Adam Chicksen from spinning in the goalmouth and slamming a shot into the top left-hand corner... 2-2.
It was end-to-end stuff now.
Cameron forced a fine save from Slocombe, Rodrigues fired just wide, Hall threw himself into a goal-saving to stop Jake Reeves scoring, Wynter volleyed over after Cameron nodded down a Lemonheigh-Evans cross.
Cameron picked up a spot of cramp, prompting United's first change - Jake Andrews took his place - and the sub tested Slocombe with a 25-yard free-kick in the last minute of normal time.
Johnson sent on Benji Kimpioka for Wright at the start of extra-time, and then Billy Waters for Little, before United made it 3-2 in the 108th minute.
Andrews' in-swinging corner from the right was on the money and Hall dived in front of Wootton, taking a fearful knock, to glance home an outstanding header.
He needed four minutes of treatment to a cut on his forehead before he could continue, but he was back in the action to see the clinching fourth goal in the 109th minute.
Lemonheigh-Evans got just goalside of Ellis' challenge, and referee Kitchen pointed to the spot despite Notts' protests.
Hall's head was probably still spinning, but Moxey stepped up and dispatched the penalty with aplomb into the top left-hand corner as Slocombe dived the other way... 4-2.
Seconds later Covolan pulled off a spectacular point-blank save from Wootton and sub Jimmy Knowles hit the underside of the bar from the rebound.
If County had pulled it back to 4-3 at that stage, who knows with might have happened.
They gave it all they had left - Griffiths, Rawlinson and Wootton all went close, but with Matt Buse on for Hall, United saw out the final 15 minutes to spark wild and raucous celebrations in a crowd which had been solidly and noisily behind their team all afternoon.
Torquay United (4-4-1-1): Covolan; Wynter, Lewis, Sherring, Moxey; Little (Waters 96), Randell, Hall (Buse 111), Cameron (Andrews 79); Lemonheigh-Evans; Wright (Kimpioka 91); sub not used - MacDonald.
Notts County (3-5-2): Slocombe; Brindley, Ellis, Chicksen (Rawlinson 110); Kelly-Evans, Boldewijn (Knowles 73), Doyle, Reeves (Griffiths 109), Miller (Barnett 86); Wootton, Rodrigues; sub not used - Turner.
Booked: Ellis 109.
Referee: Andrew Kitchen (Co Durham).