Torquay United 2 FC Halifax Town 3
- Credit: Dave Crawford/PPAUK
Below-par Torquay United threw away a 2-1 lead, thanks to two Asa Hall penalties, and lost to lowly FC Halifax Town on another hugely disappointing night in front of BT Sport cameras at Plainmoor.
When Hall's second spot-kick nudged Gary Johnson's Gulls in front in the 71st minute, they had a wonderful chance to win a game they hardly deserved to and restore a seven-point lead at the top of the National League.
But United hadn't played well enough in attack all evening, and in the last 20 minutes their defence, without injured kingpin Kyle Cameron, conceded two goals which would have had a home crowd howling.
As it stands, that lead is now down to four points, second-placed Sutton United have three games in hand and Torquay have won only two of their last seven league games.
They fell behind to a sucker-punch own-goal by Joe Lewis, before Hall equalised just before half-time.
Without ever threatening to find top gear, they were then gifted the lead when referee Steven Copeland pointed to the spot a second time for a clumsy foul on Billy Waters, and once again Hall did the honours for his eight goal of the season.
Surely, we thought, United wouldn't give it away from there? But they did.
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Jack Earing equalised for the Shaymen after the Gulls failed at least twice to clear the ball, and in the 88th minute Jeff King - he had conceded both the Torquay penalties - took sweet revenge by gliding past a couple of half-challenges on the edge of the box before slamming a 20-yard left-foot shot into the bottom left-hand corner for the winner.
United couldn't even blame the conditions this time - after rain which forced Exeter City's match to be called off, the surface was a testament to the time, effort and money which has been spent on it in recent years.
Johnson recalled Ben Wynter in defence and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans in midfield, but his tactical plans had to be changed after only 13 minutes.
Centre-back Cameron stayed down with a leg injury and he had to be replaced by Jake Andrews.
Wynter switched from right wing-back to right-back, with Sam Sherring and Joe Lewis in the middle and Andrews at left-back.
Halifax did not manage a shot for 20 minutes - after successive defeats to Maidenhead and Barnet recently, they were intent on containment.
But for all their possession and territorial advantage, the Gulls did not produce enough quality near goal.
Billy Waters did take a Wynter pass, turned and shot not far wide in the 25th minute, but United were badly caught out ten minutes later.
A poor Lemonheigh-Evans free-kick was easily cleared from the edge of the Town penalty area, Jamie Allen broke away down their right wing and when Shaun MacDonald could only parry his cross, the ball rebounded off Lewis and into the net…0-1.
United captain Asa Hall did what several team-mates should have done earlier, when he finally let fly from 30 yards, forcing Sam Johnson to tip the effort over his bar.
And just when it looked as if they might face another half-time deficit at home, United levelled in the 41st minute.
It came from a good individual moment by Ben Whitfield - he beat Jeff King just inside the Halifax area, went down under the mistimed challenge and it was an obvious penalty.
Hall stepped up and drilled the spot-kick into the bottom right-hand corner for his seventh goal of the season…1-1.
United fans must have hoped for a second-half siege of the Halifax goal. Instead, United continued to huff and puff, without nearly enough quality near goal.
They also looked unsure playing out from the back and, after Tahvon Campbell missed a great chance from an Allen-Earing move in the 58th minute, Halifax signalled their rising intent by sending on experienced striker Jake Hyde for winger Danny Williams.
Johnson also took off Josh Umerah and sent on young loanee striker Rob Street.
MacDonald had to make a good save from Campbell after more unconvincing work by his defenders, so when Waters went down under another awkward challenge by King in the 71st minute, it looked as if United had been handed a get-out-of-jail card.
Hall slammed this penalty into the bottom left-hand corner…2-1.
Far from seeing the game out, United imploded.
MacDonald denied Campbell with a brilliant save with his legs in the 79th minute, but United's attempts to clear from there failed completely, and Earing eventually forced the ball home…2-2.
And if that wasn't bad enough, in the 88th minute attacking right-back King latched onto a rebounded shot outside the area, was not closed down and drove a left-footer past MacDonald's outstretched right hand for the winner…3-2.
If the pressure wasn't already bad enough, it's been cranked up several notches ahead of Tuesday night's trip to Solihull Moors...
Torquay United (3-4-1-2): MacDonald; Wynter, Sherring, Cameron (Andrews 13); Lewis, Randell, Hall, Whitfield; Lemonheigh-Evans; Umerah (Street 62), Waters; subs not used - Koszela, Sheaf, Hamon.
FC Halifax Town (4-4-2): Johnson; King, Byrne, Bradbury, Senior; Maher, Green, Earing, Williams (Hyde 62); Allen, Campbell; subs not used - Benn, Tear, Renshaw.
Referee: Steven Copeland (Liverpool).