Late, late smash-and-grab as Torquay United snatch victory

Winning goal celebrations for Connor Lemonheigh-Evans. Photo: Dave Crawford/PPAUK

Winning goal celebrations for Connor Lemonheigh-Evans. Photo: Dave Crawford/PPAUK - Credit: Dave Crawford/PPAUK

Torquay United 1 Stockport County 0

A stoppage-time winner by Connor Lemonheigh-Evans followed by a miraculous goalline clearance saw Torquay United snatch victory after they had soaked up relentless pressure from Stockport County as the National League season finally got under way at wet and windy Plainmoor.

It was a cross by Aaron Nemane which set up the all-important goal, and it was the former Manchester City winger who somehow kept the Hatters out when an equaliser seemed certain just before the final whistle.

Promotion favourites County will be trying to work how on earth they didn’t win, let alone lost the match, for all United’s heroes were in defence - goalie Lucas Covolan, Ben Wynter, Kyle Cameron and new loanee Sam Sherring.

At one stage in the second half it seemed only a matter of when the visitors would score, not if.

But the Gulls clung on, a triple-substitution by manager Gary Johnson with just over ten minutes to go visibly galvanised his side and Lemonheigh-Evans completed a late, late smash-and-grab.

Johnson had made three new loan signings on the morning of the match, to help cover for persistent injuries, and all three figured.

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AFC Bournemouth centre-back Sherring went straight into a back-three defence between Ben Wynter and Kyle Cameron.

Midfielder Adam Randell (Plymouth Argyle) and striker Louis Britton (Bristol City) were both on the bench.

All three had been signed on initial one-month loans.

United were still without half-a-dozen pros, and Johnson was forced to play midfielders Matt Buse and Ben Whitfield in unaccustomed ‘wing-back’ roles.

In a bright start Whitfield cut in from the left on a Jake Andrews pass to test Ben Hinchliffe, a fingertip save too, from just outside the box.

Only a diving header behind by Liam Hogan also stopped a Wynter cross from reaching the head of Danny Wright in the tenth minute.

A telling pass by Andrews also gave Wright a chance in behind the County defence, but the new centre-forward’s touch failed him when a good one would have given a great chance to score with Hinchcliffe to beat.

But Stockport were leading ‘on points’ at the interval, as they fed off United’s passing mistakes and clearly targeted the right side of their defence.

Covolan parried a strong shot by Mark Kitching and, in the 34th minute, bettered that effort with a brilliant save from Richie Bennett, the ball flicking off his fingers onto Cameron and away.

Wynter fired just over from 25 yards on the stroke of half-time. But Stockport boss Jim Gannon made a personnel and formation change at the interval, Jordan Keane for winger Alex Reid, and they were soon all over United.

Sherring made a terrific challenge to stop Bennett finishing a Kitching cross, Covolan saved well from Bennett and Connor Jennings and John Rooney was inches wide with a low shot across the face of goal in the 74th minute.

County must have been thinking only of victory when Johnson sent on Asa Hall, Randell and Britton in the 79th minute for Buse, Andrews and Umerah. And what a difference it made.

Lemonheigh-Evans sliced wide after a Hall-Britton move, Randell tested Hinchcliffe and Britton first hit the bar from 20 yards and then forced Hinchcliffe to a tip-over save with a fierce cross-shot as the match moved into stoppage-time.

No one had benefitted from the changes more than Nemane.

Back on his favoured right wing, it was his cross to the far-post which Lemonheigh-Evans met with a volley which deflected past Hinchliffe in the 92nd minute.

And it was Nemane, back helping out in defence, who scrambled the ball off his own line when Covolan was beaten, for once, to clinch all three points.

Torquay United (3-5-2): Covolan; Wynter, Sherring, Cameron; Buse (Hall 79), Nemane, Lemonheigh-Evans, Andrews (Randell 79), Whitfield; Wright, Umerah (Britton 79); subs not used - MacDonald, Koszela.

Booked: Umerah 35, Buse 71.

Stockport County (4-3-2-1): Hinchcliffe; Minihan, Palmer, Hogan, J. Jennings; Reid (Keane 46), Maynard, Hogan, Kitching; C. Jennings (Thomas 84), Rooney; Bennett (Bell 75); subs not used - Stott, Barnes.

Referee: Tom Bishop (London).