Torquay United 2 Barnet 2
- Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK
For more than half-an-hour the dream was very much alive. But a 2-0 lead against Barnet evaporated as Torquay United cracked up big time in defence, and now their hopes of snatching the National League Championships hang by a thread.
Gulls fans back at Plainmoor believed that the 'miracle' was on as Jake Andrews and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans fired Gary Johnson's men into a lead, which must have dismayed followers of leaders Sutton United.
At one point United were level on points with the Ambers and that goal-difference deficit was down to four, before Sutton's key home game against fourth-placed Hartlepool United on Sunday lunchtime.
But from that tantalising position of strength, Torquay squandered more of the home points which have cost them so dear this season, conceding goals to a Michael Petrasso penalty before half-time and a Themis Kefalas header early in the second half.
It was a desperately disappointing end to the league season at Plainmoor, but it's far from over.
The point, disappointing as it was, did guarantee United at least second or third place, a bye through the first round of the Play-Offs and a home Semi-Final.
Johnson made only one change from the squad which drew 2-2 at Stockport last Sunday - the starting XI was the same, but Ben Whitfield was ruled unfit, so striker Josh Umerah was recalled to the bench.
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Barnet mustered only four subs, just as they had done in their 1-0 defeat at Solihull Moors in midweek.
There have been few more frantic halves of football than the first 45 here.
Barnet went at a nervy Gulls defence from the first whistle, especially down their right wing.
They forced a series of corners, going close through Ephron Mason-Clark and a Themis Kefalas set-piece header which Adam Randell spectacularly headed off his own line.
But, from less possession, United still swept into a 2-0 lead inside 23 minutes.
First, in the 13th minute, they put together a nine-man move, down the left and then the right, before Randell found Wynter, Scott Boden stepped over his low cross and Andrews drove a ten-yard shot with his right foot just inside the near-post…1-0.
It was Andrews' fifth goal of the season, and it was deserved after an earlier effort from 25 yards had flown narrowly wide.
Ten minutes later a raking ball out of defence by Armani Little found Lemonheigh-Evans on the counter.
A combination of goalie Adam Parkes and Kefalas felled Lemonheigh-Evans, but as United fans howled for a penalty - it probably was one - Lemonheigh-Evans picked himself up, beat Kefalas again and slid the ball into an empty net…2-0.
It was Goal No.10 for Lemonheigh-Evans.
The Gulls appeared to be cruising at that point, but they promptly shot themselves in the foot.
Kefalas was only a couple of feet wide with another set-piece header before that jittery defending came back to haunt United in the 36th minute.
United missed at least two chances to clear the ball before Sam Sherring badly mistimed a last-ditch tackle on Harry Taylor and it was an obvious penalty.
Petrasso made no mistake from the spot, driving the ball into the left corner…2-1.
Whether there was anything wrong with Sherring or not, Johnson did not hesitate - on went Kyle Cameron for the AFC Bournemouth loanee.
On the stroke of half-time United nearly made it 3-1.
Little's long ball found Asa Hall at the right post and it took a brilliant tip-over save by Adam Parkes to tip the skipper's header over his bar.
Letting Barnet back into the game was one thing, allowing them to equalise was entirely another.
The Bees tackled the second half as they had the first.
In the 54th minute a Sam Skeffington free-kick from the left found Kefalas at the far post and his powerful downward header appeared to catch Covolan off guard as it bounced gently inside the left-hand post…2-2.
Johnson probably had an attacking change in mind anyway, but on went Billy Waters for Boden as soon as he goal had gone in and then Benji Kimpioka for Little in the 66th minute.
United, increasingly desperate, went longer and longer, and Barnet, too strong in the heart of their defence, began catching them on the break.
Covolan had to make good saves from Taylor and the lively Mason-Clark twice, but the Gulls' determination and pressure kept them in with a chance.
A cross by Randell, still playing as well as ever on the right wing, went begging.
Hall couldn't quite force in a headed by Lemonheigh-Evans, Waters went close, Randell volleyed just over and, in stoppage-time, Lemonheigh-Evans found himself unmarked at the far post on a Moxey cross, but he headed over when he had to hit the target.
Gulls fans kept praying and hoping, but even they knew that effort was not enough on a day when quality and coolness of head were missing.
Torquay United (4-4-1-1): Covolan; Wynter, Sherring (Cameron 40), Lewis, Moxey; Randell, Little (Kimpioka 66), Hall, Andrews; Lemonheigh-Evans; Boden (Waters 55); subs not used - MacDonald, Umerah.
Booked: Hall 26, Lewis 40.
Barnet (3-5-2): Parkes; Nugent, Kefalas, Richards-Everton; Vaughan,Taylor, Petrasso (Walker 74), Kefalas, Skeffington, Beard; Mason-Clark (McBurnie 81), Adeloye; subs not used - Callan, Vasiliou.
Booked: Beard 39, Richards-Everton 45, Vaughan 77.
Referee: Paul Marsden (Lancs).