Torquay United 0 Hartlepool United 1
- Credit: Dave Crawford/PPAUK
Who would have thought, when Torquay United routed Yeovil Town 6-1 on Boxing Day, that they would take only two points from their next five home games? Well, that's the situation after promotion rivals Hartlepool United beat Gary Johnson's Gulls at Plainmoor and wiped out that once-daunting lead at the top of the National League.
Luke Molyneux's breakaway 14th minute goal was enough for Pools to avenge the 5-0 hammering which United inflicted at Victoria Park in October.
Danny Wright rattled in a hat-trick that day and, once again, the absence of United's injured centre-forward was brutally underlined in a largely punchless display in attack.
New loan signing Scott Boden worked hard and well up front, especially in the first half, but it wasn't until the 88th minute that Pools goalkeeper Ben Killip made only his second serious save of another frustrating match for Torquay fans.
Goalkeeper Shaun MacDonald, fit-again Joe Lewis and Armani Little and Boden all returned to the fray from the squad which lost in the FA Trophy at Woking last weekend.
Boden made his first start for the Gulls.
Hartlepool sprung a couple of surprises, naming both wing-back Jamie Sterry and defender Ryan Johnson, who were said to have been injured, in their 1st XI.
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United did not make the most of an Asa Hall corner-flick and a Ben Wynter cross-shot in the first few minutes, and referee Simon Mather also turned down appeals for a foul on Adam Randell which might have produced a penalty.
For all their energy and sharp passing in a bright start, United were caught out in defence in the 14th minute.
Mark Shelton's though-ball split Lewis and Jake Andrews, Molyneux was away on the right and he beat the advancing MacDonald with a low angled shot…0-1.
Boden gave the Gulls a focal point to their attacks, something they have lacked in recent weeks.
His holding of the ball and lay-offs helped to build pressure, but United's midfield could not exploit it and Killip in the visitors' goal did not have as much to do as he should have done.
Pools also got ten men back whenever Torquay had the ball, setting aside any idea of a 'high press' and winning possession back high up the pitch.
There was every hope, if they kept up their pressure, that United would make it count in the second half. But, if anything, they faded.
Killip did push a sharply angled effort by Lemonheigh-Evans behind in the 50th minute, but Hartlepool grew in attacking confidence as they sensed that Torquay were not going to hurt them.
Johnson sent on Billy Waters for Little and then Josh Umerah for Boden in the 75th minute, but it took one goalline block by Sam Sherring and a reaction save by MacDonald to stop Ryan Johnson and Gavan Holohan wrapping it up for Hartlepool in the 83rd minute.
United kept going, for sure, and in the last few minutes they nearly saved themselves.
Killip dived low to his left to keep out a snapshot on the turn by Waters, and in stoppage-time Hall rose at the near-post to meet an Andrews corner unopposed but could not direct the ball on target.
Torquay United (4-4-1-1): MacDonald; Wynter, Lewis, Sherring, Andrews; Little (Waters 58), Randell, Hall, Whitfield; Lemonheigh-Evans; Boden (Umerah 75); subs not used - Buse, Koszela, Brzozowski.
Hartlepool United (4-4-2): Killip; Cass, Liddle, Johnson, Ferguson; Sterry, Shelton, Featherstone, Oates (Bloomfield 90); Molyneux (Holohan 79), Armstrong; subs not used - Odusina, Grey, Crawford.
Booked: Sterry 55, Johnson 65, Featherstone 82.
Referee: Simon Mather (S. Yorks).