Torquay United manager Gary Johnson Credit: Lexy Ilsley/PPAUK

Torquay United steal the show with late winner against Exeter City

Dave Thomas

TORQUAY UNITED 1 EXETER CITY 0

Inspired by an exceptional performance from goalkeeper Mark Halstead, Torquay United put Tuesday's 5-0 defeat by Plymouth Argyle behind them when Brett McGavin's volley nine minutes from time beat Exeter City in an increasingly sparky friendly between old Devon rivals at Plainmoor.

Halstead had been criticised in some quarters for a couple of the goals that the Gulls conceded against Argyle, but he responded with a spectacular all-round display as Gary Johnson's side overcame their second League One opponents of the week.

In front of a 2,600-plus crowd, United dominated most of the first half, only for the Grecians to reply in kind just before and after the interval.

But just when it looked as if they would have to settle for a stalemate after a high-tempo and entertaining derby, United made the most of a Kieron Evans free-kick, and McGavin finished a 'pinball' session in the goalmouth with a winning volley.

Johnson was without centre-forward Aaron Jarvis (leg strain) so he paired new loan signing Will Goodwin, a sub against Plymouth, with Corie Andrews up front and that was the only change to the starting XI.

Goodwin's strength and pace played a part in United's early dominance - City did not mount a serious attack until the 14th minute.

United, with Ryan Hanson prominent as an attacking midfielder, should have taken the lead twice in those early stages.

Goodwin slipped Hanson away on the left, he beat Pierce Sweeney, cut in and then fired over when he should have hit the target.

And in the eighth minute, after Sweeney had been booked for a foul which teammate Sam Stubbs had committed, Ross Marshall was unmarked at the far post on McGavin's free-kick from the left, but missed ball and chance.

Goodwin left Stubbs standing with a slick turn in the 27th minute, but then couldn't find Andrews, unmarked, in front of goal as United kept pressing for a breakthrough.

McGavin also had a 22-yard shot saved low behind by Scott Brown.

City may have had to soak it up for half-an-hour, but they finally broke out and reminded everyone of their status.

Three times in the space of five minutes Mark Halstead came to Torquay's rescue - from a Tim Dieng header on Jake Caprice's right-wing cross, with an excellent catch to cut out a dangerous Josh Coley cross and then, an even better effort, off his line to deny a Sam Nombe goalbound drive.

Ex-Grecian Dean Moxey showed all his enduring class to jockey Caprice and concede a corner under pressure.

Coley volleyed wide after Nombe had a shot half-blocked and, just before half-time, Halstead pulled out his best save yet.

Former Gulls loanee Jack Sparkes crossed from City's left, Nombe rose at the far post with what looked a goalscoring header, but Halstead somehow tipped it onto the bar and McGavin hooked the rebound away.

It may have been goalless, but it had been a first half to savour.

Johnson sent on a trialist at left wing-back for Donnellan at half-time, freeing up Evans for a more attacking role.

But City had moved up a gear or two just before the interval, and they weren't about to drop back down.

Halstead matched anything he had done before with a near-miraculous double-save from Matt Jay's cross-shot and Noumbe's follow-up.

Moxey also pulled out a great block to deny Nombe - the tables had been turned, even if neither side still had nothing to show for it.

Referee Paul Johnson then took centre stage for several minutes.

He held up play to deal with what must have been an off-the-ball incident, writing down the names of Andrews and Grounds without actually signalling a booking for either.

He also called both managers together on the touchline, presumably to explain what had just gone on.

Mr Johnson suddenly became 'finicky' with a series of decisions, but nothing could gloss over the fact that City were now as on top as United had been for most of the first half.

Coley missed a good heading chance, set up by Sweeney's cross, one of several he delivered to test Halstead overhead.

Mr Johnson finally brandished his yellow card, first to Coley for a foul, and then to Hanson after City players reacted angrily to something which again happened 'off camera'.

United may have been holding on at that point, but Evans' free-kick changed all that in the 81st minute.

One header was blocked, Moxey's follow-up shot was clawed off the line by Brown and when the ball broke to McGavin 12 yards out, his clever volley was not for stopping…1-0.

Marshall went into the book for 'taking out' Sparkes as the game became increasingly feisty in the closing stages.

But having grabbed the lead, United were in no mood to give it up, and a final confident catch by Halstead to cut out a Sparkes cross rounded off a memorable personal display and a confidence-boosting day for his team.

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Torquay United (3-5-2): Halstead; Marshall, Omar, Moxey; Crowe, Hanson, McGavin, Donnellan (Trialist) 46), Evans; Goodwin, Andrews (Koszela 87); subs not used - Quinn, Bishop, Thomas, Koszela, Lovett (GK), Tomlinson, Brooks, Winsor.

Booked: Hanson 79, Marshall 85.

Exeter City (3-5-2): Brown; Sweeney, Stubbs (Diabate 60), Grounds; Caprice, Collns, Dieng, Jay, Sparkes; Coley (Borges 83), Nombe; subs not used - Lee (GK), Pond, Hartridge, Clark, Iseguan.

Booked: Coley 79.

Referee: Paul Johnson (Surrey).

Attendance: 2,634 (911 City fans).

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