[ Written By Ian Brown]
A scintillating performance from James Gannon`s magnificent Stockport County team saw them sweep aside a combative Torquay side, and soar to eighth position in the National League with a blizzard of goals in the second half today at Plainmoor.
It was thoroughly deserved, after having withstood a first-half chock full of theatricals and more than a dash of violence from the Gulls, of which more later.
A key factor in the County win, for me, was that they had reacted to provocation like men, none more so than Bell who had perhaps his best game in a County shirt, ensuring it was 0-0 at the break. The re-start quickly showed that County meant business as goals by Tom Walker and Nyal Bell saw them 2-0 up.
On the hour Osborne added a third, Ben Whitfield nicked one for the Gulls ,before a grandstand finish saw JG`s men home via further goals from substitutes Rodney and Mulhern, sending getting on for 400 travelling County supporters home deliriously happy.
Arriving around 2.30 the sight of a newly refurbed Plainmoor made a bit of a picture. The away end was much as I remember except all the various bits had been updated- the roof offered decent acoustics and the County fans took full advantage of this making fulsome supportive noise throughout.
If the stadium was decent, the weather was decidedly not as an evil wind lashed in from the coast as the teams took to the field. County kicked towards their supporters first off, and we had to wait a wee while for the action to head our way as Torquay opened brightly, Keane tidying up nicely after Whitfield put a cross over having made it to the by-line.
The wind was a real factor early on and Festus almost sliced a clearance into the County net- doing well to track back and head the ball clear as it descended from the swirling maelstrom overhead.
County fashioned a break from this potential early calamity, but Bell`s dash was easily sorted by the home backline.
The seventh minute saw an early glimpse of the theatricals from our hosts, as recent signing ( one of two on show today for them) Amrit Bansal- McNulty went down in the box in laughable fashion. Sam Allison, the referee, did not buy this one, and the subsequent shot from Whitfield flew wide.
Gradually County emerged and began to torment their opponents with some lively play, and I was delighted to see the almost total absence of long / high balls- it was pretty much all to feet!
Osborne was in the van at this point and keeper Shaun Mac Donald was forced to fumble the ball around a post from Osborne`s cross with just 8 minutes gone. Keane and Palmer contested the corner, but the ball flew just wide to applause from the away end.
The pressure mounted from the Blues, via a series of corners, and they already looked very much up for this one, Thomas winning a corner that saw Palmer up for it with Bell and 4 or 5 defenders. Another flag-kick resulted, and Asa Hall headed this out, Sam Walker unlucky not to nick one in the follow-up play.
Eleven minutes in, and County were still attacking, and their supporters were roaring `handball` with some conviction, but Mr Allison was unmoved.
The pressure continued but with no better luck for County, and the eventual reply by Bansal- McNulty for Torquay foundered on a confident gather by Hinchliffe.
By this time Thomas and Minihan were in a nice groove down the right, as indeed was Sam Walker who was tripped by Bansal- McNulty on the edge of the box. The free-kick offered a notional chance , but the Gulls backline held firm to mount a response via Bansal- McNulty and Salkou Janneh, who did well until Palmer appeared on the scene and his tackle sorted matters for the blues.
The next few minutes gave the home specs some encouragement, but the ultimate satisfaction was missing from the equation for them as first off Hinchliffe snaffled Reid`s under-hit shot when exposed, and then Janneh disappointed the large home following by lifting a poor effort high over the bar.
And… the home offensive did not stop there, Janneh sending a terrific shot in that was heading for the top corner of the net when Hinchliffe`s dive saw him tip the pill over the bar.
That was brilliant from Ben, but what was even better was that County quickly looked to build on their good fortune , and they were not far away at all, Osborne running the ball clear, Tom Walker unlucky to see the keeper keep his shot out with his legs!
County were back in the groove again, and Garratt kept the momentum up with a neat ball to Osborne. Ossie picked out Bell in a trice but Bell`s shot brushed the bar and went out.
Cue histrionics from Torquay, most specifically their comic keeper Shaun MacDonald who fell down after getting a whiff of Nyal`s aftershave next. In no time at all from purely Garrick Theatre Stockport it went all Old Vic as MacDonald stayed down, soon to be joined by umpteen yellow-shirted players all begging the referee to penalise Bell…for…..what ??????
Eventually the referee called the physio on, and even more annoyingly he laid neither sponge ( do they have them these days?) or healing hand on the keeper merely joining in the ear-bashing of the referee.
That was truly abysmal, and MacDonald then went for broke playing dead once more having saved a shot by Osborne. It got him nowhere but the home defence did manage to keep a series of shots out immediately after that last action- Tom Walker going close with a shot that was deflected for a corner following another run by Osborne. This saw MacDonald in `full retribution mode`- for what?…. I say again, but no matter, he was resolved, and when Bell advanced to meet Osborne`s cross, he smacked Bell squarely in the face with his fist! That was common assault…..and a penalty to boot, but the referee was away with the fairies now his only decisive action being to eventually send Bell to the touchline before he could resume after treatment.
Hmm….I was not alone I guess in being not amused by this unsavoury nonsense! But…credit County they were doing their best to ignore it and get on with the small matter of winning this match.
I understate it when I say that County were piling the pressure on with Sam Walker leading the charge. Osborne was not far behind Sam, and crudely hauled down by a defender on the edge of the box-to absolutely no response from the referee, who was having a real lulu!
Deep in added time, the referee gave Torquay a free-kick, booking Festus in the process. The kick was in a scoreable position, but despite much deliberation, Whitfield could not penetrate the County cover with it, or the corners that followed on.
The teams went in with the score still 0-0, and there was all to play for in the second half!
The cold had me barely clinging to life during the break, but I was soon revived upon the re-start.
It started routinely with a free-kick to Torquay, and more routine as the locals comedic cry of `handball` was dismissed by the referee. From this Bell then took advantage of loose play latching onto the ball before setting off for goal. His shot was charged down, but Tom Walker was following up and his shot was not, and it nestled in the net behind MacDonald`s back!
County were on fire now, Thomas capping another blue raid, just 2 minutes later, by winning a corner. Pure joy then ensued as from the kick TW fed Bell and he made it 2-0 with a cracking shot!
The Gulls summoned a reply, but Whitfield`s cross was firmly headed out by Palmer. The home specs must have been disappointed at that one, and more of the same followed as, despite getting a cheap free-kick from Mr Allison, our hosts promptly wasted it by lifting the ball into the raging elements overhead- notional chance gone.
I was liking the absolute contrast of County`s approach, characterised by their willingness to play from the back decisively and well – Thomas`s shot from such a gambit as that cleared the bar, but…………….
To be fair, Torquay were trying to improve their condition, but faced with this County simply stayed calm and it was good to see Garratt do well under pressure.
Meanwhile, Torquay had played all their cards substitute wise even the other signing, striker Jared Lewington, but Hinchliffe dealt decisively with his shot just after the hour.
Then Mr Allison lapsed again awarding Gulls another cheap free-kick, but in their haste to get the deed done, they forgot their lines, allowing Osborne to smash and grab possession before smashing County`s third past Mac Donald into the net!
Jackson was on for Thomas not long after, as County continued to deal coolly with the increasingly desperate attacking from Torquay. Minihan was quick to bring some counterpoint into play, his runs from deep putting pressure back on our hosts, Whitfield doing well to stop Sam reaching Bell with one cross.
But County had defending to do for sure, and Ben Wynter leathered a decent strike in, with 20 minutes left, it carried the bar, but not by much.
County still kept their attacking options open, but I found myself in deep distress next, as Jackson sent Bell clear only for the referee to bring playback for a free-kick to County, which was of course cleared!
Attempting to capitalise on this good fortune, Torquay replied via Whitfield but the tamest of shots from him flew straight into Hinchliffe`s arms.
Then within a couple of minutes, Whitfield came back for more and did altogether better this time slamming a firm drive into the net with County standing off to a man.
It was 3-1 , was this the signal for a resurgence from the Gulls?
Well County thought not and upped their game accordingly, Osborne just blocked having been put through by Bell. The County push continued though, with Bell in but seeing his shot held by the keeper, with Osborne in distress waiting for a pass beyond Mac Donald`s diving body!
JG then completed his changes bringing Mulhern and Rodney on for Bell and Tom Walker with 12 minutes left.
The fresh legs brought added zing to the blue forward push, and this was only increased by a foul on Palmer, that brought Sam Walker back centre stage to take the free-kick. It was at an angle and distance not dissimilar to his recent goal at EP, but he slipped whilst taking it, allowing the local wags to indulge themselves with raucous laughter, only for Sam to extend a leg and push the ball inside to Rodney. At first there seemed nothing on as Rodders drifted away from goal, but a deft switch of direction changed matters and he smashed a brilliant strike home beyond a now bewildered Mac Donald.
That was 85 minutes in, both teams tried to probe the other after this, and when three minutes added time was announced County were still in an unassailable lead of 4-1, soon to be increased to 5-1.
This happened 2 minutes into added time as Wynter crashed trough Jackson for the umpteenth time finally breaking Mr Allison`s patience getting booked for his pains. Osborne stepped up to take the free-kick putting max pace on a ball that fizzed into the crowded box where Frank did what Frank does and touched it home!
Fantastic finish to a fantastic County performance!
There was time for a late/ late Gulls free-kick, and a booking for Jacko, but County defended this like we knew that they would, to clinch a brilliant victory!
Well done all 14 County players today, James Gannon, and all the staff- a well-deserved victory!
Now for 2 winnable home games!
Torquay United line up;-
Mac Donald, Wynter, Cameron, Hall ( Lemonheigh- Evans 54), Buse, Reid ( Lewington 60), Bansal- Mc Nulty ( Lumbombo- Kalala 60) , Cundy, Janneh, Whitfield, Medford- Smith.
Subs not used :-Keating, Covolan
Stockport County line up:-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Arthur, Garratt, Keane ,S Walker, Osborne, Thomas ( Jackson 66), Bell ( Mulhern 78), T Walker ( Rodney 78).
Subs not used : Ormson, Leesley.
Attendance : 2269 ( 358)