Despite having to contend with a growing injury list, Gary Johnson’s side headed to FC Halifax in early November in fine form, as they set their sights upon narrowing the gap at the top of the National League.
As they had already done many times before, United were out the traps fastest, and had roared into a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes. Kyle Cameron’s early header, followed up by a Jamie Reid penalty left their opponents chasing shadows, and when Reid added another after the break, the clash between two of the division’s top sides appeared to be over. Although the hosts eventually regained some pride by notching twice before the final whistle, a fourth Torquay goal from Kalvin Kalala was enough to seal a superb 4-2 win.
That win left The Gulls in 5th spot, just two points behind leaders Bromley – a remarkable achievement for a side so depleted that it could only name four substitutes in Yorkshire. The next few weeks though, would be even less kind on Johnson’s squad.
A 1st Round tie away to a National League South promotion chasers Maidstone side was always going to prove a tricky encounter, and that point was proved true on 19 minutes, as United fell a goal behind. Even more costly however, was a nasty injury to Liam Davis, whose departure on a stretcher seven minutes later would ultimately signal the end of the influential left-back’s campaign. This time forced to name two less substitutes than the hosts, Torquay were unable to redress the balance during the remainder of the match, as the scoreline remained 1-0.
A return to Plainmoor the following weekend saw United take on Sutton United, as Johnson’s side eyed an opportunity to take over at the top of the National League table. Despite falling behind early on, a timely response from Ben Wynter saw The Gulls level at the break. Sadly, by this point, the Yellow Army had once again witnessed another of one of their favourites depart the field early, with Frank Vincent the unlucky victim on this occasion. Forced to rejig, Torquay couldn’t quite regain the initiative during the period, with the visitors taking full advantage by netting a breakaway winner 20 minutes from time to seal a 2-1 win.
Despite the disappointment, another chance to close in on the summit came seven days later, as the side headed to Chorley. Desperate for points in their bid to avoid the drop, the home side took the game to United, and were rewarded with a goal midway through the first half. Although dominating possession, Johnson’s side were unable to made the breakthrough, and were indebted to goalkeeper Shaun MacDonald, whose second-half penalty save kept the result in the balance right up until the dying stages. The Lancastrians held onto their advantage though, to seal a 1-0 defeat for The Gulls.
With little time to regroup, another trip followed three days later as Torquay headed for Hampshire to take on Eastleigh. After a promising start for United, a 25th penalty for the hosts signalled a nightmare ten-minute spell, in which the side conceded three times. Presented with an uphill task ahead of the second half, Johnson’s rallying team talk had the desired result, as a rejuvenated team battled back after the break. Within three minutes of the restart, the deficit had been reduced to a single goal, thanks to quickfire responses from Ruairi Keating and Jake Andrews. Despite creating a number of chances to seal an astonishing fightback, The Spitfires held on to replicate their 3-2 win at Plainmoor earlier in the season.
With that match signalling the halfway point of the season, Gulls fans could still take some comfort in an encouraging league table, which saw their team remain in contention with the top sides, with Torquay residing in 8th position, just one place an one win away from the play-off zone.
Another side with similar intentions were Stockport County, who arrived at Plainmoor for the final game of what had been a testing month. After cancelling each other out during a tight first 45, it was The Hatters who took charge in the second, as they matched Eastleigh by setting up a three-goal lead. With time against United this time, only a superb Ben Whitfield gave the Yellow Army something to cheer, as late strikes for the visitors saw them ran out 5-1 winners.
Johnson’s side would continue to battle, of course, however things were not about to get any easier.