MOMENTUM is the key for Torquay United as we enter a dramatic final 10 weeks of the season and a fabulous win at Maidenhead has given the Gulls real hope of pulling off a miraculous escape.
It is now seven points from the last nine available and even more satisfying for United is the manner in which they secured this latest victory, creating numerous chances and showing the character to recover from a surprise equaliser to dig out a late triumph.
Aaron Barnes had opened the scoring with a stunner in the first period and the Gulls laid siege on the Maidenhead goal, but were hit by a sucker-punch from Ryan Upward.
The game was in the balance and it needed some predatory work from striker Elliott Romain to secure the win that sends United into the Plainmoor double-header against Dagenham and Sutton with genuine belief.
On a day of enthralling drama, the Yellow Army were simply brilliant and the noise they generated inside York Road was something very special.
United manager Gary Owers understandably stuck with the same starting line-up that secured an impressive 3-1 win over Barrow last weekend, with the only change on the bench seeing the more defensive option of Yan Klukowski selected ahead of Jake Gosling.
Maidenhead boss Alan Devonshire had the tough task of rousing his troops following a painful 3-2 loss at Stockport in midweek saw his side dumped out of the FA Trophy.
Harry Pritchard was the first to muster on a sodden pitch at York Road but his shot flashed wide after United had lost the ball in midfield. Romain responded with a weaving run and a little unlucky not to be awarded a free-kick after seemingly being tripped on the edge of the box.
United settled into the game very nicely in the following minutes, with the wide duo of Liam Davis and Michee Efete causing the hosts a mild headache. Brett Williams then went close with an instinctive volley.
An effort from Romain on 18 minutes very nearly tricked goalkeeper Carl Pentney, who eventually worked out his coordinates to keep the ball out and Maidenhead came back with a strong period, culminating in a vicious shot from Sam Barratt cannoning into the woodwork with United ‘keeper Vincent Dorel beaten.
Efete and George Dowling briefly relieved the mild pressure with a couple of pot-shots from distance, but the home side had definitely found their rhythm, as a thunderbolt from Barratt forced Dorel into a top save.
United emerged from a period of stress by taking the lead courtesy of an extraordinary effort from Barnes, rifling a brilliant strike from 30 yards into the top corner. It was a very special goal and could be so very important.
A run and cross from Davis was the catalyst, Williams launched himself at a header and when the ball was half-cleared, Barnes thundered a wonder goal beyond Pentney.
Celebrations were very nearly caught short, however, as a tremendous run from Barratt puts him through on the goal but the final shot just sailed over the bar. Williams then went close to his first goal since returning to the Gulls, firing over from a Dowling cross.
A satisfying first period came to a close with a Davis shot deflected wide and the influential Josh Gowling walking a little gingerly to the dressing room after an awkward fall.
The knock to Gowling was enough to end his afternoon and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans emerged as his replacement for the second period. Dowling instantly restored United’s ascendancy with two efforts in quick succession, both of which well saved by Pentney.
The home custodian then denied Williams and the United reshuffle had Barnes moving to right wing-back, Efete shifted inside to the three-man defence and Lemonheigh-Evans in the engine room.
At the other end, Barratt was a constant threat to the Gulls but the pattern was generally in United’s favour, and Lemonheigh-Evans came within an inch of making himself a hero, as his effort flew just past the post.
The magnificent Yellow Army were making a superb noise at York Road and taking full advantage of the unsegregated policy of Maidenhead by spreading out across the stadium, enjoying a fascinating afternoon, despite the rain.
United were throwing men forward in search of a decisive second and a glorious ball from Luke Young picked out Davis, who once again brought out the best of a beleaguered Pentney.
Suddenly, Maidenhead were the side on the attack and United were grateful to Dorel for a fine save, plus referee Joe Hull waving away penalty claims. This was real football drama and the Gulls desperate for the second their overall play deserved.
Sadly for United, the next goal was at the other end but fair play to Upward for a super strike, curling a free-kick into the top corner. It was cruel on the Gulls and a massive test of character for the players to respond in a positive manner.
The final minutes had become a slog for both sides on an increasingly heavy pitch and Dowling came very close to restoring the lead with an effort sent narrowly wide.
Unbelievable scenes followed for United, as a corner fell to Williams, who fired into a sea of legs and Romain bundled the ball over the line for a massive goal. It was by no means pretty but definitely deserved after creating so many chances.
The final seconds were torture for the Yellow Army but a huge three points.
Maidenhead: 1 Carl Pentney; 4 Harold Odamatey, 8 James Comley, 9 Sean Marks, 11 Sam Barratt (7 Moses Emmanuel 87), 14 Harry Pritchard, 19 Ryan Upward, 20 Max Kilman, 23 Ryan Peters (10 Jake Hyde 65), 24 Jake Goodman, 25 Christian Smith. Substitutes (not used): 3 Rene Steer, 12 Nana Owusu, 17 Adrian Clifton.
Booked: Kilman 10
United (3-5-2): 30 Vincent Dorel; 26 Conrad Balatoni, 6 Josh Gowling (29 Connor Lemonheigh-Evans H-T), 5 Sean McGinty (capt); 2 Michee Efete, 8 Luke Young, 24 George Dowling, 21 Aaron Barnes, 3 Liam Davis; 22 Elliott Romain, 39 Brett Williams. Substitutes (not used): 10 Ruairi Keating, 18 Yan Klukowski, 19 Jamie Reid, 20 Neal Osborn (GK).
Referee: Joe Hull
Attendance: 1,433 (approx. 370 away)