Torquay United 2
Gray pen 82, 87
Bristol City 0
TWO late goals from trialist and substitute James Gray earned United the victory they thoroughly deserved against Championship opponents, Bristol City.
The Gulls played some delightful football at times and, while chances were missed in the first period, Gray made no mistake with a penalty eight minutes from time and then a predatory finish in the dying seconds.
After trial games against Newton Spurs and Stoke Gabriel, it was obviously a massive step up in class and a first outing for the established new signings in Kevin Nicholson’s squad. The only glitch in the matrix was a knock for Liam Davis forcing Sam Chaney into an unfamiliar left-back role.
The first shot in anger on a balmy night came from a low free-kick by Jake Gosling that never had enough curl to trouble visiting goalkeeper Ivan Lucic. City responded with some slick work on the edge of the box and a strike from James Morton arrowed wide.
A lovely move from United created the next opening, as a sharp ball into the box was cleverly laid off by Jon-Paul Pittman and Gosling was only narrowly off target with his swinging shot toward the far corner.
The Gulls were now in control and Gosling again went close with a rising drive, while Ryan Clarke got his first taste if the United gloves with a comfortable save from George Dowling.
A worrying moment midway through the first half when Josh Gowling fell awkwardly after climbing to head clear a steepling ball and palpable relief when the long-distance diagnosis appeared to suggest the new defender had been winded.
Ryan Higgins was enjoying a fine game at full-back and it was his cross after a patient build-up that led to Ruairi Keating’s steered header, which was scooped out of the sky by Lucic.
Gosling was running the game and his exchange of passes with Keating culminated in the former rifling over. Luke Young was next to struggle with his radar following a loose clearance by Lucic but still good stuff from the Yellows.
A superb first period from Gosling tricked half the ground into thinking he had scored a worldy on 42 minutes, as a weaving run and searing drive from his left boot forcing Lucic into a fine tip over the bar and the ball bouncing around behind the net adding to the illusion.
A satisfying start complete with Damon Lathrope firing just over after an initial drive from Pittman had been blocked by the legs of Lucic. Unfortunately, it was a final act for Pittman, as a nasty head injury saw him immediately carried off and replaced by James Gray.
There was an understandable drop in tempo early in the second period but there was some excitement with injuries to one assistant referee and the fourth official prompting a plea for a qualified ref to come from the crowd; step forward local official Matt Redmond to keep the game going.
United were almost instantly grateful when a super move down the left gave Chaney room to curl in a delicious cross and Keating’s header was tipped over. The subsequent corner headed back across goal by Gowling and Keating then had his effort cleared off the line.
Breathless stuff and Keating was withdrawn for trialist Yemi Odubade, although there was some luck going our way as well, with a poorly directed cross almost deceiving Clarke on its way to bumping the top of the bar.
Nicholson made a whole raft of changes with 18 minutes left on the clock and the visitors took advantage of the reorganisation process enjoy a rare spell of possession.
United soon found their rhythm again, however, and Yemi Odubade wriggled into space to find James Gray, who was toppled by a last-ditch challenge and referee Adam Bromley had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Gray grabbed the ball with an authority matched by his excellent spot-kick rifled down the middle and beyond the sprawling substitute ‘keeper Alhaji Sesay.
A sweeping ball forward from Chaney, impressing in his unfamiliar role, was then cushioned into the path of Odubade for a low curler that needed palming wide by Sesay.
A terrific evening of entertainment was complete by a clever channel ball finding Yan Klukowski for a low cut-back and when the ball found its way to Gray, he forced it past Sesay from close-range.
We now move on to Tiverton on Friday and then a Devon derby with Plymouth Argyle at Plainmoor on Tuesday night – kick-off 7.30pm.
United (4-4-2: 1 Ryan Clarke (Neal Osborn 72’), 23 Ryan Higgins, 6 Josh Gowling (Will Hancox 72’), 5 Sean McGinty (Cameron Kelly 72’), 7 Sam Chaney; 8 Luke Young (Tallan Mitchell 72’), 4 Damon Lathrope (Austin Booth 72’), 18 Yan Klukowski, 11 Jake Gosling (Macauley Southam 68’); 9 Jon-Paul Pittman (James Gray 45’), 10 Ruairi Keating (Yemi Odubade 64’).
Bristol City Squad: 13 Ivan Lucic, 2 Scott Golbourne, 3 Taylor Moore, 4 George Dowling, 5 Zak Vyner, 6 Aden Baldwin, 7 Jake Andrews, 8 James Morton, 9 Diego De Girolamo, 10 Freddie Hinds, 11 Jonny Smith, 1 Alhaji Sesay (GK), 12 Ashley Harper, 14 George Nurse, 15 Tom Richards, 16 Jack Stanley, 17 Kel Akpobire, 18 Aaron Parsons, 19 Ricardo Rees, 20 Opi Edwards, 21 Harvey Smith, 22 Josh Mortimore.
Referee: Adam Bromley
Attendance: 1,258 (183 away)