(Cooke 31′, Murray 50′, McQuoid pen 62′)
(Hall 15′, Umerah 25′, Nemane 46′, Lemonheigh-Evans 87′)
There was late drama in Dorset as United came out on top in a seven-goal thriller against Weymouth.
Captain Asa Hall announced his return in style by putting his side ahead early on, with the lead soon extended by Josh Umerah. Weymouth halved the deficit through Cody Cooke prior to the break, and after exchanging goals from Aaron Nemane and Cameron Murray, Josh McQuoid levelled things up from the penalty spot. Just when it looked as though the league leaders would have to settle for a point though, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans acted in the nick of time to snatch all three points.
United manager Gary Johnson made three changes to the side secured that amazing 6-1 home win over Yeovil Town on Boxing Day, with Gary Warren, Armani Little and Danny Wright replaced by Fraser Kerr, Hall and Umerah respectively.
As they did two days ago, Torquay started brightly.
With only 16 seconds on the clock, Umerah got in behind the Weymouth backline to get on the end of a long ball forward, however his strike from the edge of the box was off-target.
Kyle Cameron’s header over the bar, from a Lemonheigh-Evans corner, was the next chance of note, as the hosts were forced to soak up large periods of pressure from Johnson’s side.
That pressure told in the 15th minute.
Lemonheigh Evans, on the right of Weymouth’s area, delivered a teasing cross to the back post where skipper Hall was perfectly placed to power home a header for his sixth goal of the season.
It was no more than Johnson’s men deserved, and nine minutes later it was 2-0.
A poor kick forward by Terras goalkeeper Jack Bycroft only found Nemane on the edge of the centre circle. After playing the ball straight from whence it came, Umerah exchanged passes with Lemonheigh-Evans, before showing the composure to slot the ball past the ‘keeper to double The Gulls’ lead.
Having scored eight goals within two hours with only one in reply, United were looking at their confident best, however on the half-hour, their opponents scored to drag themselves back into the match.
Ollie Harfield found enough space down the left wing to deliver a cross to the back post which beat Shaun MacDonald, leaving Cooke with an empty net to fire the ball into.
Back up the other end, Lemonheigh-Evans looked to make it a hat-trick of assists on 37 minutes, however having picked out Umerah on the penalty spot, his deflected shot was easily gathered by Bycroft on the goal line.
Lemonheigh-Evans nearly got on the scoresheet just before the interval with a dipping effort that nearly deceived Bycroft, however the ‘keeper just managed to backtrack enough to tip the ball over his crossbar.
The single-goal advantage at the change of ends gave little clue of Torquay’s dominance during the first 45, however United made amends for that seconds after the restart.
50 seconds into the second period, Adam Randell did well win the ball in the centre of midfield, and set Ben Whitfield on his way down the left-hand side. a typically decisive run ended with an inch-perfect low cross into the path of Nemane, who duly dispatched a low effort past Bycroft to make it 3-1.
Just as in the first half though, the home side were given an invitation back into the encounter moments later.
Cooke fed Murray 40 yards out, and despite having a number of Gulls defenders ahead of him, the Weymouth man shrugged off all of them to break into the box and slip a low shot under MacDonald to make reduce the arrears once more.
It should have been 4-2 in the 55th minute, after a rampaging run forward from Cameron saw Whitfield break into the 18-yard box, however Bycroft did enough to keep the winger’s effort out, whilst Umerah’s follow-up effort was blazed well over.
With the game just edging past the hour mark, the home side drew themselves level via a penalty.
After breaking into the box, a Weymouth man went down under the challenge of Kerr, with the referee quick to point to the spot. Former Gulls loanee McQuoid duly smashed the ball high to MacDonald’s right to make it 3-3.
Having played second-fiddle for so long, The Terras were clearly relishing being all-square. However as the game entered the final stages, it was Johnson’s side who appeared more likely to force a winner, as they backed Weymouth up against their own goal once more.
The chances weren’t flowing quite as freely as before though, as Torquay struggled to break down a backline that seemed set up to gather a somewhat unexpected point.
United have already shown during the first 15 games that they are well versed in changing the course of games late on, and with just three minutes left on the clock they acted decisively once again.
With all avenues apparently blocked, The Gulls produced a quick passing move down the right of the box which ended with Randell playing the ball across the face of goal, leaving Lemonheigh-Evans with the simplest of tasks to tap the ball over the goal line from three yards out.
Results elsewhere – those that survived – mean that the Yellow Army can savour an eleven-point lead going into the New Year, albeit with plenty more work to do yet.
Next up for United is the return match against West Country rivals Yeovil Town, with Johnson’s men heading for Huish Park on Saturday for their first fixture of 2021 in fine fettle.
WEYMOUTH: 21. Jack Bycroft, 4. Josh Wakefield, 6. Jordan Ngalo, 8. Jake McCarthy, 10. Josh McQuoid (c), 11. Jack Dickson (7. Alefe Santos, 50′), 17. Calvin Brooks, 20. Cody Cooke, 23. Cameron Murray, 26. Ollie Harfield, 28. Christian Sydee.
SUBS NOT USED: 1. Gerard Benfield (gk), 5. Ade Olumuyiwa, 18. Zaid Al-Hussaini, 19. Jack Hoey
Yellow Card: McQuoid, 37′, Dickson, 40′
TUFC: 1. Shaun MacDonald, 4. Kyle Cameron, 5. Fraser Kerr, 7. Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, 8. Asa Hall (c), 12. Adam Randell, 16. Sam Sherring, 21. Dean Moxey (6. Gary Warren, 80′), 23. Aaron Nemane, 34. Ben Whitfield (15. Matt Buse, 90′), 35. Josh Umerah (11. Jake Andrews, 80′)
SUBS NOT USED: 22. Owen Price, 33. Lucas Covolan (gk).
Booked: Lemonheigh-Evans, 74′, Andrews, 90′