A STOPPAGE-time winner cruelly tipped the scales Torquay’s way in a to-and-fro Tuesday night defeat.
Nine-game unbeaten Woking finally went down at the 10th hurdle of a record-breaking start to the campaign, after being felled at the last by a 25-yard free-kick from home skipper Luke Young in time added on.
Torquay had to prise the prize away from Cards, however, with the visitors defending like stallions against a side who were plying their trade in League Two up until last season – Joe McNerney and Mike Cestor faultless at the heart of the back line.
Like Cards, the Gulls have been flying themselves, winning five of their previous eight games since a 3-1 opening-day loss at Gateshead.
And as well as the fillip of taking the only remaining unbeaten record in the Conference, Chris Hargreaves’ motivated side knew that a win could leapfrog them above Woking, who sat in second place at kick-off.
Cards fans were cursing the fixture computer when it churned out an eight-hour round trek on a Tuesday night, more for the fact that they couldn’t make a weekend out of a first trip to the English Riviera since 2008. But Gulls fans won’t be overly sympathetic to any travel travails of their Conference visitors this, or any other season for that matter.
By the News & Mail’s rough calculations, Torquay will clock up more than 10,000 miles on their Conference travels this season; enough mileage to get them to Beijing and back.
And for those interested, Woking’s 6,000 miles is roughly a return from Kingfield to Qatar – useful to know for those planning on watching the 2022 World Cup finals.
A total of 81 red and white shirts took their place on to the away terrace at the famous old Plainmoor ground – or the Launa Windows Stadium to give its rebranded name. Fittingly, with Woking and Torquay celebrating their 125th year, both sets of players stepped out in their traditional colours on a warm evening on the Devon coast.
Management duo Garry Hill and assistant Steve Thompson – back in his native West Country – set up in a compact 4-3-3, with the solitary personnel change from the weekend win over Chester seeing the more defensively-minded Keiran Murtagh come in for wide-man Theo Lewis.
In-form Woking duo McNerney and Josh Payne justified their respective call-ups to David Fairclough’s England ‘C’ training camp at St George’s Park – being Woking’s standout performers at either end of the field. Payne rifled a sighter just off target after quarter of an hour, before his midfield cohort Joey Jones (right) followed suit, sending two long-rangers narrowly off the mark.
At the back, McNerney was restricting fellow England call-up Ryan Bowman and his team-mates to half chances from set pieces, with stand-in stopper Ross Worner never seriously troubled. The Gulls looked to spread their wings as the game got stretched in the second period, but still the only real threat to Worner’s goal came from a misplaced Dean Morgan back pass, as Woking kept to their passing principals.
Morgan, back in familiar attacking territory, then turned and shot over the angle of post and bar after cutting out young Torquay full-back Thomas Cruise’s clearance in the danger zone.
Scott Rendell will perhaps think he should have added an eighth goal to his fine start to the campaign, but his back post header from a deep Payne cross lacked a punch.
It was left for the sides to trade late free-kicks in the closing minutes, with Payne sending a curler on target but unable to recreate his humdinger against Lincoln City, before Young trumped the Cards with his stoppage-time winner – swerving low into a wrong-footed Worner’s bottom-left corner.
Payne says the late winner left a bitter taste at full time. He explained: “We’ve come a long way today, some of the boys left their houses at 10am but we expect that
.“We’ve got to regroup because we didn’t get the result we wanted.
“It’s a tough one – we’ve had games this season where we’ve had a bit of a tough time but seen it out. In games like today we invite pressure on ourselves.
“They didn’t create anything, no disrespect to them, they’re the home team and they should bring the game to us. I thought that most of their opportunities stemmed from our mistakes individually.”