FOLLOWING Tuesday night’s heroic comeback, United were sent crashing back to earth as they fell to their second defeat of the season at a sun-drenched Adams Park.
Rene Howe’s opportunist strike on 42 minutes cancelled out Gary Doherty’s effort nine minutes earlier to send the Gulls in level at the interval, but a determined Wycombe side sealed their first home victory through Josh Scowen on 62 minutes.
United boss Martin Ling made two changes to the side which started the epic win against Aldershot, with Lloyd Macklin returning from illness to replace Niall Thompson on the right wing, whilst Ryan Jarvis, who scored his first goal of the season against the Shots, joined leading marksman Howe up front in a 4-4-2 formation at the expense of Danny Stevens.
Thompson and Stevens took their places amongst a substitutes bench, which included the returning Damon Lathrope, following a spell out through injury. Daniel Leadbitter and Karl Baker were the unlucky duo who dropped out of the match-day squad.
Wycombe’s caretaker boss Gareth Ainsworth, meanwhile, included former Gull Jo Kuffour in an unchanged line-up to the one that drew 1-1 at home with Plymouth Argyle last time out.
The game began in scrappy fashion but, on 20 minutes, was brought to life through the livewire Billy Bodin, who nearly opened the scoring for the visitors after finding space on a pass from Jarvis. His left-footed effort looked to be heading for the back of the net, and Jordan Archer in the home goal was a relieved man to see the ball fizz just wide of his left hand post.
A minute later, following a slick passing move on the counter, a Macklin cross from the right again found Bodin in space, but once more the young Welshman fired narrowly wide.
The home side created their first real chance midway through the first period. Charles Dunne drilled in a low cross, which Matt McClure hit first time. Thankfully though, the striker’s volley left United’s glovesman Michael Poke untroubled.
The lush playing service provided the Yellows with all the encouragement they needed to play their passing game, and on the counter attack they were proving quite a threat during an even first half.
Right-back Joe Oastler excelled at both ends of the field on the half hour. Firstly, by linking up with Bodin after a trademark storming run into the opposition half, and then at the other end, it was his last-ditch interception that prevented Joel Grant profiting from a Kuffour pass.
Unfortunately, it was to prove only a brief reprieve for the Gulls as Wycombe struck from the resultant corner. United half-cleared the initial cross into the box, but player-boss Ainsworth floated the ball back into the area towards the unmarked Doherty, who from six yards out headed the Chairboys into the lead.
United has passed the ball well and were arguably slightly on top when they fell behind, but the 200-odd travelling members of the Yellow Army were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief as Torquay decided to allow their opponents only the one-goal head start before drawing level, and once again, it was you-know-who who struck, with his eighth goal of the season.
Nathan Craig, whose passing again was at the heart of the Yellow’s best moves, floated a delightful ball over to the right-hand side towards Howe. Wycombe’s defence had dealt with the Gulls’ talisman remarkably well in the opening 42 minutes, but after cutting in from the right wing, the bustling centre-forward let fly with a left-footed drive that beat Archer inside his near post. It was Howe’s fifth goal in successive games.
Torquay were relieved to be all-square heading into the break, but they were perhaps fortunate not to have conceded a penalty as the first-half entered stoppage time. Thankfully, referee Darren Drysdale ruled that Aaron Downes had been pushed prior to the ball striking his outstretched arm during a goalmouth scramble.
Following the interval, Wycombe took control and created the opening chance of the second period on 53 minutes. After a rare mistake from Craig, substitute Dean Morgan picked up the loose ball and forced Poke into a full-length save. Moments later, tricky play inside the box nearly resulted in Kuffour re-establishing the home advantage.
United hadn’t got going, and struggled to get out of their own half, with Ainsworth influential in dictating play for the home side. The one-way traffic eventually paid off as Morgan beat Oastler down the right and scooped the ball across the area for Scowan to head past Poke on 62 minutes.
Jarvis nearly cancelled the goal out almost immediately with an audacious right-footed shot from 25 yards which was headed for the top corner, Archer produced a smart save to tip the ball over the bar, resulting in United’s first corner of the game on four minutes past the hour-mark.
Disappointingly, there was an increasingly desperate look to the pattern of United’s play thereafter, as they resulted to long balls over the top at the expense of the passing game which has been such a feature of the success under Ling’s stewardship.
It wasn’t until the last fifteen minutes that Torquay began to show the urgency that the situation demanded. As the home side’s nerves began to jangle with the prospect of a maiden home win of the season beckoning, United at last began to exert some pressure on the Wanderers backline, without producing enough clear-cut chances to threaten Wycombe’s lead.
United’s best chance to save themselves came during the five minutes added on for stoppages. Under pressure, Craig did well to find enough space to cross an inviting ball into the box, but Oastler, on his weaker foot, could only watch in despair as his left-footed effort drilled into the side netting.
As the final whistle sounded amid jubilant scenes amongst the home fans, Torquay were left to lick their wounds as they struggle to find the consistency to force them into the thick of the promotion race.
Gulls (4-4-2): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 14 Lloyd Macklin (29 Niall Thompson 76), 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 20 Nathan Craig, 15 Billy Bodin (23 Ashley Yeoman
83); 8 Ryan Jarvis (19 Danny Stevens 69), 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes (not used): 6 Damon Lathrope, 13 Martin Rice (GK), 21 Thomas Cruise, 30 Kirtys MacKenzie.
Referee: Darren Drysdale