Benyon 52, 68
Jarvis o.g. 54
TORQUAY United will play League 2 football next season.
The Gulls assured their place in the division on an afternoon of enthralling tension inside a packed Plainmoor that culimnated in a 3-3 draw against a strong Bristol Rovers side.
The first 45 minutes did not go according to plan and nails were bitten to the root when Tom Hitchock prodded in the first goal for Rovers. United were then facing calamity within a minute of the restart but
Michael Poke made himself the hero with a brilliant save from a Lee Brown penalty.
United were galvanised, and they were soon level as well. Elliot Benyon worked tirelessly and showed his predatory instincts with a tremendous turn and finish on 52 minutes.
Ryan Jarvis then took centre-stage. First, a headed own goal left the former Norwich striker momentarily desolate but he quickly regained composure to smash in the equaliser to his own goal.
One more moment of drama was enough for the Yellows, as Benyon steered the ball home from close-range to complete a memorable climax to a traumatic season.
Matt Harrold grabbed a last-ditch equaliser but nothing would dampen Yellow joy, and relief.
United manager Alan Knill made just one enforced change from the side that defeated Morecambe 2-0 last weekend. Ashley Yeoman was rewarded for his superb goal in Lancashire with a starting berth in the place vacated by the suspended Rene Howe. The spare slot on the bench went to Niall Thompson.
Bristol Rovers boss John Ward was somewhat more ruthless in his selection after his side slipped to a 1-0 home loss to Accrington seven days ago. Clayton McDonald returned to Port Vale after a loan spell to be replaced by Oliver Norburn. A new strike partnership saw Ryan Brunt and Hitchcock replace Oumare Tounkara and Eliot Richards.
The atmosphere inside Plainmoor was befitting of such a momentous occasion and the news came in just before kick-off that the ground was a complete sell-out. A fantastic environment in which to play football and with both sets of supporters making a real racket, it was the visitors who settled first.
Ellis Harrison was the instigator of the best chance in the opening stages, pulling wide on the right to deliver a whipped cross for the near-post run of Hitchcock, who was denied early glory by a brilliant Poke save pushing his header wide.
It soon became clear that a swirling wind inside TQ1 was hardly the best ingredient for flowing football and the consequence of the ball spending a lot of time in the air was clearly a challenge for United’s relatively small strike-pairing of Yeoman and Benyon.
The first real Yellow foray forward was the result of strong work by Jarvis to create room for a swinging cross by Joe Oastler, who was inches from finding his target of Yeoman darting in front of his man.
The subsequent corner was nodded wide by Brian Saah and Rovers immediately went up the other end to find German winger Fabian Broghammer for a shot scooped narrowly over. Brunt then had a modicum of space in behind Saah and Aaron Downes but dragged a hurried effort well wide.
United were slowly finding their stride and smart work from Yeoman ended with Billy Bodin cutting inside for a deflected shot. Benyon raced on to the ball and crumpled under a clumsy challenge from Lee Brown, but referee Darren Deadman waved away polite penalty enquiries.
Soon after, Plainmoor was wincing at a thunderous tackle from Damon Lathrope and then a clash of heads with Fabian Broghammer that left United’s combative midfielder reaching for the aspirin – brave work in the engine room.
From the next attack, the Gulls were exposed by a simple header into space from Brunt allowing Hitchcock to run free in the right channel, but his eventual half-volley was struck poorly and bobbled away to safety.
United were then hit by a killer goal, although Lathrope looked to have his shirt pulled by Brunt in the build-up. Deadman failed to spot the incident and the Rovers’ forward was able to steer a pass in behind Downes for Hitchcock.
The young striker reacted superbly well to beat Poke to the ball and lob the United ‘keeper with a clever finish. It was a decent goal for Rovers and heaped the pressure on Yellow shoulders.
Lathrope sought instant redemption with a fabulous left-foot strike from distance that rippled the outside of Steve Mildenhall’s side-netting. Broghammer then responded with a dipping effort from distance that whistled past the top corner.
There was suddenly a horrible veil of tension that had descended on Plainmoor, as the temptation to scour results elsewhere became impossible to resist. No other goals in the games that mattered meant the Gulls had dropped to 21st and just one point above the drop-zone.
Half-time arrived and United knew they had 45 minutes to save their season but the second-half started in the worst possible fashion. Hitchcock was apparently going nowhere when a gentle tug from Saah sent the forward tumbling. Deadman delayed for a moment before pointing to the spot.
Poke did his best to distract Brown, earning himself a booking in the process, but the mind games worked, with the Yellow custodian diving to his right to produce a brilliant low save.
Plainmoor was suddenly rocking with hope but the indecision between Saah and Downes was an unexpected concern. Poke again came to the rescue with a brave block among the flailing studs.
The goalkeeper’s reward was a crucial equaliser from Benyon, who picked up on a low cross by Oastler to take a sublime first touch and then steer a terrific equaliser beyond Mildenhall and inside the far post.
Two thirds of the ground was jumping with delight and the importance of the goal was clearly lost on Deadman, who booked Benyon for his vociferous celebration, a decision that hardly endeared him to the crowd.
Disaster sadly struck moments later, as a whipped free-kick from left was met by Jarvis and the unfortunate Gull could only watch in despair, as his header thumped into the turf and bounced over the stranded Poke.
The gloom felt by the Yellow Army was hardly helped by the taunting of Rovers’ fans, which is fair game in the away end but those that had infiltrated home areas of the ground, particularly Bristow’s Bench, were fuelling a potentially nasty situation.
United’s players had no time to worry about mocking in the stands, and a fine corner by Lee Mansell was met by a steaming header from Downes but the Australian was denied by a sensational Mildenhall save.
The rebound scuttled around the penalty area and found a way to Jarvis, who made the perfect amends by drilling shot past the Rovers’ keeper for a massive goal. Well played to Jarvis for a goal his effort deserved.
Deadman, meanwhile, was having a shocker.
The drama was simply unbearable but Bodin still had the presence of mind to dance past his full-back and fire over a low cross that was poked inches wide by the outstretched foot of Rovers’ captain Tom Parkes.
United were taking control and a deep free-kick pumped forward by Mansell evaded the visiting defence to find Jarvis at the back-post, who bundled the ball goalwards for Benyon to sweep home from two yards. It was a typical poacher’s goal and a massive boost to Yellow hopes of staying up.
Ward decided the time was now right to replace Brunt with the fresh legs of Harrold, back from long-term injury, but you sensed a renewed determination within Yellow ranks, especially with favourable scores filtering in from around the country.
Oumare Tounkara then came on for the final 10 minutes, replacing Hitchcock, while Knill stuck with the troops that had battled so bravely in the Riviera sun.
Both sides toiled through the closing stages and it was clear nine months of gruelling competition had taken its toll, but this was a Yellow day, despite Harrold heading a last-gasp equaliser for 3-3.
It has not been easy but congratulations to everyone connected with the club.
The Gulls are staying up.
Gulls [4-4-2]: 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 8 Ryan Jarvis, 6 Damon Lathrope, 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 15 Billy Bodin; 23 Ashley Yeoman, 26 Elliot Benyon. Substitutes [not used]: 11 Ian Morris, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 16 Angus MacDonald, 19 Danny Stevens, 20 Nathan Craig, 21 Thomas Cruise, 29 Niall Thompson.
Booked: Poke 46, Benyon 53
Bristol Rovers [4-4-2]: 13 Steve Mildenhall; 2 Michael Smith, 6 Tom Parkes [capt], 29 Mark McChrystal, 14 Lee Brown; 17 Ellis Harrison [18 Mitch Harding 68], 24 Ollie Clarke, 15 Oliver Norburn, 11 Fabian Broghammer; 26 Ryan Brunt [9 Matt Harrold 77], 27 Tom Hitchcock [34 Oumare Tounkara 81]. Substitutes [not used]: 3 Jim Paterson, 10 Eliot Richards, 20 Conor Gough [GK], 30 Tom Lockyer.
Booked: Harrison 45, Hitchcock 78
Referee: Darren Deadman
Attendance: 5,666 [1,534 away].