Naismith 42, 73
UNITED’S season of bad luck and frustration took another harsh twist after a pulsating game at Accrington Stanley.
The Gulls played with great assurance in the first period and deservedly led through Paul McCallum’s wonderful goal, but an equaliser from Kal Naismith three minutes before half-time was a crushing blow.
The home side grew in confidence after the break and Naismith struck again on 73 minutes and, despite huge late pressure from United, Accrington claimed all the points.
United manager Alan Knill understandably rung the changes after a disappointing home loss to Chesterfield last weekend. The first switch saw Dale
Tonge recover from a minor knee problem to return at right-back, allowing captain Lee Mansell to move forward to his native midfield slot.
Anthony O’Connor was back from international duty to bump Krystian Pearce down to the bench. Jak McCourt came out of the Yellow midfield, where Damien Mozika and Nathan Craig joined Mansell in a revised three-man system. In attack, Elliot Benyon was preferred to Karl Hawley.
Accringtonboss James Beattie made just one change to the side that recorded an impressive win at Scunthorpe last week, with Michael Liddle replacing former Celtic defender Lee Naylor at left-back.
O’Connor took just two minutes to make the adjustment back to League 2 life, producing a superb clearing header under heavy pressure from the towering Kayode Odejayi. The subsequent corner fell to Luke Joyce, who forced United ‘keeper Martin Rice into a decent low save.
Before all that, however, McCallum had half a chance to snatch what would have been a crucial early lead but his radar was just off target, and Accrington had a welcome reprieve in the Lancashire sunshine.
A refreshingly open game prompted more action for Rice, as an astute flicked header from Odejayi was perfect for the darting run of Peter Murphy from midfield, but United’s custodian was equal to the effort with a super block.
Back up the other end, and the Gulls took the lead with a stunning strike by McCallum. Aaron Downes played a routine ball forward after winning the ball for United and the man on loan from West Ham plucked the pass out of the sky with a fabulous first touch.
Despite the sublime control, there seemed little danger for Accrington goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli but he was left with no chance, as McCallum unleashed a brilliant volley from 25 yards that flew in the top corner to quieten the Crown Ground.
The confidence that had been strangely absent in the last two outings suddenly, and happily, returned to Yellow legs and minds, a point emphasised by Craig spreading a fine pass wide for Jordan Chapell, but his shot was well blocked by the home defence.
Accringtonimmediately surged up the other end and Rice was well positioned to intercept a tasty cross from Liddle. The general flow, however, remained in favour of the Gulls.
Stanleythen had hearts in mouths after a robust challenge on Benyon was waved away by referee Graham Horwood. It would have been a particularly painful moment for Tom Aldred, who made the tackle, as the Accrington defender endured a non-playing loan spell at Plainmoor two years ago.
A terrific corner by Craig then found Downes rising highest in the home penalty area and United were only denied a second goal by Odejayi hacking clear from his own goal-line. Aldred had a similar chance for Accrington soon after but O’Connor somehow produced an extraordinary clearance from under his own bar.
It was a pivotal intervention that kept the momentum in Yellow backs and Tom Cruise was next on the act, preventing George Bowerman from executing a shot on goal, as United withstood a flurry of pressure.
A fantastic counter from the Gulls started by Mozika in midfield saw the play switched to the right channel, where a combination of Tonge and Chapell desperately tried to bundle the ball past a stranded Bettinelli, but Accrington escaped. McCallum then rose to meet another fizzing Craig cross but his header was steered wide.
The home side took full advantage of the reprieve with a painful equaliser moments before half-time. Murphy flicked the ball on from a routine cross and Naismith was positioned in the right place to beat the exposed Rice with a powerful header.
It was a bitter pill for the Gulls to swallow, particularly after such a positive first-half performance, and Knill had to re-energise his troops for a massive second 45 minutes of football. The half-time chat could have been even more frantic had Odejayi not headed over with the final act of the first period.
Accringtonemerged from the interval looking the more potent side and a long throw almost caught Rice with no protection, but the outstanding O’Connor once again cleaned up the problem. United were under real pressure and a dangerous cross from Murphy was well fielded by Rice.
From nowhere, McCallum sneaked in behind the home defence to face Bettinelli and the Stanley ‘keeper did well to thwart United’s young forward. Naismith restored the home threat with a super strike after a weaving run and Rice did very well to repel the bobbling shot.
A spell of decent possession football enabled the Yellows to change the worrying pattern and a particularly good pass from Craig found Chapell, who prodded a low shot through a sea of legs, only for Bettinelli to parry clear.
Accringtonresponded with more good work from Naismith and when Rice blocked the shot, O’Connor scrambled the ball away. Downes then headed clear the resultant corner.
A storming match slipped into an understandable lull around the 70-minute mark, with both teams saving up energy for the final push on such an important afternoon.
James Gray replaced Bowerman in the first change of the afternoon and he soon joined the celebrations of a killer second goal for Accrington. Naismith was again the scorer, bursting into the box to convert a Nicky Hunt cross.
Simple as that and a horrible outcome for the Gulls, who had no time to wallow in disappointment but the home side were able to suck in the increasingly frantic Yellow attacks and then hit dangerous counter-attacks.
Knill turned to his bench, removing Benyon for the pace of Ade Azeez in the final ten minutes. The new man took just a couple of minutes to dig out a searing drive that Bettinelli did brilliantly to not only save, but also parry clear of the waiting McCallum.
Chapell then delivered a wonderful deep cross for McCallum, who headed the ball back across goal for Azeez but the substitute was unable to stretch his leg far enough to prod home a vital equaliser.
United were throwing everything at the Accrington box and Tonge was presented with half a chance to have a strike on goal, and the home crowd signed in relief as the effort was steered wide from 20 yards out.
Azeez was next to weave into space and cut the ball back for Craig, who was denied by a brave defensive block. Mansell’s shot then ricocheted to Mozika but he was denied a shot on goal by the offside flag.
United battled valiantly until the end and the final outcome of zero points was cruel on everyone involved. A vastly improved performance and yet the
same result was tough to take.
Accrington [4-4-2]: 26 Marcus Bettinelli; 16 Nicky Hunt, 6 Dean Winnard, 5 Tom Aldred, 3 Michael Liddle; 11 Kal Naismith, 2 Peter Murphy, 4 Luke Joyce [capt], 15 Piero Mingoia; 24 Kayode Odejayi, 44 George Bowerman (17 James Gray 71). Substitutes [not used]: 1 Ian Dunbavin [GK], 8 Michael Richardson, 9 Danny Webber, 10 Will Hatfield, 19 Laurence Wilson, 20 Josh Windass.
Gulls [4-3-3]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Aaron Downes, 21 Thomas Cruise; 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 20 Nathan Craig, 36 Damien Mozika; 26 Elliot Benyon (23 Ade Azeez 81), 19 Paul McCallum, 12 Jordan Chapell. Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke, 5 Krystian Pearce, 9 Karl Hawley, 11 Courtney Cameron, 17 Jak McCourt, 31 Daniel Sullivan.
Booked:Tonge 29, Mozika 56, McCallum 76
Attendance:1,279 (123 away).