Torquay United 1
FC United of Manchester 0
ONE great pass and one great finish was eventually just enough to see Torquay United through to the Semi-Finals of the FA Trophy on a memorable day at the Launa Windows Stadium.
The Gulls toiled against FC United of Manchester, who were backed by a tremendous away support, but courage at the back provided the platform for Courtney Richards to thread a delightful through-ball to Ryan Bowman.
The Yellow number nine still had plenty of work when he raced clear and with only eight minutes left on the clock, the pressure was on, but Bowman had the necessary mental strength to seal a battling victory.
United boss Chris Hargreaves made three changes from the side that drew 0-0 at Wrexham last weekend. Recent signing Aaron Dawson is cup-tied from a previous loan spell with Farnborough, allowing Angus MacDonald to return at centre-back and Krystian Pearce shifted over to a temporary right-back role.
Captain Luke Young was back from suspension and he replaced Jordan Chapell. The final switch came in attack, where Bowman had recovered from a groin problem to come in for Ashley Yeoman.
FCUM manager Karl Marginson came into the game with a side full of confidence, as the Northern Premier League outfit had not tasted defeat in any competition since the end of November.
The first noticeable change amid the fervent atmosphere inside TQ1 was a three-man midfield for the Gulls, with Young supported by James McQuilkin and Courtney Richards. The formation tweak allowed Toby Ajala and Louis Briscoe to flank Bowman as central-striker.
United emerged as an attacking force when Levi Ives skipped inside from the left and his deflected shot rebounded to Young for a rasping 20-yard shot just wide of David Carnell’s near post.
The visitors immediately responded with their own surge down the left and Jerome Wright found some space between Pearce and MacDonald, but Martin Rice was swiftly off his line to narrow the angles.
A quiet period was rudely interrupted by a fabulous chance for FCUM, as Craig Lindfield cushioned a lovely little pass to Tom Greaves in the Yellow penalty area, and the number nine in Red should have done a lot better than a low shot dragged wide of the post.
FCUM suddenly had belief flowing through their team and the general pattern of Bowman being isolated in attack was an obvious concern for Hargreaves and his coaching staff. The initial remedy was tremendous composure from Ives, enjoying an impressive start to the game, in relieving the mild pressure.
United were struggling to find their rhythm and a bizarre ricochet from an Ives clearance allowed Greaves to sneak in behind, but, once again, Rice was alert to the situation and calmly scooped up the bouncing ball.
When the Gulls did ruffle some Red feathers, it was largely down to the determination of Ajala, forcing the ball wide for Briscoe, who instantly slid a pass into the path of Young, but his low cross was covered by Lewis Lacy.
United were then presented with a major headache, as Aaron Downes was forced off with what appeared to be a back injury. Frenchman Ollivier Gueguen quickly stripped off to make his Yellow debut in a real high-pressure game.
Thankfully, from a defensive perspective, the first period ended without any real incident but the major issue came at the other end, where United needed to inject some genuine urgency and penetration.
The reality, however, was a tepid start to the second half and the tempo simply had to improve for United to impose their game on the visitors. The noise from the away end, meanwhile, continued to be deafening, and you had to admire the backing given to FCUM by their supporters.
The Yellow Army were finally lifted out of their seats by a routine ball over the top from Pearce finding Bowman in the right channel and United’s leading scorer was a little unlucky to see his angled half-volley fizz a yard wide.
FCUM responded with a whipped cross from the right and MacDonald, clearly suffering with an injury to his right leg, was mightily relieved to see his hurried clearance loop over the crossbar.
As the game crept past the hour-mark, superior Yellow fitness should begin to have an impact, but the prospect of a major shock was enough to energise Greg Daniels for a dart down the right and a floated cross that only just eluded Greaves at the far post.
United were having to withstand increasing amounts of pressure and the marking was momentarily absent from a long throw, presenting Lindfield with the room to steer a half-volley inches past the top corner.
It was time for a Yellow change and Chapell was the choice, replacing McQuilkin in a reversion to the standard 4-4-2 formation, with Briscoe moving forward to partner Bowman down the middle.
Frustratingly for the Gulls, FCUM continued to pose the bigger threat and when United failed to clear a scooped cross in the box, Tom Brown pounced on the loose ball with an instinctive shot that flew just wide.
Chapell came back with the incisive run his side had been missing, surging past his man for a skidding low shot deflected past the post. The subsequent corner was headed over by Briscoe and Carnell still waited for his first meaningful save of the day.
It was to prove the appetizer for a main course served up by a delicious through-ball from Richards and Bowman displayed sublime composure to skip past Carnell and slide home the opening goal.
Carnell had still not made his save but huge credit to Richards for finding the right pass at the right time, and to Bowman for taking his opportunity. FCUM turned to their bench with the introduction of Dean Stott and Matthew Walwyn for David Birch and Matthew Wolfenden.
Walwyn took a mere few seconds to become heavily involved, climbing highest from a Lindfield cross to steer a head against the bar. United’s desperate clearance fell to Chapell for another weaving run and when the ball finally reached Briscoe on the left, he curled a low shot inches beyond the far post.
It had taken more than 80 minutes for the game to truly come alive and the grandstand finish was set up by the Reds throwing men forward in the search for an equaliser. Michael Norton also came on for Brown in the final roll of the dice.
The fourth official hardly helped with the tension by neglecting to raise his board indicating the amount of time added on but the whistle did eventually sound across TQ1, and United are through to the Semi-Finals of the FA Trophy.
Gulls (4-3-3): 1 Martin Rice; 5 Krystian Pearce, 21 Angus MacDonald, 4 Aaron Downes (26 Ollivier Gueguen 35), 25 Levi Ives; 22 James McQuilkin, 8 Luke Young (capt), 16 Courtney Richards; 7 Louis Briscoe (12 Jordan Chapell 73), 9 Ryan Bowman, 10 Toby Ajala. Substitutes (not used): 14 Ashley Yeoman, 23 Jordan Seabright (GK), 24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong.
FCUM (4-3-3): 1 David Carnell; 2 Liam Brownhill, 6 Luke Ashworth, 5 Lewis Lacy, 10 Jerome Wright; 7 Matthew Wolfenden (15 Matthew Walwyn 84), 4 David Birch (capt) (12 Dean Stott 84), 8 Thomas Brown (17 Michael Norton 89); 11 Craig Lindfield, 9 Thomas Greaves, 3 Greg Daniels. Substitutes (not used): 14 Callum Byrne, 16 Christopher Lynch.
Booked: Birch 40, Lindfield 64
Referee: Stephen Ross
Attendance: 3,805 (1,363 away).