A GAME that promised so much ultimately delivered so little, despite an energetic United display that deserved so much more.
On his surprise return from injury, Ryan Jarvis’ sixth goal of the season had put the Gulls ahead on 43 minutes before second-half strikes from Calvin Zola and Matt Paterson turned the game on its head.
Boss Martin Ling made three like-for-like changes to the starting line-up that went down 3-2 at home to Wimbledon 11 days ago, with Brain Saah, Damon Lathrope and Jarvis replacing Angus MacDonald, Craig Easton and Ashley Yeoman.
Jarvis’ swifter than expected recovery from a punctured lung was a welcome boost for the Yellows, as was the return of Billy Bodin, who took his place amongst the substitutes.
His counterpart, Gary Rowett, recently crowned League 2 Manager of the Month, also made a trio of changes from the side which bowed out of the FA Cup with a 2-0 defeat at Leicester last Saturday, with Zander Diamond, Anthony Connor and ex-Gull Billy Kee taking the places of Marcus Holness, John McGrath and Aaron Webster.
The Gulls began the match in positive fashion, winning a corner within the first 60 seconds of the match. Kevin Nicholson’s flag kick was flicked by Aaron Downes into the path of Rene Howe, but United’s top scorer just failed to connect properly and the ball was collected comfortably by Brewers’ goalkeeper Dean Lyness.
United continued to dominate the early stages and from another Nicholson set-piece went even closer to taking the lead on 16 minutes. The cultured left-back produced a fine delivery into the box which Howe laid into the path of Jarvis, but with the goal at his mercy, the fit-again frontman fired wide of the target.
After a quiet start, the home side gradually came into the game, and produced their first chance of note on 24 minutes, when Jacques Maghoma’s deflected effort from 20 yards forced Michael Poke into a fine tip over the bar.
Both sides were enjoying spells of possession, with United’s Danny Stevens and Albion’s Adam Drury also proving to be useful weapons on the break.
Then, three minutes before the interval, United struck. Having done well to win a corner himself, Nathan Craig floated in a delightful ball, which Downes diverted towards Jarvis, who fired into the roof of the net from close range to make it 1-0.
Despite previous warnings, Burton had failed to acknowledge the menace that Torquay, and Downes in particular, were proving at dead-ball situations, and at the break the travelling Yellow Army were in jubilant mood as they were rewarded for a thoroughly professional first 45 minutes.
The second period got off to a surprisingly low-key start, with neither side able to impose themselves on proceedings and for a while there appeared to be no immediate threat of a goal.
Unfortunately for Torquay, out of nothing Burton equalised on 58 minutes. Lathrope spent too long weighing up his options and ended up presenting the ball straight to Zola, who needed no further invitation and fired his right-footed shot past Poke in the United goal.
Despite the obvious disappointment of conceding, the Gulls set about re-establishing their lead. On 66 minutes, Howe broke clear and was within inches of re-establishing the advantage, only to be denied at point-blank range by Lyness, following a swift Yellow break which threatened to unlock the Brewers’ backline.
Bodin made a welcome return to action with 20 minutes in the place of Stevens, no doubt in the hope that the young Welshman’s trickery could prove to be the key to securing all three points.
It was certainly the home side who appeared to be happier with a point as United continued to press, although the main source of Yellow hope was being generated from a steady stream of Torquay corners.
A point was the minimum the Gulls deserved, but even that was to prove beyond them. It was, however, a goal worthy of winning any game. On 84 minutes, after cutting in on the left hand side, substitute Paterson took aim and curled a sublime right footed effort past Poke and into the roof of the net and put Burton 2-1 up.
It was a cruel blow for Ling’s men, and nothing in the time remaining offered any great hope of a late rally to reverse their recent difficult run of results. They must now pick themselves up ahead of this week’s long-awaiting home derby with Exeter City.
As painful as today will have been for the magnificent travelling support, a return to winning ways against their Devon rivals on Tuesday really could not come at a better time.
Gulls(4-4-1-1): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 19 Danny Stevens (15 Billy Bodin 71), 6 Damon Lathrope (29 Niall Thompson 87), 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 20 Nathan Craig; 8 Ryan Jarvis (23 Ashley Yeoman 79); 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes (not used): 13 Martin Rice (GK), 16 Angus MacDonald, 18 Craig Easton, 21 Thomas Cruise.