ROCHDALE took all three points at Spotland, as United’s recent poor run of form continued with a fourth successive defeat.
Rhys Bennett gave Rochdale the lead despite Michael Poke’s best efforts on 17 minutes, and that proved enough to beat a Torquay side struggling for goals and confidence.
Stand-in boss Shaun Taylor made two changes to the starting line-up which lost 3-1 at home to Rotherham on Tuesday night, with Craig Easton replacing Damon Lathrope in midfield, and Rene Howe returning from suspension to take Ashley Yeoman’s place in attack.
Recent loan signing Elliot Benyon again had to wait for his chance from the bench. Rochdale boss Keith Hill meanwhile, made one amendment to the side which lost by the same scoreline away to Northampton last weekend, with Brian Barry-Murphy nudging Joe Rafferty down amongst the replacements.
The first clear-cut opening fell the way of the Yellows on seven minutes via a familiar source. A mistake by Shane Cansdell-Sherriff saw Howe break clear, but the returning frontman’s attempted chip didn’t have enough on it, and was palmed behind for a corner by Dale ‘keeper Josh Lillis.
The Gulls were creating the better openings, and Aaron Downes should have hit the target six minutes later from a Kevin Nicholson corner. His header though, sailed well over the bar.
United then fell behind on 17 minutes. Haworth provided the ammunition with an inviting angled ball which split the Yellow backline. Bennett latched on to it and fired in a shot which Poke did well to parry, but Bennett was first to react to the loose ball and put the home side in front.
It could have got even worse midway through the opening period, when Lee Mansell’s backpass fell well short of United’s glovesman, forcing Poke into a hurried clearance to prevent George Donnelly extending Rochdale’s lead.
There were vociferous appeals from the local contingent that Poke had inadvertently handled the ball outside his penalty area, but thankfully the officials thought otherwise.
After struggling to contain their lively opponents, United regained the initiative and began to create some decent chances on the break. Howe used his power on the half-hour to find Billy Bodin in space, but the Welshman could only fire over the bar. Moments later, some fine work by Ryan Jarvis again found Bodin, but this time his close-range header sailed harmlessly off target.
By the interval, Torquay had re-imposed themselves on proceedings, and the travelling Yellow Army would have been hopeful that the second-half would provide some much-needed cheer for the club.
With no changes at the interval, it was left to the starting XI to provide that change in fortune, but Donnelly nearly put the task beyond them, forcing Poke into a fine save after being put through by goal-scorer Bennett. Skipper Mansell then came to the rescue moments later, preventing Terry Gornell heading home a loose ball.
Howe appeared visibly frustrated at the lack of support he was receiving up front, and a change wasn’t far away. It was Lloyd Macklin who entered the fray, at the expense of Nathan Craig. Craig could count himself unlucky, as his cultured left-foot created the better of United’s openings, but the introduction of Macklin did give the attack a much needed dose of pace.
A nasty head wound to Downes, not for the first time recently, resulted in enforced change just past the hour mark, with Angus MacDonald replacing the Australian in central defence. With Rochdale also taking the opportunity to tinker with their personnel, it only added to the scrappy nature of the game following the break.
Appeals for a United penalty fell on deaf ears on 77 minutes, as Jarvis appeared to be on the wrong end of some uncompromising Dale defending, but in truth, it was Rochdale who looked more like scoring. Ashley Grimes and Andrew Tutte went close but both dragged their shots wide of goal when well placed.
With eight minutes left on the clock, and Lillis’ goal becoming largely untroubled, Benyon was called into action as the Yellow’s bid for an equaliser intensified.
With four minutes remaining, Gornell’s right-footed effort forced Poke into another reaction save to keep Torquay’s hopes alive. As the game entered the final stages, the crowd finally began to see some end-to end action. Leadbitter came up with a desperate challenge to deny Grimes, but after feeding the ball to Macklin, the cross only found the head of Phil Edwards in the Dale defence.
Five minutes of injury time was not enough for the Gulls to save themselves, as their slide down the League 2 table continues. The fixture list though, allows no time for self-pity, as all attention now shifts to Tuesday night’s clash away to Aldershot.
Gulls[4-4-1-1]: 1 Michael Poke; 12 Daniel Leadbitter, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes [16 Angus MacDonald 64], 3 Kevin Nicholson; 20 Nathan Craig [14 Lloyd Macklin 57], 18 Craig Easton, 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 15 Billy Bodin [26 Elliot Benyon 82]; 8 Ryan Jarvis; 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes [not used]. 6 Damon Lathrope, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 19 Danny Stevens, 21 Thomas Cruise.