(Lemonheigh-Evans 23′, Andrews 83′)
Torquay United were crowned champions of National League South, as they beat Eastbourne Borough 2-0 at Plainmoor.
Connor Lemonheigh-Evans opened the scoring, nodding home the rebound after his 23rd minute penalty was saved, before Jake Andrews fired into the roof of the Eastbourne net with just seven minutes to play to secure United’s promotion back to the National League at the first attempt.
The Gulls made two changes to the side that drew 3-3 at Woking a week ago, with Frank Vincent making his first start for the club and Andrews recalled to the starting line-up after his substitute appearance last weekend. Injured duo Ruairi Keating and Asa Hall missed out, whilst Bristol City loanee Opi Edwards returned to the squad after recovering from injury. He was joined on the substitutes bench by Olaf Koszela.
With the Yellow Army in good voice at Plainmoor, it was the visitors who applied the pressure early on, with Michael West launching a deep free-kick into the box which wasn’t met by an Eastbourne head.
On seven minutes, the Gulls charged forward themselves, as Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala received the ball in space on the edge of the box, his effort though was blocked behind by Kristen Campbell. From the resultant corner, Saikou Janneh met the delivery at point-blank range but keeper Samuel Howes made a terrific save on the goal-line to keep the ball out.
Lloyd Dawes created Eastbourne’s next venture into the Torquay box. Bursting forward, the visiting number nine sent an inviting cross onto the head of Charlie Walker, but his effort was tame and sailed straight into the thankful arms of Shaun MacDonald.
On 23 minutes, The Gulls were handed a golden opportunity from the penalty spot. Andrews took on a ball in the 18-yard box but was clattered by Campbell, and the referee wasted no time in pointing to the spot. Lemonheigh-Evans’ effort was saved low by Howes, but he made no mistake from the rebound, as he headed the ball in from close range.
With the visitors ensuring United’s chances were kept to a minimum, it was Andrews who came closest to doubling Torquay’s lead, with his side-footed strike from a deep cross going straight at Howes.
As news filtered through at the interval that nearest challengers Woking had fallen behind at Chelmsford, the Yellow Army began to sense something special was on the cards, although there was still some work to be done yet.
The Gulls were quick out of the traps for the second period, as they won an early corner. Andrews’ delivery was good, but Lemonheigh-Evans at the far-point could only send his shot wide of the target.
In a stop-start opening ten minutes, Walker led an Eastbourne charge down the right side and his fierce delivery had to be palmed away by MacDonald. Reid sent a similar effort into the gloves of Howes minutes later.
With an hour on the clock, Ben Wynter sent in a delivery which Ransom nearly sent into his own net, as United went in search of a second goal to steady the nerves.
Eastbourne followed this scare up with ten minutes of solid pressure, without seriously testing MacDonald in United’s goal. Walker came closest to making the Yellow Army sweat, but his effort from distance was easy enough for the Torquay stopper.
As The Gulls continued to hunt a second, their chances were boosted by news of a second Chelmsford goal at the Melbourne Community Stadium. The joy on the terraces was intensified just a few moments later.
In the 84th minute, some fine interplay down the left-hand side freed up Janneh inside the penalty area. With limited space to line up a shot, the ball found it’s way to Andrews in space, and the midfielder crowned his return to the starting line-up by firing his side into a two-goal advantage.
United saw out the final stages with little cause for alarm, and as the referee brought proceedings to an end, only a late finish in Essex could postpone the celebrations amongst the Yellow Army.
Once Woking’s defeat was confirmed, Gary Johnson and his players were met with an outpouring of of pride, joy and even a few tears from the stands, as United finished the season top of the pile for the first time since 1927.
Torquay United – National League South Champions 2018/19
TUFC: 1. Shaun MacDonald, 2. Ben Wynter, 3. Liam Davis (6. Jamie Sendles-White 89), 10. Saikou Janneh, 11. Connor Lemonheigh-Evans (7. Olaf Koszela 89), 14. Frank Vincent, 15. Jean-Yves Koue Niate, 17. Kyle Cameron, 18. Jake Andrews, 19. Jamie Reid, 20. Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala (16. Ryan Dickson 77). SUBS NOT USED: 12. Opi Edwards, 13. George Burton.
Eastbourne: 1. Sam Howes, 2. Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, 3. Kristian Campbell, 4. Kane Wills, 5. Marvin Hamilton, 6. Harry Ransom, 7. Mike West, 8. Sergio Torres (c), 9. Lloyd Dawes (14. Stefan Ljubicic 36′), 10. David Martin (16. Andrew Briggs 73′), 11. Charlie Walker (Josh Bingham 75′). SUBS NOT USED:
ATTENDANCE: 4,538 (49 away)