It feels like no time at all has passed since the dramatic conclusion to last season’s Sky Bet League 2 campaign. While the Grecians managed to retain their Football League status, neighbouring Torquay United were not as fortunate, and will take their place in the Conference Premier for this coming season – Oliver Roderick takes a look at the Gulls, who will visit St James Park on Saturday 2nd August for Exeter City’s final home pre-season friendly.
After five consecutive seasons in League 2, Chris Hargreaves’ Gulls succumbed to the dreaded drop to the Conference.
Only twice all season did Torquay manage to string two consecutive wins together – their final brace of wins, the first of which ended Exeter City’s one hundred per cent record in Devon Derbies, came too late to dispel the drop.
Despite this, the Gulls were never blown away by any of their opposition, and their heaviest defeat, 4-1 to Fleetwood Town at Highbury, was an anomaly – United lost out most often by the odd goal or two. That was what they did at Plainmoor against Exeter City – the home side were still in the game up until Alan Gow’s 85th-minute goal made it 3-1.
The summer so far
As is so often the case following relegation from the Football League, large-scale amendments to the Gulls’ playing staff were needed this summer. Chris Hargreaves placed six players on the transfer list at the start of May, releasing long-serving left-back Kevin Nicholson while promoting youth players Sam Chaney and Micky Parcell to the first-team squad.
Striker Ashley Yeoman was handed a new one-year deal, goalkeeper Martin Rice signed a similar new contract and winger Niall Thompson has been tied up for six months. Former Mansfield winner Louis Briscoe joined on a two year-contract, while United have also snapped up ex-Plymouth midfielder Luke Young.
Elsewhere, midfielder Nathan Craig, who has been released, and goalkeeper Michael Poke, who is now at Portsmouth, have left Plainmoor for pastures new, while departures also look likely for Dale Tonge, Aaron Downes, Jordan Chappell, Ben Harding, Elliot Benyon, Nathan Craig, Karl Hawley and Shaun Cooper.
Chris Hargreaves was handed his first managerial role when he replaced Alan Knill as boss of Torquay United midway through last season. Beginning his career as a youth player at Everton, he earned his first professional contract at Grimsby, and most notably went on to play for Hull City, Hereford United, Northampton Town and Torquay, where he made 105 appearances four years before returning as boss.
Seven wins from his 22 games in charge was quite a solid record for a manager of a side battling to avoid the drop, but it eventually came just short, as the Gulls finished five points adrift of safety.
Ones to watch
Former Aston Villa youngster Courtney Cameron turned out twice at St James Park last season, firstly tasting defeat as City knocked United out of the Under-21 Premier League Cup, but making amends the second time out by grabbing Torquay’s equaliser in the League 2 clash that prolonged the Gulls’ stay in the Football League for an additional game. Cameron had a loan spell at Rotherham before signing for Torquay from the Villans and has made 24 appearances for the first team.
Head to head
Torquay United’s first-ever Football League match was a Devon Derby against Exeter City in 1927. That match ended in a 1-1 draw in front of over 10,000 spectators at Plainmoor, though the Grecians were resounding 5-0 winners in the return match three months later at St James Park. City won by the same heavy scoreline in January 1933 and again in 1992, but it is Torquay who have enjoyed the better of things in recent years, taking four wins from the last six derbies dating back to 2002/03.
Exeter City wins: 44
Torquay United wins: 37
Goalkeeper Martin Rice, who recently signed a new one-year deal at Plainmoor, made 54 appearances for Exeter City between 2003 and 2007 before heading to Torquay United. Now in his second spell at Plainmoor, Rice was born in Exeter and played in the Grecians’ first run to the Conference play-offs in 2006/07, saving a penalty from Barry Quinn in the semi-final shootout against Oxford United. Rice also played a part in Adam Stansfield’s memorial match in 2011. Lee Sharpe, who is most famous for an eight-year spell with Manchester United, signed for the Red Devils from Torquay, and later made four appearances for the Grecians in a brief 2002 spell.
Exeter City 1-2 Torquay United, St James Park, Sat 21st April 2014
Torquay United came from behind to win 2-1 at St James Park at the expense of Exeter City in a bottom-of-the-table clash.
A win for the Gulls means that their seemingly-inevitable relegation was prolonged for another week, while Exeter City missed the chance to guarantee their own survival.
It looked like things were going to go swimmingly when Scot Bennett turned in a low shot after quarter of an hour, but Courtney Cameron’s free-kick after the interval tied things up.
And soon after, substitute Ashley Yeoman stabbed in what proved to be the winner as things remained murky at the foot of the table.
Sky Bet are offering odds of 7/1 on Torquay United to win the Conference, while the Gulls are 3/1 to be promoted back to the Football League at the first time of asking.