Town 0-0 Torquay
By David Mitchell
Fleetwood Town announced themselves in the npower League Two with a dominating performance which had everything but a goal.
Micky Mellon’s side created many chances against a side who had made the play-offs over the last two years but Torquay, not least goalkeeper Michael Poke, showed resilience and almost countered themselves on several occasions.
After the tasty aperitif provided by Nottingham Forest last Monday it was down to the main course as a historic day unfolded around Highbury. With Twitter awash with good luck messages and a feature on ‘Soccer AM’, the town was buzzing. Former manager, Brian Wilson, who also managed Torquay, watched on in the crowd of 3624.
There was just a single change in Town’s line-up but, nevertheless, a significant one as Northern Ireland international Damien Johnson made his long-awaited debut in midfield after injury.
It took just two minutes for Jamie McGuire to introduce himself to Damon Lathrope as the Gulls midfielder brought him down. Youl Mawéné made an uncharacteristic error soon after but fellow defender, Dean Howell, came to Town’s rescue as Torquay threatened.
Jon Parkin left the field temporarily on seven minutes after Joseph Oastler’s boot caught him above the left eye. After a tentative opening few minutes, Town had the first chance when McGuire turned in the area and forced a diving save at the near post from Poke. It was United’s turn to threaten just before the quarter hour when Ian Morris beat offside and Rene Howe’s strong shot was blocked.
Town enjoyed a period of possession which saw opportunities for David Ball and Johnson, the latter firing a right foot shot narrowly over the bar from the edge of the penalty area. Much of their work came down the left. Parkin was often sought out with high crosses while Johnson was making his mark in midfield with his industrious play. On a warm afternoon, there was a chance to benefit from Youl Mawéné’s misfortune after 25 minutes. A shot into the defender’s ‘midriff’ required treatment and gave the rest a drinks break.
Just after the restart, Andy Mangan lost the ball in midfield, Welsh Under 21 player, Billy Bodin, firing straight at Scott Davies. Town pressed on the half hour with successive corners. There were vociferous claims for a penalty as Ball was brought down in the area in the 32nd
minute by Oastler. Town could consider themselves unlucky. Mangan fired narrowly wide from the left, having been fed by McGuire.
There was an unusual interruption ten minutes before half time as the referee’s attention was drawn to a hole in the pitch near the Parkside touchline. Groundsman, Dale Frith, attended to it before Mangan danced down the same touchline to cleverly create a shooting chance for Parkin, deflected wide for a corner.
Town began the second half brightly, Johnson and Ball involved before Parkin earned another corner with a strong shot. As Town looked to build momentum again, they had to be aware at the back with Bodin lively. Gulls defender, Brian Saah, fired narrowly wide after 54 minutes and his side spent time in the final third of the pitch. Micky Mellon’s first substitution, just before the hour, saw Junior Brown replace Mangan. Mawéné found Howell and his testing cross from wide on the left was cleared for a corner. Johnson was brought down on the hour but Parkin’s free kick cannoned into the Torquay wall. Town’s corner count continued to rise with two more in quick succession. Howe’s cross from the right in the 65th
minute caused momentary concern.
Poke had to be alert in the 66th
minute, tipping a deflected shot from Parkin over his crossbar. Brown caused further trouble for the Gulls defence, sending a spinning cross in from the left which just eluded the head of the advancing McGuire.
Lloyd Macklin replaced Tom Cruise after 71 minutes for Torquay. Town attacked again with two League debutants, Shaun Beeley and Steve McNulty going close with and header. The busy deflected a Parkin volley as Town looked to convert their superiority. Al the play was at the Memorial Stand end, Brown going down under pressure.
Davies earned his match fee with two excellent stops in quick succession, his first testing moments of the game, and the Gulls then had a goal disallowed for an infringement. Striker,Steven Gillespie, joined an entertaining game, replacing Ball with eleven minutes left. A clever free kick from Howell found Parkin on the blind side, the ex-Preston striker’s header narrowly wide.
Nicholson was Town’s first name in the referee’s notebook following a challenge on Macklin. A slip by McNulty on 85 minutes then nearly let the visitors in, Morris firing wide. Town continued to press. The dangerous Howell nearly created a late opportunity with his strong running but Torquay held out and will be one of many sides happy to leave Highbury with a share of the points this season.