The League 2 relegation dogfight features some predictable names such as Barnet, York, Wimbledon and Aldershot. Plymouth and Accrington Stanley are also less than surprising inclusions in the scrap. But as recently as early February any suggestion of Torquay being dragged into the mix would have been ridiculed.
But the Devon club, who have featured in the last two League 2 play-offs, now find themselves just one place and one point above the drop zone.
Last season they were just three points off automatic promotion to League 1, and two years ago they lost agonizingly to a John Mousinho stunner in the play-off final at Old Trafford. Until December they looked a decent bet to finish in the top 7 again this season, but things have taken a turn for the worse, and the Gulls have taken just one point from their last nine games.
Torquay started the season with hopes of promotion, despite the sale of key players in the summer. Torquay’s first half of the season was steady but unspectacular, although they were unbeaten at home until an embarrassing defeat against non-league Harrogate, which many fans now see as the start of their slide down the table. Since their loss against the unfancied Yorkshiremen the Gulls have only registered one win at home.
Torquay’s form had already dipped when they were dealt a hammer blow at the start of February with the news popular manager, Martin Ling was likely to miss the rest of the season with a “debilitating illness.”
Ling’s mystery illness required his assistant, Shaun Taylor, to step into the role, but his four games in charge all ended in defeat. Former Bury and Scunthorpe manager, Alan Knill, took over four games ago, but three losses and a draw have taken the Gulls within spitting distance of the bottom two.
Torquay were relegated out of the Football League for the first time in the club’s history in 2007, but returned two years later, which was a tremendous achievement in a competitive division. They don’t want to put themselves in the same position again, but with just one win since December 1 fans are extremely concerned.
The atmosphere at Plainmoor has become increasingly tense and nervous, with frustration rebounding constantly between the crowd and the players.
Their only win in 2013 was the televised derby away at Exeter, which ended in a 1-0 win, but even then they were extremely lucky and Torquay could count themselves lucky the Grecians had left their shooting boots at home.
Despite having an adequate squad to stay up, Torquay look disorganized at the back. They’re leaking sloppy goals, and look bereft of self-belief at the back.
To add to their defensive worries, hefty striker Rene Howe has hit a dry spell, and hasn’t netted in his last eight games, which is extremely unusual for the goal-machine and extremely worrying for his club, who have been dependent upon him for goals in recent seasons.
Torquay’s collapse is remarkable, and the club seems to have become a trembling mess overnight. But as Alan Knill himself pointed out, in League 2 a losing run can turn into a winning run astoundingly quickly.
But with just 10 games remaining, the Gulls form has to turn around quickly or they could find themselves in deep trouble, without enough time to save themselves.