Mon, 16th May 2011 | TorquayUnited | 2,224 Views, 1 Nod.


Gulls 2
Zebroski 29
O'Kane 45

Shrewsbury 0

TORQUAY United produced a sensational display of attacking football to take a strong advantage over Shrewsbury in the first leg of their play-off semi-final at Plainmoor.

The live Sky cameras inspired the men in Yellow to conjure up a fabulous performance and the only negative was the quality of the football on show warranted more than the final result of a 2-0 win.

Confident first-half finishes from Chris Zebroski and Eunan O'Kane were enough to secure a memorable victory in the glorious South Devon sunshine, but there will be more work to do in the second leg next Friday.

United manager Paul Buckle made just one change from the 3-1 defeat at Rotherham last weekend, a result immediately deemed irrelevant by Chesterfield's victory over Gillingham ensuring the Gulls would fill the final play-off spot.

It was, as always, an attacking switch, with Billy Kee preferred to Joe Oastler. O'Kane shifted inside to partner Damon Lathrope in centre-midfield allowing Kee to fill the vacated slot on the right wing.

Shrewsbury boss Graham Turner also made the one change. Matt Harrold was selected alongside James Collins in attack, dropping Tom Bradshaw down to the bench from the side that swamped Oxford 3-0 last weekend.

Former Gull Nicky Wroe started in the Shrewsbury midfield with his role-reversal topped by United's explosive winger, Jake Robinson, on loan at Plainmoor from the Shrews.

Just two months after a Robinson-inspired 5-0 league win for United, the visitors started the game determined to banish those bad memories by attacking captain Lee Mansell at right-back through the dancing feet of winger Mark Wright.

The first shot in anger thus came from a Shrewsbury boot, Collins unleashing a speculative effort from distance. Although the ball bounced awkwardly, Yellow 'keeper Scott Bevan was perfectly positioned to smother the danger.

The response was instant and Gavin Tomlin showed wonderful feet to skip clear on the left wing and then square the ball for Kee, who flicked the ball up with his first touch and looped a header over Ben Smith with his second, and the visiting custodian could only watch in hope as the effort drifted a fraction wide.

Both sides settled into a quieter rhythm after the early flurry. Harrold looked sharp in the Shrewsbury attack and United's passing game was just off the mark, but the whole occasion had a feeling of calm before the storm.

The Shrews were then hit by an injury to captain Ian Sharps on just 25 minutes and he was withdrawn from the centre of defence to be replaced by Niall Canavan.

Robinson was first to test the revamped visitor defence and his weaving run from the left had the men in blue scampering back in panic, but the final pass for Kee was marginally under-hit.

Within a minute, however, the Gulls were in front. Kee won the ball superbly inside his own half and fed the ball wide for Tomlin, who showed tremendous strength to hold off the challenge of Mat Sadler.

The square pass for Zebroski was perfectly weighted and United's leading scorer steadied himself with a composed first touch before drilling a low shot past Smith and into the bottom right corner.

Yellow tails were up and Shrewsbury had reverted to the flustered football that proved so damaging back in March. O'Kane sparked the next attack with a surge from midfield to release Robinson and his angled shot from distance needed pushing wide by Smith.

Despite the optimism bubbling over inside TQ1, Shrewsbury served up a timely reminder of their threat with a delightful pass down the wing from David Davis, and Bevan showed superb bravery to scoop up the low cross from Mat Sadler.

The Gulls then had a moment of blind panic when a back-pass from Mansell took a horrific bobble as Bevan attempted to clear and landed at the feet of Jon Taylor.

United's towering 'keeper desperately sought to remedy the situation and did well to wrap a massive hand around the legs of Taylor and clear the ball. Unfortunately, the rebound fell perfectly to Davis but his effort from distance floated mercifully wide of the unguarded net.

After that scare, most in Yellow would have happily accepted a one-goal lead at the interval but Buckle's rampant players were sniffing vulnerability in the Shrewsbury ranks.

Robinson was the catalyst for number two with some tricky feet on the wing before laying the ball back to O'Kane on the edge of the penalty area and the young midfielder speared an excellent low shot beyond the despairing dive of Smith to send Plainmoor wild.

The second period started in similar fashion, with a Kevin Nicholson corner swinging into the danger zone for Guy Branston to attack with a thundering header which crashed inches over Smith's crossbar.

Robinson then pirouetted beautifully to create space for a shot from 20 yards after an incisive ball forward by Branston. Smith was beaten by the pace of the drive but Shrewsbury were saved by Robinson's radar being a fraction offline.

The next in a seemingly endless line of United attacks was a rifled free-kick from the wonderful left boot of Nicholson and Smith produced an excellent save to thump the ball clear with his fists.

Tomlin's turn for the limelight arrived just two minutes later and the on-loan striker cleverly shifted his feet before unleashing a powerful drive from distance, and Smith needed strong hands again to keep the Shrews alive.

The football was right out of the top drawer and the Gulls deserved huge credit for flourishing in front of the Sky cameras.

A superb flowing move involving Lathrope, Robinson and Kee ended with Robinson scuttling a low shot into the side-netting with the bemused Shrewsbury defence looking at one another with blank expressions.

Another Nicholson corner had Shrewsbury in disarray on 75 minutes and Tomlin was only denied the goal his excellent individual performance deserved by a goal-line clearance from substitute Tom Bradshaw.

The same man had Shrewsbury's one chance to take something from a difficult evening but he lofted a volleyed shot harmlessly over Bevan's crossbar.

Buckle withdrew the tremendous Kee for Oastler for the closing minutes of a game that will cheer all with a Yellow heart and the Gulls will travel to Shrewsbury full of confidence for part two of this engrossing saga.

Gulls (4-4-2): 1 Scott Bevan; 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 5 Chris Robertson, 23 Guy Branston, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 8 Billy Kee (18 Joe Oastler 83), 10 Eunan O'Kane, 22 Damon Lathrope, 9 Jake Robinson; 15 Gavin Tomlin, 26 Chris Zebroski. Substitutes (not used): 2 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, 4 Mark Ellis, 14 Lloyd Macklin, 16 Danny Potter (gk), 17 Saul Halpin, 19 Danny Stevens.

Shrewsbury (4-4-2): 25 Ben Smith; 18 Jermaine Grandison, 5 Ian Sharps (capt) (15 Niall Canavan 25), 6 Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, 3 Mat Sadler; 23 Jon Taylor (16 Lionel Ainsworth 73), 12 Nicky Wroe, 29 David Davis, 7 Mark Wright; 14 James Collins (34 Tom Bradshaw 67), 9 Matt Harrold. Substitutes (not used): 1 Chris Neal (gk), 8 Kevin McIntyre, 19 Connor Goldson, 20 Craig Disley.

Referee: Scott Mathieson.

Attendance: 4,130 (641 away).


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