United made it three wins from three games to sit proudly at the top of the early Sky Bet League 2 table as their Purple Reign started in style. Playing in their new purple change kit for the first time, The U's stormed to a second successive 3-1 win at Plainmoor thanks to goals from Deane Smalley, James Constable and Asa Hall
After an error-strewn first five minutes, not helped by a swirling wind, United started to get the ball down and play their usual brand of passing football. Missing Dave Kitson, ruled out with a rib injury, United brought Scott Davies in to the right side of midfield and asked Alfie Potter to play a more advanced role alongside the ever-willing Smalley.
The shape was good and United were comfortable but they were forced into a change on 22 as Sean Rigg pulled up with a hamstring problem as he tried to accelerate on to a Tom Newey pass down the left. That meant the introduction of Hall on the left of midfield and another slight tweak in a tight first half where both sides traded stern challenges and no quarter was asked. A running battle between the excellent Jake Wright and the experienced Karl Hawley typified the game as defences dominated the first 43 minutes.
However the last few moments of the half belonged to the home side who should have edged themselves in front. The first chance came on 43 when Billy Bodin ghosted in at the far post as Clarke misjudged a deep cross. Bodin volleyed across goal and not only did Wright head off the line he then threw himself in front of a goal-bound effort on the edge of the box as Torquay followed up. Leading by example at its best from United’s inspirational skipper.
Clarke then made amends for that error with one of his now customary wonder saves. Courtney Cameron, a lively winger to look out for, drifted infield and fired a low shot from the left which flew through a sea of legs and forced Clarke to get down swiftly and block. The alert Danny Rose snuffed out any danger from the rebound and ensured that we reached the break level pegging.
It took just two-and-a-half minutes for United to break the deadlock after the interval. Davies did well to force an opening for Potter on the right and his far-post cross was scrambled away for a corner. David Hunt fizzed in a low corner to the near post and Smalley crashed in to stab home his third goal of the season from five yards out.
It was a deserved goal from the rejuvenated forward who grows in confidence with each passing game and it gave United another priceless away lead. Torquay came back strong and Callum Ball engineered a chance which crashed away off of the bar, but United had a penalty appeal mystifyingly turned down on 54 when Aaron Downes kicked Potter in the head, drawing blood, but not drawing any sort of foul. Go figure.
Potter went to be patched up but if Torquay thought there would be a let up they were mistaken as Constable replaced him and the game opened up. Clarke made a spectacular 58th-minute save, flying to his left to push a Ben Harding shot round the post before a twice-taken free-kick which thoroughly upset the home fans who saw the first effort from Ball go in and the second fly over the top from Mansell.
That moment was to prove the pivotal few seconds of the game because rather than apologise or feel sorry, United instead stormed up to the other end and scored a second, killer, goal on 61 minutes. Having retrieved Mansell’s dead ball Clarke launched an enormous goal-kick forward. Torquay’s defence went temporarily missing and Constable was racing on to the ball just outside the area on the right. There was a lot to do but somehow he made it look easy as he thumped a volley, first time, up and over the stranded Martin Rice and into the roof of the net. A stunning goal and a timely reminder of the constant threat that Constable poses.
To their credit Torquay hit back quickly. A contentious throw-in, taken from the wrong place according to the closest United players, was crossed by Hawley and left sub Jordan Chapell with a simple tap-in at the back post as Hawley’s cross slid between the entire back-line. For a few minutes the game was back in the balance, but on 77 it was all over as Hall slammed home the third.
Again it came from brilliant build-up play from Smalley. His control and turn were immaculate and allowed him to spread the ball to his left to feed Constable. He ran at the home defence and then slipped the ball to his left for the fast-advancing Hall. His powerful left-footed shot from 16 yards was well saved by Rice but came straight back to Hall who buried the ball, right-footed this time, to make it 3-1 and game over.
A victory achieved without Kitson, and for long periods Rigg and Potter. United have serious attacking intent this year and a mean defence to back that up. These are good times for the Yellow Army - Purple Hearts all round.
Report by Chris Williams
Pictures Darrell Fisher