Torquay United celebrations and relief as Gulls avoid relegation

They were possibly the longest 12 minutes in the lives of many a Torquay United fan on Tuesday night - but the Gulls battled hard and protected a 2-1 lead at Taunton Town like their lives depended on it.

As we head into a summer of uncertainty, with an unnamed ‘preferred bidder’ talking to the administrators about buying the club, it was so important that the Gulls stayed up this season. Having had 11 points taken from them by the National League, Torquay were launched into a relegation battle that they certainly weren’t anticipating at the start of the season, when there were hopes of promotion straight back to the National League.

But we all know what happened next - and with two games to go, Torquay needed that win at Taunton Town on Tuesday night to head into the final day of the National League South season safe from the drop.

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And it was a determined, passionate performance from a small band of brothers that did it. Hamstrung by injuries and a small squad, interim manager Aaron Downes said he trusted his players to get over the line - and the 2-1 win at Taunton, courtesy of some cracking first-half goals by Brett McGavin and Asa Hall, and some resolute defending by the whole team at the end in those terrifying 12 minutes of injury time - could just be the starting point of something special, if we wish with positivity about those unnamed potential new owners.

Downes was grabbed by Radio Devon’s Alan Richardson moments after the final whistle, while the players partied with the 800-plus Torquay supporters that had made the journey up the motorway, and he was delighted with the result. “I trusted the players and they came through,” he said. “It’s all about the players, they were fantastic. We defended really well as a team, as a group, and managed the game really well and got exactly what we needed. We are staying in the division.”

Some fans have doubted Downes during his two months in charge, but the former Gulls centre back had one job from the moment Clarke Osborne quit as chairman, signalled his intention to put the club into administration, and former manager Gary Johnson left. The 38-year-old Australian knew all along that a 10-point deduction would follow, and that it was going to be a battle at the bottom to avoid the drop into the Southern League, rather than a promotion push this time. It might have been nervy at times, but you can’t argue with the interim manager’s dedication to the cause - and the final outcome: safety with a game to go.

Talking to the club’s website, Downes said: “First of all, an apology to our supporters for putting them through that and being in this position. It has been a tough season and a tough couple of months for everybody - but tonight everybody showed their worth. We showed our true colours as a football club. We were good on and off the pitch.

“I can’t praise the players enough. What they have shown - the character, the selflessness, the application they have shown in such uncertain times and moments - has been different class. I can’t praise and thank the players enough for everything they have given me, the football club, the staff and themselves. They have acquitted themselves remarkably and they should be very proud of the way they have handled themselves.”

Torquay are safe, whatever Taunton do in their game in hand against Weston-super-Mare on Thursday night, because Hemel Hempstead Town only have one game left and that is against Taunton - so only one of those two teams can finish above the Gulls. So Saturday’s game at Plainmoor against Havant & Waterlooville will be a chance for everyone to celebrate survival - with that huge weight lifted from so many shoulders.

Downes said: “We have got a base to build from now, we know what division we are going to be in, we know where we are going to be at, so whatever happens in the coming weeks, at least we know one thing - we are staying in this division and we can build next year. Even though it hasn’t been a good season by a long shot, at least we have salvaged something tonight and we can move forward, in the future, whatever happens.”

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