Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Torquay United 4-4 Altrincham
Altrincham were pegged back by a last-gasp Torquay United equaliser and had to settle for a point when three were there for the taking on an evening of high drama at Plainmoor.
Alty were all over Torquay for 45 minutes, hitting the bar and missing a penalty as well as scoring twice, but that will have been scant consolation on the long journey home after twice finding themselves in a seemingly winning position, only to let two points slip through their fingers at the death.
For all the attacking dominance captured by the BT Sport cameras in a one-sided first-half, it is sure to be a matter of concern for manager Phil Parkinson that individual errors and misjudgements have again proved costly, particularly with a key home encounter with Oldham Athletic looming large on Tuesday night.
Alty were on the front foot from the start, with Jordan Hulme cutting in and having a shot saved in only the fourth minute and the Robins taking the lead following another incisive move two minutes later.
Chris Conn-Clarke launched it and finished it, passing to Ryan Colclough on the left, and advancing towards the near post to apply a decisive touch to the resulting low cross.
The Robins were warming to their task and should have doubled their lead in the ninth minute when Hulme provided an inviting cross from the right that Marcus Dinanga headed against the bar from close range.
As discontent among the home crowd became ever more audible, Alty continued to pour forward, and when a typically-fierce Colclough drive was deflected behind in the 21st minute, keeper Rhys Lovett just about managed to execute an under-pressure punch from beneath his own crossbar from the resulting corner.
The Alty attacks were relentless, and a hapless Torquay side had no answer, as demonstrated in the 22nd minute, when defender Ross Marshall resorted to hacking down Hulme inside the area for what was a clear penalty.
Dinanga took over penalty-taking duties, only to see his kick saved by Lovett, to provide the Gulls with at least some respite.
There was no escape for the Vanarama National League strugglers six minutes later, though, as Alty did finally double their advantage, Lovett spilling a shot and Dinanga gleefully pouncing on the rebound to net with ease.
It continued to be Alty all the way for the remainder of the half, with shots from Conn-Clarke and Colclough leading to corners and Dinanga lashing over when he should have scored after Lovett failed to hold a Colclough free-kick.
With Josh Lundstram going close and Dinanga again firing over just before the break, the only debate at half-time was how many Alty should have been leading by.
More than two, that’s for sure, and the size of their lead began to look a little precarious as early as the 47th minute when Asa Hall popped up at the far post to head home a corner and breathe life into a Torquay team who had looked out for the count.
Ollie Byrne needed two attempts to save Will Goodwin 30-yarder in the 56th minute, and when Dean Moxey volleyed narrowly over in the 69th minute, there was a sense the tide was turning.
That became a reality a minute later when Goodwin’s low left-wing cross was side-footed home by Hall to make it 2-2.
Incredibly, just 60 seconds after going on as substitute for a clearly disgruntled Hall, Tom Lapslie scored with his first touch, forcing home a Moxey cross, and bottom side Torquay, utterly outclassed and played off the park for the duration of the first half, were actually leading with 10 minutes left.
To Alty’s great credit, they took that hammerblow square on the jaw and produced an ace in the pack of their own, as substitute Egli Kaja again demonstrated the impact he is capable of by setting up Hulme for an assured low finish that put the Robins back on terms.
Still the drama was not finished, as Torquay had Marshall sent off for stamping on Hulme in the 87th minute and Alty grabbed what would surely prove a winner in the 90th when the home side failed to deal with a free-kick and Jake Cooper scored from close range.
As Robins fans will know all too well, from years of experience, words like ‘surely’ and ‘should’ are not to be relied on, and, to the dismay of everyone of an Alty persuasion, Torquay snatched a point in the seventh minute of added time when Moxey’s cross fell to Dylan Crowe to smash home from the edge of the area.
Never a dull moment following Alty, but Parkinson and home fans in what is sure to be a bumper crowd on Tuesday night will be hoping for fewer mishaps at one end and more ruthlessness at the other.