torquay

Fleet pray for Plain sailing on the Riviera

Fleet fans travel to Plainmoor for the first time since their side qualified for the National League play-offs there in 2018 with a very different set of priorities this time around.

With the gap to safety eight points (regardless of whether fourth or fifth from bottom becomes the safety marker), the visitors know they have to start delivering the points as sides above them jockey for position outside the bottom four.

The past weeks have seen the likes of Sutton, Aldershot and Wrexham inch their way upwards while others including Eastleigh, Maidenhead and Dagenham have been sucked into the mess – but whatever the changes above them, Fleet haven’t been able to get nearer to any of their rivals in terms of points.

With a run of home games starting on Tuesday v Woking and then coming thick and fast in February, that will surely prove to be the make or break period – but anything earned at Torquay will be most welcome ahead of those crunch fixtures.

Fleet travel with Josh Payne suspended for one match and Andre Blackman sitting out the second of his three-match ban. However, Kevin Watson can welcome back skipper Jack King from his own suspension while Michael Timlin will be in line to slot into Payne’s position, with the bonus that the ex-Stevenage midfielder has been playing regularly and match fitness shouldn’t be an issue. And with Myles Weston’s fitness improving as well, Watson could enjoy something of a selection dilemma for the first time in weeks.

Fleet’s record at Plainmoor is rather better than at the Kuflink Stadium, where we have lost our last three home clashes with Torquay. In Devon, we have won one, drawn one and last one of the last three visits.

Torquay’s previous visit to Kent (pictured) was Kevin Watson’s first and last home appearance as assistant to Garry Hill, with the latter departing the club following the 4-2 loss to a clinical Gulls side that night.

Gary Johnson’s newly promoted side were in the midst of a fantastic run that evening, scoring 25 goals in nine games and climbing as high as fifth in the table.

What has followed since, however, has been a considerable drop in form. Since the Gulls exited the FA Cup to Maidstone United, they lost eight of their next nine league games. Their two wins since late December have come against out-of-form Woking and AFC Fylde.

Such is the league this season, however, that – like Woking – Torquay’s loss of form hasn’t plunged them into a relegation battle. Instead, they sit five points off the play-offs but in that halfway house where any further loss of form could well see them getting pulled into the battle at the wrong end of the table.

The Gulls have won and lost seven each at Plainmoor, with just the one draw, but their defence is not an awful lot tighter than the Fleet’s having conceded 57 goals – the second worst in the division.

Up front, Jamie Reid is the man to watch with 12 goals this season, but only one of those has come in 2020. Midfielder Asa Hall has three from the last five league games although Torquay do like to share the goals around – as they did at the Kufink Stadium, with four different scorers on the night.

Key defender Kyle Johnson missed Torquay’s last game but could return for this one while highly-rated midfielder Armani Little returns after a lay-off from a hamstring injury.

Striker Ruari Keating has left the club after three years with Torquay seeking a loan replacement but probably not in time for Saturday’s game. Since last we met, Torquay have drafted in one-time Man City youngster and Rangers winger Aaron Nemane along with defenders Jackson Longridge (Bradford City, loan) and Gary Warren (Exeter City, loan) plus front man Jared Lewington from Tiverton Town.

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