Rene Howe's early penalty seals welcome win for Torquay United at rivals Exeter City
Rene Howe's first-half penalty earned Torquay United a 1-0 victory in last night's Devon derby at St James' Park.
Howe struck from the spot – as he did at Plainmoor 13 days ago – after Steve Tully had brought Billy Bodin down inside the box. The win lifted the Gulls up to 13th place in npower League Two.
For Exeter, it was a night of missed opportunities. They had plenty of possession, but perhaps manager Paul Tisdale will rue his bizarre decision to start the game without a recognised centre-forward.
The Grecians made several changes to the side that started at Plainmoor 13 days ago. John O'Flynn's hamstring injury kept him out, while Kevin Amankwaah, Arron Davies and Guillem Bauza dropped to the bench and in came Mark Molesley, for his Grecians' debut, Matt Oakley, Alan Gow and Jimmy Keohane.
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Torquay, who had assistant manager Shaun Taylor taking charge of the team due to an illness to Martin Ling, named the same starting XI, but made one change to the bench with Lloyd Macklin returning after injury to replace Niall Thompson.
After an early attack from Torquay, which came to nothing, City came close to breaking the deadlock. Gow delivered a superb cross by the corner flag but Molesley, running in at the back post, could not make contact.
The Gulls came even closer. Nathan Craig delivered a fine cross from the right and Lee Mansell made decent contact with his head. The ball seemed destined for the bottom corner but Artur Krysiak got down to tip the ball behind.
Gow, who changed the game when he came on as a substitute at Plainmoor, was seeing plenty of the ball, but he was off target with a shot from 25 yards.
The Gulls then won a penalty on 17 minutes. Bodin beat Tully all ends up and the Exeter full-back tripped him. It was a clear penalty and Howe was coolness personified to send Krysiak the wrong way and knock the ball down the middle.
The Grecians, even at this early stage, were struggling to cope with Howe, who shook off the challenge of Pat Baldwin before bearing down on goal. He shot from 25 yards, but his placed effort was easy for Krysiak.
Exeter won a free-kick when Aaron Downes fouled Keohane and it offered City a good chance to deliver the ball into the box. The big men came forward, but it was played short and the Grecians soon lost possession without ever getting the ball in the area. It was desperately poor fare from the home side.
They did fashion one opening when Craig Woodman found Keohane inside the box, but he was tackled before he could get a shot away.
Torquay were dealing with Exeter easily, though. The Grecians had no width and no one running from the midfield. Gow cut an isolated figure and the frustration was beginning to grow on the terraces.
Keohane was presented with a great chance when Molesley won the ball and set the youngster clear. With Gow taking the defenders one way, Keohane went for goal, but was wide of the target.
Scot Bennett tried his luck from distance, but was way off target and Keohane and then Oakley were both denied by some superb, committed Torquay defending.
Molesley then fired straight at Michael Poke as the Grecians began to get a hold on the game, but, with no out-and-out striker, they lacked a genuine goal threat and so it was the Gulls, just as it was 13 days ago, who led at half-time.
Tisdale had to do something to change things, but he decided not to, and it was Torquay who started the second half on the front foot with Danny Stevens forcing a smart stop from Krysiak low to his right and Brian Saah heading straight at the Pole from the resulting corner.
Howe was off target and Mansell had his name taken when he deliberately tripped Krysiak, who tried to re-start play quickly.
Gow, who was understandably becoming more and more frustrated, tried his luck from distance and Poke spilled his effort, but there was no one there for Exeter. Keohane also shot from distance, but again, it was saved by Poke.
Torquay were first to everything and winning all the midfield battles. Tisdale's response was to make a double change. Bauza and Cureton came on, with Molesley and Tommy Doherty making way.
Exeter were seeing enough of the ball, but doing very little with it. Even their corner kicks were drifting harmlessly out of play as the Gulls began to run the clock down.
Ryan Jarvis almost put through his own goal, but Poke made a superb one-handed stop and, from a number of corners in succession, the Grecians knocked at the door, but could not break it down. It was certainly more encouraging from Exeter, though. Substitute Arron Davies, on for Oakley, skied high with a 20-yard snap-shot and Bauza saw a shot deflect behind for a corner kick.
With the pressure beginning to build, the Gulls were playing for time. Damon Lathrope was booked for kicking the ball away, while Poke was taking an age with each goal-kick.
A rare Torquay attack ended with Kevin Nicholson firing wide of the near post, but even at this stage, with ten minutes remaining, the Gulls had five men forward.
Exeter responded with Cureton hooking a shot into the arms of Poke before he forced a fine stop from Poke with a much better effort seconds later. The Grecians took the corner quickly and Bauza headed wide with another great chance. It was one of those nights for the disappointing Grecians.
Exeter City (4-3-2-1): Krysiak; Tully, Baldwin, Coles, Woodman; Oakley (Davies 67), Bennett, Doherty (Cureton 60); Molesley (Bauza 60), Keohane; Gow. Substitutes (not used): Evans (gk), Moore-Taylor, Amankwaah, Gosling.
Torquay United (4-2-3-1): Poke; Oastler, Downes, Saah, Nicholson; Lathrope, Mansell; Craig (Stevens 38), Jarvis, Bodin (Macklin 75); Howe. Substitutes (not used): Rice (gk), MacDonald, Easton, Cruise, Yeoman.
Goal: Howe (pen) 17
Booking: Mansell, Lathrope.
Referee: J Adcock (Nottingham).