Torquay 1-0 FC Halifax Town
Halifax Town slipped to a disappointing defeat at lowly Torquay United but are now guaranteed to stay in the National League next season.
Jamie Reid’s 58th-minute strike was adjudged to have crossed the goalline by the assistant referee, consigning the Shaymen to just their second defeat under Jamie Fullarton.
The result was just deserts for a lacklustre Halifax side, who simply had no answer to Torquay’s sharp passing and intensity – both with and without the ball.
And but for a fine goalkeeping display by Sam Johnson it could have been more, with the shot-stopper pulling off a string of fine saves to keep them in it.
Up front, Town looked a far cry from the side that had scored eight goals in their last four games, failing to manage a single shot on target in the entire contest.
And to compound matters, Ben Tominson saw red late in the day for two bookable offences.
Torquay, by contrast, looked a million miles from a side that is seemingly doomed to relegation, although this victory looks more a stay of execution rather than the start of a miraculous great escape.
But Halifax are now safe, as even if Barrow - who are currently in the final relegation place - overtake them, they cannot be caught by Woking.
Halifax manager Fullarton made two changes to the side which grabbed a dramatic late draw against Gateshead in midweek.
In came Thursday’s hero Matty Kosylo – whose 96th-minute free-kick rescued a point against Gateshead – and Scott McManus, with Jake Hibbs dropping to the bench and Josh Wilde not involved at all.
A cagey start from both sides eventually saw the hosts fashion the first opening of the game. Brett Williams’ bullocking run made space for Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, but his drive was straight at keeper Johnson.
That lifted the home side, and they started zipping the ball around with a confidence which belied their woeful league position.
With just nine minutes on the clock, Halifax then escaped a solid penalty shout as McManus tangled with Lemonheigh-Evans, only for referee Christopher O’Donnell to award a free-kick in favour of the visitors.
That did not deter The Gulls though, and Halifax needed two smart stops from Johnson to keep them in the game.
First he got down sharply at his near post to deny Williams, and from the resulting corner he beat away Rhys Healey’s low drive.
Fullarton’s men were struggling to get any sort of grip on the game – perhaps a legacy of their three games in the seven days preceding Saturday’s contest.
And they rode their luck again on 23 minutes as Healey squirmed his way past two defenders before his fierce low effort went just wide of Johnson’s far post.
It was not until the 28th minute that Halifax finally mustered their first effort on goal, but Kosylo could only lash his wild effort high and wide from the edge of the box.
McManus was the next to try his luck, his beautifully struck left-footed effort whistling just over Vincent Dorel’s crossbar.
But Town’s fightback was short-lived, with Torquay coming out of the blocks quickly at the start of the second half.
Johnson had to be alert to keep out Luke Young’s dangerous free-kick early on, and he made an even better block from the Gulls midfielder moments later.
But, with 58 minutes on the clock, he was finally beaten. Young’s clipped ball was fired in by Reid, and while Johnson was able to claw it away, the linesman flagged for a goal.
Mr O’Donnell agreed that the ball had crossed the line, giving the Gulls a lifeline and leaving Town with it all to do.
Yet it was lowly Torquay who continued to look the more dangerous, with Healey sending a spectacular overhead kick wide as they looked to consolidate their advantage.
Fullarton tried to change things up, introducing Raheem Hanley for Connor Thomson, but things only went from bad to worse.
First, Healey almost made it 2-0 with a wonder-strike, only for his curler to end up just wide of the post.
And Tomlinson then saw red after a clumsy tackle earned him a second yellow card and his marching orders.
Johnson then denied substitute Ruairi Keating late on as the Gulls looked to snatch a second on the counter.
Not that Torquay needed it – they were able to see out the closing stages in relative comfort to consign the Shaymen to a frustrating defeat.
Torquay: Dorel, Davis, McGinty, Gowling, Young, Reid (Dowling 77), Barnes, Balatoni, Healey (Keating 83), Lemonheigh-Evans, Williams. Subs not used: O’Sullivan, Klukowski, Osborn.
Shots on target: 7
Shots off target: 8
Yellow cards: Lemonheigh-Evans, Keating
Halifax: Johnson, Kosylo, Hotte (Hibbs 81), McManus, Tomlinson, Graham, Collins, Thomson (Hanley 69), Maher, Fondop-Talom, Duckworth. Subs not used: Garner, Oliver, Nicholson.
Shots on target: 0
Shots off target: 3
Yellow cards: Graham, Kosylo, Tomlinson (2), McManus
Red cards: Tomlinson
Referee: Christopher O’Donnell
Town man of the match: Sam Johnson