Unchanged from last week’s unexpected win at Crawley, the home side in all-white and the smoke bombs at the Meadow End adding to the Real Madrid illusion, early nerves were in evidence as both teams realised the importance of the result. Rene Howe shot wide when in a good position, Joe Oastler had a cross blocked and then Howe, looking suspiciously offside, gave overlapping fullback Kevin Nicholson a chance which he snatched at. Harry Pell won possession and set off on a run and interchanged some crisp passes with Nicky Featherstone as the Bulls started to find their feet.
Adam Bartlett made two punched clearances, and Danny Stevens blasted over before, in the eleventh minute, Hereford scored the opener. Byron Anthony’s long ball into the area led to a corner. The ball was cleared to Rob Purdie who took his time before delivering a pinpoint curling cross onto Delroy Facey’s head, and the striker made no mistake as the net bulged.
Rob Purdie and Harry Pell thanking Delroy Facey for the first goal - pictures from Andy Compton of the Hereford Journal/Shropshire News
Buoyed by this, Kenny Lunt found Ben Purkiss who crossed for Facey. This time, the ball was nodded down for Joe Colbeck, but Robert Olejnik, between the sticks for Torquay, was quick to intervene. A thousand or so smartphones (or somesuch) received news that Barnet had scored an early goal which quelled the excitement somewhat.
Ian Morris played a delightful pass for the lively Lee Mansell, but the subsequent cross was too forceful. Oastler’s probing and perception seemed likely to create opportunities for a Gulls equaliser, particularly when his low cross narrowly missed the toecaps of the marauding Howe and Mansell. Michael Townsend was harshly penalised for holding, but the defensive wall did its job from the resulting free kick. Howe then almost got onto a deft flick from Mansell. The bush telegraph then revealed that Burton had made it 1-1, and the Great Escape was back on. Furthermore, with 36 minutes gone, Mr East considered that Purdie had been impeded by Mansell, and awarded a penalty. Young Pell kept his nerve and blasted Hereford to a two goal advantage, sending Olejnik the wrong way.
Another celebration - this time for Harry Pell's penalty
Torquay then enjoyed a period of pressure during which Anthony had to beat out a header, and then, in a bizarre incident, Mark Ellis managed to get the ball wedged between himself and the post. A ruling was needed from the World Table Football Association, but no official from that body was present, and so a corner was given. Hereford then entered dreamland with a third goal five minutes before the break. Pell’s tremendous run ended with a blocked shot which rebounded for Purdie to fire unerringly into the Torquay net.
Referee Roger East telling Hereford's player to get on with it after the third goal scored by Purdie
Feelings that it might be Hereford’s day were enhanced in the remaining minutes as first Mansell fluffed an easy chance and then Stevens glanced an Oastler centre past Bartlett’s post.
Facey in the middle of the action
HT: HUFC 3 TORQUAY UTD 0
With the game safely in the bag, or so it seemed, watching the second half became a surreal experience, with news from elsewhere taking on more importance than events on the pitch. Rumours of a missed penalty for the Brewers were confirmed, possibly by pigeon, and any relaxation was put on hold as it took 28 seconds for Torquay to pull a goal back. Ryan Jarvis had only just joined the fray when he latched onto an Oastler cross to nudge the ball home. The visitors stepped up the pressure, with their other half-time substitute Taiwo Atieno testing Bartlett with a header, and Jarvis, eager to impress, glancing his effort just wide. Nicholson’s free kick was then headed away by Facey, at the expense of a corner.
Colbeck made one lightning run before running out of space, and Nicky Featherstone and Purdie engineered a quick break of their own. The defence looked like avoiding further setbacks, with James Chambers in particular making some telling interceptions. However, with 63 minutes on the clock, Nicolson’s ball into the heart of the Bulls box was flicked on to Atieno who pounced to make the score 3-2.
And then, dear reader, it happened. News filtered through that Barnet had taken the lead, meaning that even holding on would not be enough for Hereford. For their part, the visitors also knew that their chance of overhauling Crawley was rapidly slipping away. To their credit, both sides continued to create chances, with some entertaining football in evidence. Kenny Lunt was fouled on the halfway line, though nothing was given, and then he made a similar tackle himself in an identical position which was penalised. To compound the irony, at first Mr East thought that our stricken Kenny was feigning injury, but then he invited Dodge to inspect the damage; eventually we had the sad sight of the St John stretcher bearers being called upon.
The final whistle sounded with no further updates from far away leaving home fans left to examine what had gone amiss in this difficult season, not least what might have been if the players had shown this much spirit a little earlier on. At least we may get to visit some exotic places and new grounds in the Conference during 2012/13. Perhaps I will invest in a Satnav, and one of those iPhone thingummygigs.
FT: HUFC 3 TORQUAY UTD 2
Attendance: 5143, including 1241 from Turkey.
HUFC: Bartlett, Purkiss, Townsend, Anthony, Chambers, Featherstone, Pell, Lunt (McQuilkin 74), Purdie (Stam 65), Colbeck (Arquin 60), Facey.
TORQUAY UTD.: Olejnik, Nicholson, Ellis, Saah, Oastler, Mansell, O’Kane, Morris, Stevens (MacDonald 80), Lathrope (Atieno 46), Howe (Jarvis 46).