20 March ~ Torquay United fans travelling to Swindon tonight are still in disbelief at their team's standing in League Two. A win at their table-topping rivals would leave Torquay trailing thier hosts by only one point. It is a far cry from the season of consolidation that had been predicted. In his first year at the club, manager Martin Ling has made a number of astute signings and encouraged an attractive passing game. His side struggled at the start of the campaign but subsequently went on an incredible seven-game winning streak that propelled them up the table.
Defeats to Bradford and Gillingham in February eroded some optimism, but Torquay have again bounced back and Saturday’s resounding 4-1 win at Burton Albion leaves them four points clear of the chasing pack in the play-off places. Although Swindon were beaten 1-0 at Plainmoor on Boxing Day, it was a scrappy game that saw United hold on for long periods.
Many Torquay fans have a grudging respect for the brilliant job Paolo di Canio has done at the County Ground. Swindon's strength in depth was clear to see during their visit to Plainmoor in December. Giant defender Aiden Flint repelled all aerial threats, winger Matt Ritchie looked dangerous every time he touched the ball and Swindon seemed to do everything but score that day. It was their first defeat since September and Di Canio did not take it well.
Worryingly, Swindon seem to have improved since then. After the loss on Boxing Day they remained unbeaten in the league until a recent 2-0 derby defeat to Oxford United. Automatic promotion is now expected for them. With this success comes additional pressure, but you would back Swindon to be League Two champions come May.
Torquay could benefit tonight from their opponent's forthcoming Johnstone's Paint Trophy final. Swindon travel to Wembley to play Chesterfield on Sunday and Di Canio may be tempted to rest key players.
Torquay last reached League One in 2004-05, but then slumped disastrously. They spent a spell in the Conference, before Paul Buckle, who left for Bristol Rovers last summer, took the club to the League Two play-off final last season. Torquay now have a rare opportunity. With Exeter battling relegation from League One and Plymouth desperately trying to steer clear of League Two’s trapdoor, promotion this season could make the Gulls the highest-placed League team in Devon. Dan Rawley