Buoyed by his first goal in League football, Torquay United midfielder Nathan Craig believes the Gulls can follow up their confidence-boosting win over Gillingham and improve on last season’s promotion near-miss.
Craig admitted that his 56th-minute free-kick in Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over the npower League Two leaders was not exactly intended for the top corner.
The Welshman pointed out: “We’re six points better than we were at this stage last year, and look what happened from then on. If we keep going now, I think we can be a big threat in this league. The division is so inconsistent, with nearly everyone beating everyone else.
“We came from a goal down to beat Gillingham, and we’ve been down in quite a few games recently. We’ve proved we can do that. We just need to improve on the way we start.”
The former Everton apprentice, plucked from part-time football with his home-town club Caernarfon Town midway through last season, is 21 today, so Tuesday’s goal was an early birthday present.
“I had some family down to see it, but my mum and dad aren’t coming down until the weekend, so they missed it,” he said. “To be honest, I’d forgotten all about my birthday, until someone texted me after the game and said about the goal being an early present.
“Everyone keeps saying: ‘Did you mean it?’ I’ve been saying I did, but at the time I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t expect it to go in.
“Some of the lads have been saying for me to put more height on balls into the box, but I did that in the first half and the goalkeeper kept on claiming them. But then I drove a couple in with more pace in the second half, and they whizzed across the six-yard box, so I made sure I put plenty on the free-kick and it went in.
“Hopefully it will be the first of many. I haven’t been getting into as many shooting positions as I’d like recently, but that will come from more experience, I hope.”
The message from manager Martin Ling and his players was that all sights are set on beating Morecambe at Plainmoor on Saturday and registering back-to-back wins for the first time since United overcame Port Vale and Barnet at the end of last March.
“The first thing that [captain] Lee Mansell said in the dressing-room afterwards was: ‘We must beat Morecambe now’. It’s a good opportunity to put that back-to-back thing to bed,” Ling said.
Neither Craig’s equaliser nor Kevin Nicholson’s deflected 84th-minute winner went in exactly as planned, but Ling commented: “Although they were two fluke-ish goals, they were reward for our performance in the second half, and I don’t think anyone would deny that we deserved to win the game. If we play to our real levels, we are a match for anyone in this league.
“We’ve got a few young lads in the team, and consistency can be difficult for young players to find. But we feel that we can be contenders in this division,” he added.
It was a mix-up between Brian Saah and Danny Leadbitter, making his first League start, that led to Gillingham’s opener by Deon Burton, but Ling said: “I felt disappointed for Danny, because I thought he had a good game on his full League debut.”