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Martin Ling prepared for battle of survival of the fittest on quagmire

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 22, 2012

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The great New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, known as a man who could burn the candle at both ends, was asked before one Superbowl appearance whether he preferred Astro or grass. "I dunno," he replied. "I've never smoked Astro."

None of Torquay United's current players are smokers, but how they make the transition from artificial to real grass – if there is any left by the second half – may make or break their hopes of beating Exeter City at Plainmoor today.

Nearly every Gulls training session for the past fortnight has had to be carried out in the gym or on the all-weather pitch at nearby Paignton College, and anything further removed from the surface which will confront them this afternoon is hard to imagine.

In fairness, City will not be looking forward to playing on what may turn into a quagmire either, and United boss Martin Ling believes the conditions may hold the key to a derby game which is eagerly awaited by both sets of supporters.

"It's not going to be a game for the purists," said Ling, "and it may be a battle, a survival of the fittest.

"You have got to play the conditions always.

"If the pitch is a bit of a bog, it's no good playing tippy-tappy football.

"The reason why I was quite pleased against Northampton [1-1] last week was that we matched physically, and they're a big, big side.

"We can mix and match it with other teams if we have to."

It is nearly five years since the clubs last met, and if today's match even approaches the drama of 2008, we'll all need a stiff drink at the end of it all.

Many Gulls supporters have still not got over it.

City, trailing 1-0 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate with 20 minutes to go in the second leg of the Conference play-off semi-final at Plainmoor, managed to pull off one of the most stunning comebacks in their history, winning 4-1 (5-3 aggregate).

Days later United had to drag themselves up to Wembley for an FA Trophy final they also lost, 1-0 to unfancied Ebbsfleet United, and it was precious little consolation when the Grecians also went down in the Conference final, to Morecambe.

United fans see today's game as not just a chance to wipe away some of the memory of 2008 but also, in many ways, as more important than Boxing Day's trip to Plymouth Argyle.

Gulls supporters have never had too much of a problem with Argyle – maybe because they have not played them as much over the years – but they do like to beat City. And they dislike losing to them even more.

A few bob on the draw might not be the worst bet of the weekend.

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