JUST 33 GOALS in 36 matches tells its own damning story, and that lack of threat where it counts saw Torquay United squander a great chance to give their relegation hopes a boost at Whaddon Road.
The Gulls let Cheltenham Town off the hook in the first half of Saturday's 1-0 League Two defeat, a period which they dominated, and then faded in the second, allowing the Robins to win without needing to approach anything like their best form.
Midfielder Matt Richards’ 75th-minute goal was all that separated the sides, but more telling was the fact that Cheltenham goalkeeper Scott Brown ended up having to make only one serious save in the whole match.
For a team in Torquay’s position, that simply is not good enough. It was a major disappointment to manager Chris Hargreaves, whose stony-faced interviews underlined his mood afterwards, and to the best part of 400 supporters who had made the trip up the M5, encouraged by the 2-1 upset of promotion-chasing Rochdale in midweek.
The frustration was increased with the news that other results had been kind to bottom-of-the-table United.
If they had won on Saturday, they would have narrowed the gap to safety to less than two wins, with ten games to go and two more home matches coming up this week.
Hargreaves lost striker Elliot Benyon to overnight sickness and brought in Jayden Stockley, as a straight swap for Benyon, alongside fellow loanee Enoch Showunmi. With wingers Shamir Goodwin and Courtney Cameron in confident mood, after their strong shows against Rochdale, Cheltenham must have braced themselves to defend plenty of crosses to two big men in the middle.
United, who had a breeze behind them, seizing the initiative from the start and penned Cheltenham in their own half for long periods.
Town carry a wide threat of their own, through wingers Jermaine McGlashan and Ashley Vincent, but little was seen of them in the first half because they were forced to help full-backs Mitch Brundle and Sido Jombarti to deal with their own problems.
For all their pressure and good approach-work, United’s final ball often lacked real quality. Dale Tonge and Cameron both missed when they should have hit the target, Brown tipped over a looping Stockley header which he probably should have caught and Aaron Downes had a goalbound shot blocked.
That was poor return for United’s superiority, and Cheltenham nearly punished them from far less possession or pressure. Former Exeter City striker Jamie Cureton, recalled to the side after scoring his 255th goal to earn a 1-1 draw at Oxford United in midweek, pulled one clear chance wide and then, in the 41st minute, forced Martin Rice to a good save after charging down a Krystian Pearce clearance.
There was no way that Town boss Mark Yates was going to accept what he had seen in the first half, and his players resumed in a higher gear. He also sent on Byron Harrison for Terry Gornell in the 54th minute, abandoning a 4-2-3-1 formation and matching United’s 4-4-2.
Downes was booked for a foul on the increasingly lively McGlashan, and in the 63rd minute Troy Brown beat Rice to a long throw and headed just over.
Hargreaves shuffled his pack, introducing Jordan Chapell on the right wing and switching Goodwin into a striker role as Showunmi made way.
After Rice did well to deny the lively Vincent, Cheltenham scored in the 75th minute. United failed to head clear a long throw by Vincent from the left and Richards swung his left boot at a hip-high volley from just inside the area and the ball bounced through a crowded goalmouth and just inside the far post.
Cameron really started to deliver from the left in the closing stages. Goodwin could not quite force in one Cameron centre, and ten minutes from time he nipped in at the near-post on another Cameron centre and only a brave save by Brown kept the ball out.
United certainly kept trying, but it was more in hope than expectation, and it was Cheltenham who nearly increased their lead near the end, only an excellent cover tackle by Tonge stopping McGlashan dashing clear on a counter-attack.