Alfreton Town shrugged off the anguish of four straight defeats without a goal to record their best performance of the season as the TV cameras rolled into the lmpact Arena on Saturday.
Alfreton deserved their spot in the limelight after a six-goal thriller had seen last season’s relegated League Two outfit slip out of the Vanarama Conference play-off positions, although the win failed to improve the Reds’ own position of 23rd.
When Karl Hawley’s opening goal arrived in the 18th minute it heralded an end to Alfreton’s barren 406 minutes since David Mellor had scored the winner against Nuneaton Town on 20th September.
And for Hawley it was cause for a double celebration as he reminded Torquay fans of his own lean time in Devon as part of their set-up last season, where he had registered just three goals.
Manager Nicky Law made three changes from the latest Reds’ defeat at Gateshead in midweek, preferring striker Paul Clayton to Joe lronside whilst David Mellor returned after injury and Tom Shaw was recalled, with Jordan Keane [injured in the first minute on Tyneside] and Dan Bradley making way for them.
The aerial presence of Clayton was significant, particularly in the first half when Torquay struggled to contain him with their two regular centre-halves both suspended,
and both goals before the break involved headers from him in the build-up.
The Gulls might have snatched an early lead themselves with Courtney Cameron feeding Tony Ajala, who missed a good chance after just 25 seconds, then Ryan Bowman failed to act when Tom Cruise crossed 50 seconds later.
Clayton headed wide from six yards as Bradley Wood picked him out in the third minute, then went closer four minutes later with a towering header from a Shaw free-kick, Hawley then seeing his angled drive held by Torquay keeper Martin Rice as Alfreton made their intentions known.
A rehearsal of the opening goal emerged in the 16th minute when Reds’ keeper Cameron Dawson launched a clearance for Clayton to flick on and Rice to save from Hawley, but as the game began to ebb and flow Bowman missed a gilt-edged chance at the other end from a Luke Young pass.
Torquay clearly failed to heed what had just unfolded and Dawson’s 18th minute goal-kick was sublimely headed on by Clayton to send Hawley scurrying down the left, before planting a low left-footed drive inside Rice’s near post.
Alfreton held their initial lead until the 30th minute, when United’s first corner was played back out for Louis Briscoe to curl an unstoppable shot beyond Dawson’s reach, then moments later only Luke Graham’s timely tackle prevented a complete turnaround of fortunes as Briscoe sought to play Bowman through on goal.
Graham was then harshly penalised for a push as he headed home Shaw’s 32nd minute corner, the TV cameras replaying the disallowed goal from several angles without spotting a clear infringement.
Just as the sides looked to be entering the break on level terms a Dan Gray throw saw Clayton again supplying a crucial header on for Hawley to find Shaw unmarked 12 yards out in the 45th minute, the midfielder calmly controlling the ball with his chest before virtually picking his spot to score.
A hectic start to the second half saw the visitors rack up four very quick corners which were well defended by the Reds, while in response both Shaw and Mellor had shots blocked by Dale Tonge on the edge of the area.
The next phase of this entertaining game involved the actions of Dawson, who was initially unlucky to barge into Clayton as he fumbled a 52nd minute corner, then two minutes later presented Briscoe with a simple equaliser after failing to hold a routine Young cross.
Crucially Dawson atoned with a magnificent block from Duane Ofori-Acheampong after Keane had been dispossessed by Ajala in the 69th minute, and a rejuvenated Alfreton swept ahead for the third time just 50 seconds later.
The move was as direct and central as it was possible to achieve, Graham’s headed clearance from defence the first link in an aerial chain that involved Anthony Howell and Hawley before Clayton ran on to chip the ball over the advancing Rice and send the TV pundits into overdrive.
The obvious pride in his boisterous celebration earned Clayton a yellow card, but the longest-serving Reds’ player was never going to let such a strike pass without emotion, and just seven minutes later Alfreton sealed their morale-boosting win with Hawley’s second goal of the game.
A long ball down the right by Wood should have been cleared by Courtney Richards, who was caught in two minds so badly that he just presented the ball to Hawley, who once again advanced and slotted a low drive, this time with his right foot, inside Rice’s near post.
Alfreton: Dawson; Wood, Graham, Rowe-Turner, Gray (Keane HT), Courtney, Shaw, Howell, Mellor (Bradley 77), Clayton (lronside 74), Hawley.
Subs not used: Sheridan, McDonald.
Att: 736 (182).