TORQUAY United must be sick of the sight of Accrington Stanley’s Kal Naismith.
In November the Scot scored both goals as the Reds beat the struggling Gulls 2-1 at the Store First Stadium, so when James Beattie’s men made the return trip the home fans must have been delighted to see Naismith’s name among the substitutes rather than in the starting 11.
But the former Rangers winger was to prove the match-winner again, coming off the bench to net the only goal of the game and stretch Stanley’s cushion over the bottom two to eight points.
Naismith’s return to the bench after a hip injury was a boost to Beattie, who was forced into two changes at Plainmoor with Laurence Wilson suspended and Danny Webber ill.
Replacements Michael Liddle and George Bowerman slotted in seamlessly and Youth Cup forward Max Hazeldine earned a place as a substitute.
Stanley had the best of the first half. Torquay hadn’t won at home in their last four and their lack of confidence showed. Despite good possession they struggled in the final third and it was Stanley who had the best chances.
Home keeper Michael Poke was in such good form he won the home man of the match award and started his super display by turning a header from his own defender Anthony O’Connor, on loan from Blackburn Rovers, over the bar.
Peter Murphy was twice close to netting his 10th goal of the season, first seeing a driven low Lee Molyneux free kick bobble over his foot inside the box before heading a corner from the same player wide of the target.
Beattie’s side would go closer still before the break when Piero Mingoia’s cross was flicked by Bowerman and Kayode Odejayi got something to ball inside the six yard box. It wasn’t the best of contacts by the striker but seemed destined for the corner of the net only for Poke to shoot out a right arm and superbly paddle the ball away.
The Gulls struggled to test Marcus Bettinelli, with Tom Aldred and Dean Winnard in inspired form, and the closest they came was a shot from Conor Wilkinson straight down the keeper’s throat.
After the interval that changed though.
Midfielder Joss Labadie headed over when well placed, Bettinelli could only parry another strike from Wilkinson and Labadie had another header cleared off the line as the home team pressed for a goal before he was booked for diving in the area.
Stanley were not worried though and having not conceded away from home for over four hours that confidence was well placed.
A flick from Odejayi was desperately smashed behind by Lee Mansell before the same Stanley player headed Molyneux’s corner over the top.
Enter Naismith. The summer signing had missed the last two games but hit the ground running, picking up the ball just outside the box with 10 minutes to go and dancing past two defenders before thumping his eighth goal of the season into the left corner of the net.
Attacking job done it now fell to Stanley’s defence to preserve another clean sheet and shielded by skipper Luke Joyce the back four did superbly to deal with late Torquay pressure.
Even when Bettinelli was beaten, by another Labadie header, Liddle was on hand to clear the ball off the line and ensure only a second Stanley win on the English Riviera.