An extra-time winner from Torquay United’s Asa Hall helped advance the Gulls to the Vanarama National League play-off final, at the expense of Notts County.
The Gulls took the lead within the first minute through 36-year-old striker Danny Wright, as the former Cheltenham Town striker headed Torquay in front.
Notts County equalised through Ruben Rodrigues, before Wright nabbed his second to knock back the Pies.
Adam Chicksen netted his first goal in formidable style since 2016 to level the match again, before Hall and Dean Moxey netted in extra time to help Torquay advance to the National League play-off final.
Torquay will face either Stockport County or Hartlepool United a week tomorrow at Ashton Gate.
Gary Johnson opted to make just the one change from the Gulls’ final day thumping over Altrincham, as Jake Andrews was replaced by veteran striker Danny Wright.
Torquay United: Covolan; Wynter, Cameron, Moxey, Lewis, Randell, Sherring, Little, Hall, Lemonheigh-Evans, Wright.
Ian Burchnall had made one change for the elimination round against Chesterfield, with the injured Jim O’Brien missing once again for the semi-final. Connell Rawlinson also dropped to the bench, as Dion Kelly-Evans replaced him at the back.
Notts County: Slocombe; Brindley, Ellis, Chicksen, Kelly-Evans, Doyle, Miller, Reeves, Rodrigues, Wootton, Boldewijn.
Story of the match
Ahead of kick-off, Magpies manager Burchnall expressed how he felt his side “Can be better” and how “the job isn’t close to being done.”
But the former Ostersunds manager’s words clearly weren’t heard by his players, as Notts County got off to the worst possible start.
Just 36 seconds in, and Torquay punished a lacklustre start from the pies courtesy of Wright, as the 36-year-old gave the Gulls a dream start.
Straight from kick-off, former Swansea City defender Joe Lewis found himself with possession on the left side, before he delivered a teasing cross onto the head of Wright, who, thanks to a cruel deflection from Chicksen, had his header loop past Sam Slocombe to gift Torquay an early lead.
Johnson’s side were looking to double their advantage too, as a long throw from Dean Moxey was flicked on by captain Hall, but it evaded the target.
But Notts County had proven last week against Chesterfield that they had a resilience about them, and once again it glimmered. The early goal was just a minor splinter, as County equalised through Rodrigues. Kelly-Evans burst down the line before lifting a brilliant ball towards the Portuguese forward, who attacked the ball and powered it past Luca Colovan with his head.
Burchnall’s side had an inspired look about them, as Richard Brindley phased past Hall before rocketing a shot goalwards, but it narrowly avoided the top corner.
But heading into the second half, and Notts County’s dominance was abolished, as Johnson must have given an inspirational team talk. The Gulls came out looking confident, and took advantage. Former Plymouth Argyle youngster Adam Randell did brilliantly down the wing before playing the ball back across goal, allowing Wright to latch onto the set-up and bury it with style. A second for Wright, and the lead restored for Torquay.
Notts County refused to roll over however, as the Pies immediately responded. A deep corner from Rodrigues matched the head of Brindley, who knocked it down into Chicksen, allowing the defender to turn his man before rifling his effort into the roof of the net. An incredible finish for someone who hasn’t scored since 2016- and what a time to get it!
Torquay nearly reinstated their lead however, as Connor Lemonheigh-Evans threaded a ball through to Kyle Cameron, but Slocombe smothered his shot.
As the game neared the end of the ninety, Kyle Wootton, who was one of the heroes of the Chesterfield victory, spun his man on the edge of the box and plummeted his effort at goal, but Covolan did well to grasp it.
With the scores level at the end of the ninety, the game carried over into extra-time. The score wouldn’t stay the same for much longer though, as Hall, who is also the club’s captain and top scorer, darted onto a dangerous cross from Jake Andrews, before attacking the ball past the outstretched Slocombe to grant the Gulls the lead for the third occasion.
The drama wasn’t done yet however, as Torquay had the opportunity to finish off the game. Lemongheigh-Evans burst past his man and through on goal, but a challenge from behind by Mark Ellis was deemed a foul by the referee controversially. A penalty was awarded, which Moxey stepped up for and calmly buried, ending Notts County’s season and extending Torquay’s.
Burchnall’s side were unlucky at this point, as Wootton latched onto a shot with his head, prompting a fine stop by Covolan, before Rodrigues hammered the follow up against the crossbar.
With just one game remaining now for Torquay to clinch promotion to the Football League, it’s a huge opportunity for Johnson, who has stuck with the Gulls since their relegation to the National League South a few years ago.
The fans were immense today, with the players leaving it all on the pitch and showing nothing but grit and passion. With a few signings, and of course victory at Ashton Gate, Torquay could be a dangerous side in the Football League next season.
This is now the second season in a row that Notts County have fallen in the play-offs, is it time to be worried?
Probably not, as Burchnall is an excellent manager for this level and the squad is strong. A rebuild isn’t needed, but with the parachute payments of relegation now ended, a few bargains will be needed for the Pies to go that one step further next season.
Torquay were excellent all over the pitch, especially with Covolan, Hall and Lemonheigh-Evans who all had brilliant games, but you can’t look further than Wright.
Netting two crucial games on his return from injury, and constantly keeping a high tempo despite his condition, Wright was fantastic.