Torquay make another great escape

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The Independent Online

Three weeks prior to Saturday's 0-0 stalemate at home to Boston United, Torquay United had been tottering on the edge of the twilight zone. The club's 79-year stay in the Football League seemed to be almost at an end. On Saturday, though, the Gulls completed the type of escape act at which they are becoming unwilling masters.

A 2-1 home defeat to Cheltenham Town on 15 April had left Torquay deep in the mire, stranded at the bottom of League Two. They had five games left to create some sort of miracle. Four wins and a draw later, their supporters might be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about. The point the Gulls secured at a packed Plainmoor on Saturday meant that they finished three points clear of the bottom two, and they would been safe even if Boston had won in Devon.

It was familiar territory for Torquay. In both 1985 and '86, the final two years before automatic relegation was applied to the bottom of the Football League, they finished last but were re-elected on each occasion. In 1987, an equaliser in stoppage time saved them from the drop on the last day. In 1995, Torquay finished 11 points adrift at the wrong end of the League, but stayed out of the Conference because its champions, Stevenage Borough, did not have a ground good enough for promotion. Then, in 2001, a last-day win at Barnet kept the Gulls up.

This time around, Ian Atkins has led the rescue act. At the helm for only the last six games of the campaign, he restored belief to an under-performing group of players and reaped the rewards. A 2-1 win at eventual champions Carlisle United, one of Atkins' previous clubs, on the penultimate weekend of term took Torquay to the brink of safety. "It looked like mission impossible when I took over," said Atkins. "But I'm glad I've been able to put the smiles back on the faces of the fans here." There was no such joy for another of Atkins' former employers, as Oxford United will join Rushden & Diamonds in the Conference next season.

Oxford would have been safe if they had beaten Leyton Orient at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday, but a 3-2 win for the visitors sent them down and elevated the east Londoners into League One along with Carlisle and Northampton Town. Coming up from the Conference are Accrington Stanley - whom Oxford replaced in the League 44 years ago.