ON an afternoon when Sheffield United paid tribute to Gary Speed, it was fitting that another Welshman emerged as the architect of this FA Cup triumph.
Ched Evans, regarded as something of a personal project by his compatriot during a near-three-year stay at Bramall Lane, had told colleagues he was “intent” on marking the occasion with a sparkling display against Torquay.
And the United striker proved true to his word by scoring twice to help Danny Wilson’s side survive a huge scare after falling behind during the opening exchanges of Saturday’s second-round tie.
“I was on a mission to get one,” Evans said afterwards. “To get two was even better because I wanted to do something for Speedo.
“He was brilliant to me and I can’t thank him enough for that. I really can’t.”
Speed, a member of United’s coaching staff when Evans completed his £3 million transfer from Manchester City in 2009, persuaded the club’s hierarchy not to sell the youngster before taking charge a little over 12 months later.
Evans, who has now netted 11 times in 16 appearances this season, revealed: “Gary backed me 100 per cent. Whenever I got in trouble, whether I was right or wrong, he always argued my corner and said I should be in the team.
“That meant a lot to me, it really did, especially when things weren’t going very well.
“I had a T-shirt under my top with a message on for him because I was determined to get on target.
“It said ’RIP Speedo’ because I just wanted to say thanks.”
Were it not for Torquay goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik then Evans, again in imperious form, would almost certainly have claimed a hat-trick.
But United did not have everything their own way.
Indeed, for long periods of the contest, it appeared as if the visitors from Plainmoor would be the ones to progress to the next stage of the competition after Rene Howe’s early strike set the tone for the first half.
Torquay, whose own supporters also joined in an impromptu chorus of “There’s only one Gary Speed” during the closing stages, enjoyed several opportunities to extend their advantage with Danny Stevens guilty of a woeful finish after being sent darting through by their goal-scorer.
United, with Evans twice testing Olejnik from set-pieces, forged numerous chances themselves but looked fractious and stilted by comparison.
“The most important thing is that we went through,” said Evans. “We want to go as far as we can in the competition because since we got relegated it’s good to have things to get excited about.
“When we got knocked out of the JP Trophy the gaffer was devastated and we were too because we wanted to get to Wembley.
“This is the FA Cup we’re talking about here and, although our main aim is to get promoted again, if we do well in this it can have a really positive effect.”
Torquay’s opener also came from a free-kick. Kevin Nicholson’s delivery was helped on by captain Lee Mansell and Howe,
much to Steve
disgust, finished in clinical fashion after finding himself unmarked in the penalty box.
Another delightful piece of skill from Howe, physically impos
ing in stature but possessing a delicate touch, saw Joe Oastler go close before Evans, having earlier been foiled by Olejnik, was denied by the woodwork soon after the interval.
Wilson revealed “a few words” had been exchanged in United’s dressing room at half-time and they appeared a much more dangerous proposition.
Having drawn level in fortuitous circumstances - Matthew Lowton’s cross deflected into the back of the net by an unwitting Mark Ellis - there was nothing lucky about their second with Evans’ drifting run and low drive edging United in front barely 60 seconds later.
A mistake by the otherwise excellent Olejnik gift-wrapped Evans’ second with Stevens claiming Torquay’s consolation in stoppage-time.
“The most important thing is the team but of course I’m really pleased with how things are going for me at the moment,” said Evans.
“The manager here now has also really given me a lot of confidence.
“Unlike sometimes in the past, I know that if I am playing I’m not going to get dragged off after 60 minutes if I haven’t scored so I don’t feel under as much pressure.
“The manager encourages everyone to express themselves here now and that’s brilliant because it means I’m playing with a smile on my face and hopefully it shows.”