Strange that promotion seekers should cram an extra game into a crowded schedule.
The previous season had seen a battle of the promotion seekers friendly on FA Cup 4th round day. Both Torquay (4 to 3) and Millwall (3 to 2) went on to achieve promotion.
This time neither did leaving Torquay stuck in 3 and Blackburn (relegated from the top flight the previous season) in 2.
The game was at Blackburn's suggestion - making a long weekend in Devon after playing at Argyle on the Saturday. Argyle killed off any lingering promotion hopes Rovers had by thrashing them 4-0. Ivybridge-born youngster Keith Etheridge scored two to take his tally to five goals in nine matches. This was galling for United who had tried hard to sign Etheridge earlier that season. He did not live up to his early promise and never scored another league goal.
With all the talk of 1968, it is often forgotten that Torquay actually sat in the box seat to clinch promotion to the second division in 1967 alongside runaway Champions QPR. A win at Brighton on Wednesday April 12 lifted us above Bristol Rovers into second place. A late winner for Colchester on Friday April 15 dented our hopes a little but left us still in second place as other results went our way, with everything to play for.
On top of the disappointing result, we picked up four injuries to key players - John Bond, Dougie Clarke, Robin Stubbs and Jim Fryatt. All missed the Blackburn game along with Reg Wyatt who was rested. In came Eric Burgess (sub at Colchester), John Reid (13th man at Colchester), young John Evans and two men who do not make the list of TUFC players in official first team competitions - left half Jimmy Johnstone and left winger John Dryden.
Johnston was an 18-year-old trialist from Belfast. He stayed on for the 1967/68 season playing regularly in the Western League. Dryden came on trial from Chelmsford but had great pedigree. His strange claim to fame is that he was the only member of West Ham's 1963 FA Youth Cup winning team never to play a first team game for the Hammers. He got another first team outing for us in the final of the Devon Bowl (lost 2-1 to Argyle after extra time), but did not do enough to clinch a contract. He was offered a job teaching PE in London and O'Farrell advised him to take it.
Dunn Burgess Reid Benson Smith A Johnstone Barnes Evans Curtis Smith J Dryden
Blackburn, on the other hand, were at full strength. While Blackburn were getting hammered at Home Park, Scotland were beating England 3-2 in one of the most-talked-about internationals of all time (certainly in Scotland!). Keith Newton was supposed to be there as non-playing reserve but had been pulled out by Blackburn to go on the Devon trip. John Connelly (who had played in the 1966 World Cup) had made a happier trip to Home Perk earlier in the season - as part of the Football League XI that annihilated the Irish League 12-0. Clayton and Douglas were also England internationals.
Barton Newton Wilson Sharples Clayton Hole Ferguson Joyce Darling Douglas Connelly
Given our weak lineup, it was hardly surprising that Blackburn were 3-0 up at half-time through Newton, Connelly and Wilson. Hole added a fourth ten minutes from time before Ronnie Barnes scored a consolation goal for United. The crowd was 2,865.
All our wounded soldiers were back for the Saturday evening game at home to Shrewsbury but we slipped to a disappointing 0-2 defeat. A 5-0 win at home to Brighton on the Wednesday kept us in the hunt and actually moved us back into second pace -but Watford (two points behind) and Middlesbrough (three points behind) each had two games in hand.
A 4-0 defeat at Middlesbrough and a 2-4 defeat at home to Swansea ended the season with a whimper not a bang. Middlesbrough scraped up 12 points behind QPR, one ahead of Watford, two ahead of Reading and Bristol Rovers, three ahead of Shrewsbury and four ahead if us back in seventh place. Wins in our last two games would have been enough to take us up.