By Tony Leighton
Torquay United captain Lee Mansell is hoping that Tuesday evening's Devon derby at home to Exeter City will bring a return to winning ways for the Gulls.
With just two points from their last five games, Mansell's team, who in early December were lying eighth in the npower League 2 table and level on points with the lowest of the Play-Off places, have slipped to 16th and are now seven points adrift.
They now face a difficult fixture against their county rivals, who have climbed into the automatic promotion places on the back of a three-match winning streak.
The Grecians also have a fine away record with nine wins from 13 games on their travels. But the Gulls have lost only twice at home and midfielder Mansell told football-league.co.uk: "This is a game to relish for the players and the fans.
"It's going to be tough because Exeter are going well at the moment, but it's a game I'm thoroughly looking forward to because Devon derbies are great to play in.
"There will be a big crowd, the atmosphere will be fantastic and hopefully that will inspire us to get a win that can start moving us back up the table."
If they can claim a much-needed victory, the Gulls will get the chance to complete a rapid Devon double as they travel to Exeter in a fortnight's time for a re-match.
Six points from the two encounters would certainly raise morale and confidence at Plainmoor after the Gulls' barren recent run.
"We've got a bit of a soft under-belly at the moment," admitted Mansell, who at 30 is one of the most experienced players in his team's line-up.
"We can't seem to hang on to leads," he added, "but we've got quite a young team and the senior players have got to help educate the youngsters in the ways of seeing games out to finish with three points instead of one or none."
As disappointed as he is with recent results, Mansell is sure that a revival is around the corner and takes heart from a similar situation the Gulls were in last term.
"We went through a patch like this one but came out the other side," he recalled. "We went eight games without a win and in the last of them got battered 4-1 by Southend United. But in our next game we hammered AFC Wimbledon 4-0 and never looked back."
The Gulls went on from that clear-cut victory to reach the Play-Offs, where they lost out to Cheltenham Town in the semi-finals. Now Mansell is determined to help his team clinch another top-seven finish and this time achieve promotion.
They are 11 points adrift of third in the table Exeter but Mansell insisted: "We've got a good enough squad to climb back up the table, and I'm still confident that we can challenge for the Play-Offs if not automatic promotion."
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