City 2, Torquay United 0

Stuart McCall was about to call it predictable when he checked himself. He was right to do so.

The City boss may have been describing the efficient but uninspiring way his side ground out their first home win. But the opening month of this campaign has followed a topsy-turvy route that nobody could have predicted.

Who would have said that it would begin with the biggest opening defeat in club history? Or that City would not hit the net for the first four games? Or that they would then break their duck by scoring five – away from home? Or even that McCall would now be considering Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding, his first-choice strike force four weeks ago, for Johnstone’s Paint Trophy duty tomorrow night?

Many words can describe the emotions stirred from just the first of the season’s nine months – but predictable ain’t one of them. We all needed a more run-of-the-mill victory like yesterday afternoon if only to calm the nerves.

Joint-chairman Mark Lawn was getting a bit chippy in the programme about fans questioning the whereabouts of the Fabian Delph bonanza. Once again he stressed it was to shore up the shortfall from last year’s push and not bound for his own pocket.

He also claimed that City’s reduced budget was still among the top five of the division. Some may dispute that given the relatively raw side that made it back-to-back wins this weekend, though three of those that finished the game had commanded transfer fees.

The latest was former Cambridge City winger Scott Neilson, who got a lively 15-minute run-out to become the third non-league import in the ranks – even Mystic Meg wouldn’t have seen that coming a short while back.

McCall rightly rewarded the Cheltenham victors with another opportunity at Valley Parade. Remarkably it was the first time for seven months he had announced “same again”.

Gareth Evans was asked to play a more central role alongside James Hanson, McCall himself admitting it gave City a lopsided look, but otherwise it was the formula that had struck gold the previous week.

Matt Clarke was ruled out with tonsillitis and Steve O’Leary’s dodgy toe again packed in during the warm-up. Apart from that, the supposed big guns were once again cocked on the sidelines.

There was no way the same side could deliver the same scintillating attacking performance but they got the job done with the minimum of fuss – and that’s precisely what City need if they are to be up there in the mix again this year.

Gritty, hard-fought and workmanlike where the words that McCall came up with. Those are the sort of performances that will get teams up the right end of this division.

There were not enough of these so-called predictable home wins last season. Too many times, City came up short turning wins to draws in front of their own fans.

Accrington, Chester, Dagenham, Luton, Gillingham – take your pick from a long list of examples from home games that should have been “predictable”. Also factor in that Torquay are new boys in the league this year. The classic banana-skin opposition for Valley Parade.

McCall, as is his wont, had been on their website and read the comments leading up to Saturday. There were phrases about “rising to the challenge” and “biggest stage of the season”; quotes that he could reel off in his sleep, having heard them so often before.

So the fact that Torquay rarely looked like ruffling City’s composure made a welcome change. They played neat enough football – and didn’t swamp the midfield, which always helps – but only offered a flicker of real resistance.

That came midway through the second half when defensive attention levels dropped for once after a double Torquay substitution. It allowed the much-travelled Chris Hargreaves a free header eight yards out but he guided it straight into the gloating fans of the TL Dallas Stand.

Simon Eastwood was later barged off a cross by Scott Rendell, recovering in time to hold on to the rebound from Tim Sills, though the referee was set to blow for the foul.

Otherwise it was an efficient operation from the back four and keeper – and a welcome respite after the pounding of crosses and long throws they took from Cheltenham.

City did not create too much themselves either. Up to the goal in stoppage time at the end of the first half, they had managed only one serious threat.

That came after seven minutes when Evans hassled centre half Kieron Charnock into coughing up possession to Joe Colbeck just outside the penalty area. The winger disappointingly chose not to cut in and instead dragged back a hopeful low cross which Michael Flynn nearly turned into an assist with a stretching shot that just beat the post.

Other than that it was fairly mundane stuff, notable only for the tenacity of City’s approach. Their football was not at its most fluid but the home side were still eager to pick up the bits and pieces.

None more so than Evans, who seems to possess a motor like the Duracell bunny, chasing any cause and making sure defenders know that he is always around.

It’s not just the striker’s unquenchable enthusiasm to make things happen that catches the eye. He has also got a good touch on the ball and demonstrated several eye-catching moments of control to bring a long pass to order.

But it was Hanson who eventually broke the Valley Parade goal drought from the final touch of the first half.

The big fella had only been able to train on Friday after a thigh strain during the week. His muted start to the game showed the side affects but Hanson delivered the classic centre forward goal when it mattered.

Colbeck was wrestled down for a foul and, for the second week running, a James O’Brien set-piece was finished off by the forward’s forehead, guiding the ball perfectly beyond the equally tall Scott Bevan and into the top corner.

Hanson’s presence grew as the game wore on, while Evans continued to hunt down any white shirt in his radius, but it was not until stoppage time at the end of the second half that City got the goal that rubberstamped the points.

It was worth the wait, especially for scorer Chris Brandon. The substitute made a great dart from his own half, which was spotted by Flynn’s lob over the top, and the midfielder calmly did the rest.

There was still plenty of grass between him and Bevan’s goal but Brandon was never going to fluff the opportunity to finally break his own duck for his home-town club. A year’s wait for a first City goal was over against the club who had given him his first break in professional football.

Given the classic ‘rule of the ex’, that was possibly the only predictable outcome of the day.

Attendance: 11,123