Hartlepool United 1
By Rick Cowdery
MATTY Kennedy’s third goal in his last three matches since joining Argyle on loan from Cardiff City ensured the Pilgrims did not come back empty-handed from their long journey to the north east.
His goal 13 minutes from time – a carbon copy of his strike against Leyton Orient in midweek – gave Argyle their first draw on the road this season, in their 15th away game.
It was the least the Pilgrims deserved after a dominant first third, in which they should have been out of sight of their hosts but which ended with Pools taking the lead against the lead through Rhys Oates, and a stirring refusal to accept defeat.
Argyle were obliged to make one change to the line-up that had begun the previous Tuesday's shock 3-2 home defeat by Orient, during which centre-back Sonny Bradley and midfielder Antoni Sarcevic – influential players both – limped off.
Sarcevic was the one to miss out, his ankle having failed to normalise after taking a clattering following his opening goal against the O's. Bradley was able to resume his record of having started every EFL match this season –indeed, up until Tuesday, the Yorkshireman had played every minute of the Pilgrims' Sky Bet League Two campaign.
His place, nominally, went to Jake Jervis, with Argyle reorganising their midfield to allow Graham Carey to assume the main playmaking role.
He came directly up against former Pilgrim Lewis Alessandra – nothing but a striker when he played for Argyle under John Sheridan but lately a makeshift midfielder for Pools.
Another ex-Green, Nathan Thomas, lined up directly ahead of him, but an agreement in the loan deal which took Louis Rooney from Home Park to Hartlepool in the final seconds of January's transfer window precluded the Torpoint striker's involvement in the game.
Argyle dominated early possession and twice set Kennedy off for one-on-ones with his marker, Kenton Richardson, who he beat with ease. The second time, he cut the ball back for Carey, who deliberately teed up Jervis with a backheel, and it took a brave block from Scott Harrison to deny the powerful shot.
Kennedy then won a free-kick wide on the left which Carey whipped in on to the head of a diving Ryan Taylor, whose on-target attempt was shoveled to safety by goalkeeper Joe Fryer. Jervis’s subsequent inswinging corner threatened briefly to swing into the goal.
Jervis added width on the other flank to Argyle’s attack and he, too, showed his full-back a clean pair of heels before obliging Fryer to save at the foot of his near post.
The unrelenting Argyle assault continued with Jakub Sokoloik finding Carey with a diagonal delivery that the Irishmen controlled on his chest, beating his man as he did so, before firing in a shot that zipped wide.
As if to remind the Pilgrims that they needed to make their superiority count, Hartlepool fashioned something out of nothing when Thomas sent a snapshot flying over Luke McCormick’s crossbar.
The reminder was timely. Hartlepool’s next meaningful possession saw Scott Kavanagh ping a ball from deep towards the far post, where Thomas’s shot extracted a save from McCormick. The loose ran kindly for Oates, who smashed the ball into the roof of the net.
Argyle, smarting from the injustice of it all, were rattled. Hartlepool dug in and increased their frustration: Threlkeld went through Thomas, and was booked; Carey was King Midas in reverse; no-one could get Kennedy and Jervis going as well as they had been.
Hartlepool began the second half revitalized and, after surviving another Kennedy run and incursion into their penalty area, pressed for all they were worth.
Taylor had looked like he would appreciate some close support and Adams gave it to him on the hour mark when he sent on Jimmy Spencer for his first game since early November. Immediately, he was in the right place to draw another block from Harrison with a goalbound shot in front of more than 400 travelling supporters.
Spencer was again involved helping on a corner to Bradley, whose flick drifted wide of the far post as the game opened up.
Adams continued to chase the game, taking off the defensively minded Yann Songo’o in favour of the more attacking midfield option of Ryan Donaldson.
The Geordie on Teesside was straight into the thick of things, setting off Kennedy, who beat his man and drove towards Fryer’s near post before shooting over from a tight angle.
Then, the goal that Argyle’s grim determination and Adams’ inventiveness deserved. Bradley rolled the ball to Kennedy on the left and the Scot cut inside, dropped a shoulder and stepped over the ball before curling it inside Fryer’s far post.
Stick or twist? Argyle’s personnel pretty well meant that they were committed to chasing the three points while Pools showed signs of liking the space they were naturally being given.
Adams’ final substitution suggested he liked the momentum Kennedy’s goal had given his Pilgrims and replaced Carey with Nathan Blissett.
Taylor went close in a goalmouth scramble before Gary Sawyer tried a shot from long range that flew over but the amount of green-shirted forward players meant Pools were always in with a chance of nicking another and Oates made McCormick save at his near post in time added on.
Hartlepool United (4-3-3): 42 Joe Fryer; 35 Kenton Richardson, 8 Brad Walker, 26 Scott Harrison, 39 Scott Kavanagh; 14 Michael Woods, 4 Nicky Featherstone (capt), 15 Lewis Alessandra; 11 Rhys Oates, 9 Padraig Amond, 7 Nathan Thomas (22 Andrew Nelson 84, 18 Lewis Hawkins 88). Substitutes (not used): 13 Adam Bartlett (gk), 23 Connor Smith, 29 James Martin, 34 Josh Hawkes.
Bookings: Harrison 54.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 31 Jakub Sokolik, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Yann Songo'o (11 Ryan Donaldson 71), 24 David Fox; 14 Jake Jervis (9 Jimmy Spencer 60), 10 Graham Carey (13 Nathan Blissett 84), 16 Matty Kennedy; 19 Ryan Taylor. Substitutes (not used): 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 8 Jordan Slew, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 27 Craig Tanner.
Bookings: Threlkeld 29, Taylor 66, Fox 68.
Referee: Andy Haines.
Attendance: 3,864 (426 away).