Ipswich Town 1
ARGYLE were victims of horrendous decisions by Gary Sawyer and referee Simon Hooper as the game that neither side dare lose ended unsatisfactorily all square.
The Pilgrims took the lead through Carl Fletcher midway through the first half and were beginning to sense a vital victory when they imploded.
At same stage of the second period, Sawyer, under no pressure whatsoever, attempted a pass back to goalkeeper Romain Larrieu that fell into the 'hopeless' category, and substitute Jon Stead equalised easily.
The Pilgrims had to play the last 10 minutes with only ten men thanks to the worst piece of refereeing I have ever seen at Home Park by Hooper, who sent off substitute Darcy Blake for a tackle on Alan Quinn that was so clean it sparkled in the late autumn sunshine.
You can employ who you like as manager, head coach or defence dance instructor; you can go 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or have the Doncaster Pipe Band in your goal, but if your players and officials make horrendous decisions, you are not going to have a chance.
Argyle manager Paul Sturrock had made three changes to the starting line-up that went down fighting at Bristol City the previous Tuesday, one in each department.
Icelandic international Kári Árnason returned after a hamstring injury caused by this season's Curse of the Centre-back to replace Krisztián Timár; Jim Paterson came back to the left side of midfield instead of compatriot Chris Clark; and Rory Fallon was chosen to partner Jamie Mackie up front in place of Ashley Barnes.
Ipswich, who came within seconds of their first win of the season in midweek before a Nathan Ellington goal four minutes into injury-time earned Watford a 1-1 draw at Portman Road, made just two alterations, both in midfield.
Former Argyle loan player Lee Martin gave best to injury and Liam Trotter was dropped to the substitutes' bench , with Jack Colback and Jaime Peters coming in.
The Pilgrims showed few nerves early on and pressed hard on the worst defence in the Championship.
Fallon drew a foul from Gareth McAuley which led to a yellow card and a free-kick that Gary Sawyer fired into the defensive wall. The ball broke for Mackie, who jinked his way through several challenges nearly as far as the six-yard box before his final shot was deflected by Tommy Smith for a corner.
Ipswich, too, did not appear to be beset by anxiety, and made some decent inroads, especially down their right. One cross by Carlos Edwards was particularly worrisome before Shane Lowry just got his head to it at the expense of a corner.
For ten minutes, Argyle failed to get a full grip on the game, although they managed to keep Ipswich fairly well at arm's length, and the only thing to concern them was a long-range shot by Grant Leadbitter that Larrieu saved comfortably.
The best way to relieve pressure is to score and Fletcher obliged. The captain netted his first goal since his debut in February with a sublime shot from just outside the penalty area, but his opportunity owed much to three team-mates.
Sawyer's cross was headed down by Fallon to the feet of Mackie, around about the penalty spot, back to goal, and the Argyle number eight steadied himself before rolling the ball back. Fallon dummied and Fletcher did the rest.
The Pilgrims were soaked in confidence and went in search of a second. They were twice denied penalties by Hooper, both of which looked decent shouts.
The first came when Mackie was clipped by McAuley as he ran on to a ball on the right edge of the penalty area - and the fact that McAuley later limped off suggested rather forcibly that there had been contact; the second was when an Ipswich arm was hit by David Gray's cross.
Gradually, Ipswich regained their toehold, and settled to their steep task. Again, Leadbitter let loose from range; again, Larrieu saved the day, this time spectacularly.
Fallon limped out of proceedings ten minutes before the interval, to be replaced, like for like, by Cillian Sheridan, who was soon shooting wide from a great position - the fact that it was an offside position ensured that there were no recriminations.
Ipswich brought on Alan Quinn for Liam Rosenior at the interval, and rejigged, which seemed to signal their intention to go for the jugular; soon after, Paterson followed, injured.
Ipswich's need to get at least a point opened the game up and Mackie twice sniffed out half-chances, while Fletcher launched an exocet that was goalbound before being inadvertently deflected by a red shirt.
Árnason was sidelined, though his absence owed less to the Curse, more to Walters' elbow, which, remarkably, went unpunished by Hooper. He did not even have a word.
Arnie returned, bandaged, giving the referee a piece of his mind, to find himself up against Stead, as Roy Keane played his final card. Within minutes, the sixth substitute was used, Darcy Blake replacing David Gray - five of the six replacements, all made by just after 15 minutes into the second period, had been for injuries.
Blake rose to the occasion immediately, getting back well to toe-poke the ball out of Walters' stride after the Town captain had sprung the home side's offside trap.
Argyle then enjoyed a period of ascendancy, and a second goal looked likely.
It duly came, at the other end, and was gift wrapped with an extra big bow on top.
The Pilgrims were on the attack when the ball came to Sawyer on the left. With nothing on ahead of him, he decided to play the ball back to Larrieu from nearly halfway. The pass was way short and Sawyer failed to take into account his blind side, the combination of which allowed Stead to run in for an easy leveller.
The pendulum had swung decisively towards the visitors, and it needed another dramatic intervention from Blake to prevent them going ahead. The young Welshman had tracked back more in hope, than expectation, but his good discipline allowed him to hack Quinn's shot off the line, with Larrieu stranded.
Ipswich looked a different proposition than they had before the equaliser, and Argyle's fragile confidence was called into question.
Blake was sent off thanks to Hopper's abysmal decision to penalise a fair tackle, and the Pilgrims were left to lick their wounds.
They nearly snatched a victory in injury-time so hated by Ipswich this season, but goalkeeper Asmir Begovic saved Shane Lowry's shot at the back post.
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Romain Larrieu; 39 David Gray (13 Darcy Blake 62), 11 Kári Árnason, 37 Shane Lowry, 18 Gary Sawyer; 25 Alan Judge, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 2 Karl Duguid, 3 Jim Paterson (6 Chris Clark 52); 8 Jamie Mackie, 14 Rory Fallon (21 Cillian Sheridan 38). Substitutes (not used): 5 Krisztián Timár, 23 Kyle Letheren (gk), 24 Ashley Barnes, 26 Alan Gow.
Sent off: Blake 84.
Booked: Lowry 82.
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): 27 Asmir Begovic; 22 Liam Rosenior (25 Alan Quinn half-time), 4 Gareth McAuley (5 Alex Bruce 25), 35 Tommy Smith, 2 David Wright; 23 Carlos Edwards, 6 Grant Leadbitter, 17 Jack Colback, 12 Jaime Peters; 9 Pablo Couñago (14 Jon Stead 58) , 19 Jon Walters (capt). Substitutes (not used): 1 Richard Wright (gk), 3 Damien Delaney, 18 Colin Healy, 36 Liam Trotter.
Booked: McAuley 2.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).
Attendance: 10,875 (784 away).
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