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Match Report

 

Posted Sat 31 Oct 09 at 17:05 PM

MIDDLESBROUGH 0 ARGYLE 1

Middlesbrough 0

Argyle 1
Mackie 64

MESSAGE to Gordon Strachan: you have a lot of work to do.

Message to Paul Sturrock: maybe, just maybe, your hard work is finally starting to reap reward.

Argyle produced their finest performance of a traumatic season to ruin Middlesbrough's welcoming party for their new manager and send the Green Army home happier than they have been for a long time.

The Pilgrims defended with heroic determination, attacked with poise and precision, and eventually came out 1-0 winners at the Riverside, courtesy of a composed finish from the excellent Jamie Mackie.

A missed penalty from Adam Johnson on 80 minutes was the one moment of luck for Luggy's men, although it would be easy to argue that the spot-kick should never have been awarded in the first place.

To a man, the Argyle squad did their club proud, but the central defensive pairing of Shane Lowry and Kári Árnason stood out as the magnificent performers on a wonderful day for those with green blood.

Luggy produced a huge shock when handing in a team-sheet that included the name of Togo international Yoann Folly, given his first start since the loss to Nottingham Forest at the City Ground nine months ago.

Folly's inclusion in the centre of midfield allowed Luggy to switch the defensive-minded Karl Duguid out to the right flank, where he would provide extra cover to full-back David Gray against Boro danger-man Adam Johnson, who has already scored nine goals from the left-wing this season.

Duguid's selection on the right meant a switch to the left-wing for Alan Judge, who was preferred to Jim Paterson. The other change to the starting line-up from last weekend's 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town saw Alan Gow come in for the injured Rory Fallon to partner Mackie in attack.

Young striker Joe Mason was given a place on the bench in the absence of the suspended Darcy Blake, following his harsh dismissal in the closing minutes of the Ipswich game.

After watching caretaker boss Colin Cooper guide Boro to a 2-2 draw at Preston last week, Strachan made two changes in his first -eam selection as the new manager. Austrian international Emanuel Pogatetz came in at left-back for Joe Bennett, and Didier Digard dropped to the bench for Argentine Julio Arca to take his place in midfield.

Loan signing Marcus Bent, who joined Boro from Birmingham the day before the game, had to settle for bench-duty on his first day at the office with the Teeside club.

Argyle started the game with a flourish after a crafty free-kick move straight from the training ground saw Gow tee up Judge for a searing drive that sliced wide of Brad Jones' desperate dive, but also inches past the top left-hand corner.

Proceedings swiftly descended into the expected pattern of Argyle keeping two solid banks of four to combat Boro's probing forays forward, and Folly immediately immersed himself back into Championship action with a succession of timely interventions.

The home side eventually broke the Green shackles and Johnson was the predictable source. After a mazy run down the left, he poked the ball inside for the unmarked Marvin Emnes on the six-yard line.

It seemed to take the Dutch striker an age to pick his spot, which was time enough for Lowry to scamper across and making a superb goal-saving block on the belated effort.

Argyle's best line of attack in response seemed to be down the right, where Pogatetz was allowing Duguid so much space to exploit it was bordering on ignorance from the Austrian. On two occasions, all it needed was slightly better execution of pass from Judge to release Argyle's wide-man for a clear run on Jones' goal.

As the game developed, Pogatetz was looking increasingly like a man who has been out of action for a while, and his first taste of the Championship was proving uncomfortable. Another simple run from Duguid went unchecked and he just needed more composure when latching onto a clever Gow flick to test the slightly exposed Jones.

In a welcome twist of irony, Johnson's relentless attacking instincts were leaving the Austrian defender without much cover against Argyle's evolving strategy of peppering his flank. It was such an obvious weakness in the Boro rearguard that Luggy opted to sacrifice Duguid's defensive prowess to allow the more attacking Judge to switch flanks and probe Pogatetz further.

The saga got worse for the Boro man on 28 minutes, when a flimsy clearance bounced to Judge, who immediately tested Jones' near-post angles with a snap-shot from distance. Jones pawed it out for a corner, from which Lowry almost profited from slack front-post defending by...you guessed it, the unfortunate Herr Pogatetz.

Boro were still the winners in terms of possession, but the penetration stakes were being controlled by Argyle. One sweeping cross-field pass from Judge found its way to Duguid, via a Gow flick, and he ghosted in from the left to fire in an immediate dipping shot with his favoured right-foot that Jones could only parry away to safety.

Suddenly, Boro were trying to hit Argyle on the break, and the Greens were left to thank the superb recovery attributes of Judge, who chased the full length of the pitch to prevent a Johnson pass from reaching the galloping Leroy Lita.

Moments later, Lita did evade the Argyle defence, but Romain Larrieu (it took 36 minutes to mention the French custodian) was equal to the powerful low shot from the former Reading man.

Boro, to their credit, finished the first-half the stronger side, and another flash of Johnson trickery ended with a shot that was blocked by the chest of Lowry, who continues to combine admirable Australian grit with genuine Premier League defensive nous.

Johnson, now switched to the right after getting no change from Gray, delivered the final threat of an intriguing opening 45 minutes, as he skipped inside Gary Sawyer before scooping an unbalanced shot over Larrieu's crossbar.

Strachan showed his half-time displeasure by replacing Emnes with new signing Bent, but thoughts of his impact were instantly replaced by concern for Gray and Pogatetz after a sickening clash of heads left both men crumpled in a heap. The Austrian suffered the most and was stretchered off to complete a miserable return to first-team duty.

After the lengthy break, Boro rampaged forward and a weaving run from Arca ended with a pass inside for Bent, who poked the ball past Larrieu. Thankfully, Lowry saved Argyle from the goal-line, although the retreating Larrieu was fortunate not to deflect the ball back into his own net.

The Pilgrim response was instant. Gow produced a fabulous juggling routine before scampering into empty space and dragging a left-foot grass-cutter inches wide. The increasing influential Scot then released Mackie, who turned inside Wheater and cracked in a powerful drive that almost proved too hot for Jones to handle.

The vastly outnumbered Green Army, meanwhile, were loving their day on Teeside, while the home support seemed more concerned with blaming the blameless referee than accepting the incessant singing lesson dished out by the Devonian visitors.

Boro frustration became Boro bemusement on 64 minutes. Mackie, hanging on the shoulder of defenders, spun free of David Wheater to perfectly control Sawyer's lofted pass and slip a lovely low finish beyond the stranded Jones.

"1-0 to the referee", sang the deluded natives. "1-0 to the better side", was the quiet thought on the Green side of the Press box. 'We want Strachan out' was the cheeky response from the Green Army.

Gary O'Neil had the first chance to rescue his new manager from spontaneous combustion, but the former Pompey man dragged his shot into the side-netting from the left edge of the penalty area, leaving the faint whiff of smoke to continue piping from Strachan's fiery Barnet.

Boro's route back into the game was filled with disgraceful irony. A one-two on the edge of the penalty area saw Lita sandwiched by Lowry and Kári Árnason. Referee Mick Russell was in the perfect position to see the ball had been won fairly, and yet still awarded a penalty.

The man needlessly derided by the Riverside faithful for 80 minutes had succumbed to home pressure with a painfully weak decision.

Justice, mercifully, was wearing a Green coat and the weakness of Russell's decision was matched by Johnson's penalty, which scuttled wide off the outside of Larrieu's left-hand post.

Argyle had no time to bask in the reprieve, as Lita battled his way into the box and looked set to spare his team-mates blushes until Árnason stretched out a desperate Icelandic leg to make a stunning last-ditch challenge.

Green hopes were dealt a worrying blow when the fourth official held up a board showing seven minutes of injury-time, but Boro hearts were broken.

Pilgrim hearts, meanwhile, could make the long journey home with pride bursting through their Green shirts.

Tim Herbert

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): 1 Brad Jones; 2 Justin Hoyte, 3 David Wheater (capt), 12 Sean St Ledger, 6 Emanuel Pogatetz (23 Jonathan Grounds 51); 20 Julio Arca (7 Mark Yeates 86), 16 Gary O'Neil, 25 Rhys Williams, 18 Adam Johnson; 9 Leroy Lita, 11 Marvin Emnes (19 Marcus Bent h-t). Substitutes (not used): 8 Didier Digard, 21 Danny Coyne (gk), 28 Jonathan Franks, 29 Tony McMahon.

Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Romain Larrieu; 39 David Gray, 11 Kári Árnason, 37 Shane Lowry, 18 Gary Sawyer; 2 Karl Duguid, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 31 Yoann Folly, 25 Alan Judge (6 Chris Clark 80); 8 Jamie Mackie, 26 Alan Gow (24 Ashley Barnes 80). Substitutes (not used): 3 Jim Paterson, 5 Krisztián Timár, 21 Cillian Sheridan, 23 Kyle Letheren, 32 Joe Mason.

Booked: Fletcher 80.

Referee: Mick Russell (Hertfordshire).

Attendance: 21,141 (711 away).

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