Notts County 1
NEW manager, new pitch, new season and new hope, but some things never change.
Argyle were dumped out of the Carling Cup at the first hurdle by Notts County, despite dominating large periods of the game.
A miserable record in this competition thus continues for another season with John Spicer inflicting a 1-0 defeat in the early stages of the second-half with a stabbed effort.
Argyle manager Peter Reid stuck to his promise of rotating the squad after Saturday's encouraging 1-0 win at Southampton on the opening day of the npower League 1 season.
Romain Larrieu replaced David Button in goal behind a defence that contained two other changes. Karl Duguid came in at right-back for the benched Bondz N'Gala and captain for the day, Réda Johnson, started alongside Kári Árnason at centre-back. Krisztián Timár was rested completely with Marcel Seip and young apprentice Curtis Nelson drafted in as defensive cover.
Saturday's hero, Luke Summerfield, stepped aside for Craig Noone on the right-wing and skipper Carl Fletcher took a place in the stands. Chris Clark came into the centre of midfield alongside American Anton Peterlin on his home debut.
Reid's striking options were limited by unwanted international duty for Rory Patterson and Joe Mason, forcing the manager to select Rory Fallon for a second game in four days. Bradley Wright-Phillips came in from the opening day wilderness to partner the big Kiwi, dropping Steve MacLean to the bench.
Notts County made five changes from their 3-0 humbling at home to Huddersfield Town on a depressing start to League 1 for the promoted Magpies.
Stuart Nelson started in place of Robert Burch in goal. Graeme Lee, John Thompson and Stephen Hunt dropped to the bench and striker Lee Hughes missed out altogether. Their replacements were Krystian Pearce, Mike Edwards, Craig Westcarr and Spicer.
Wright-Phillips sprung to life within five minutes, surging clear down the right and squaring the ball for the in-field Noone, who switched to his favoured left side and clipped an ambitious curler over the bar.
Despite that confident foray, County controlled possession for the majority of the early stages and a sloppy challenge on the edge of the box by Peterlin gave Ben Davies the chance to swing a free-kick over the Green wall but he forgot the crucial dip element to his execution.
The Magpies were shaken out of their comfort zone by an innocuous ball over the top by Johnson that the retreating Edwards could only loop into the air for Wright-Phillips. A striker in search of redemption, BWP somewhat snatched at the volley, dragging it well wide.
Green authority now established, a fine move should have resulted in the first goal. Noone drifted inside beautifully to feed Onismor Bhasera, who delayed his pass before threading the ball to Clark inside the area. The pass across Nelson's goal was instant but the otherwise lively Wright-Phillips was caught on his heels as the ball zipped all the way through the six-yard box.
A general lull in proceedings was interrupted by a quick switch from left to right by Lee Molyneux, giving Duguid space on the right to arrow a ball into the box for Fallon.
Climbing way above his marker, the Kiwi knock-down was perfect for the right-boot of Bhasera, but instinct told him to transfer to his left and a Magpie boot deflected the ball clear to Peterlin, who shanked a horrible shot miles wide.
The main threat posed by County came from needless free-kicks conceded by Argyle in dangerous areas. One of which led to a corner that eventually found a way back to the taker, Davies, who rushed his shot from the left channel to send the ball spinning into the upper reaches of the Devonport.
The pattern of the game bore worrying comparisons to Saturday at St Mary's, except Argyle were now playing the role of Southampton, and County were only denied a Pilgrim-style sucker-punch by a brave block from Molyneux on Westcarr in first-half injury time.
Reid withdrew Molyneux at half-time, giving Jim Paterson his first outing of the season. The other switch was tactical, with Noone and Bhasera swapping wings, and it was the Liverpudlian with a drifting corner that proved a fraction too far for the run of Fallon.
And from nowhere, Notts County took an unexpected lead. Amid suggestions of an offside, Ben Burgess broke clear to tee-up Westcarr for a shot that Johnson did well to block. The rebound fell nicely for Spicer, who took a touch before poking a neat finish inside Larrieu's right-hand post.
The Green flow forward was immediately restored and a teasing cross by Noone was nodded narrowly wide by Wright-Phillips. The problem for Reid was the limited attacking options on a bench shorn of Patterson, Mason and the injured Yala Bolasie.
The decision from Reid was to give Peterlin a rest, allowing Nelson to make his debut for the club in midfield. Unfortunately for the young debutant, all the impetus had gone from Argyle's play and a cup exit looked inevitable without something to spark life back into the Greens.
Paterson was the man to ignite proceedings with a delightful chipped cross to the back post that Johnson looked odds on to head home but he failed to pivot his neck muscles enough to threaten Stuart Nelson's goal.
MacLean then replaced Fallon and took seconds to find space after a powerful run from Wright-Phillips stretched the County defence. Although the pass inside was not perfect, MacLean had time to take a touch on the edge of the box and rifle the ball goalwards, but Nelson was off his line in a flash to make an excellent block.
MacLean also had the next chance, spinning quickly on the left edge of the area from a Bhasera nod-down, but the shot was pulled frustratingly wide of the near post.
The final opening of a strange evening fell to Noone, who failed to get his head over a bouncing ball from the edge of the box, and the shot sailed over, although County almost contrived to allow Bhasera a sniff in the dying seconds.
Defeat is never welcome but the conclusions are simple. Argyle were the better side in every department apart from the most important one…scoring goals.
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Romain Larrieu; 2 Karl Duguid, 5 Réda Johnson (capt), 11 Kári Árnason, 34 Lee Molyneux (29 Jim Paterson h-t); 17 Craig Noone, 6 Chris Clark, 21 Anton Peterlin (Curtis Nelson 66), 15 Onismor Bhasera; 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips, 14 Rory Fallon (32 Steve MacLean 74). Substitutes: 3 Bondz N'Gala, 20 Luke Summerfield, 30 Marcel Seip, 31 David Button (gk).
Booked: Noone 65, Árnason 74, Nelson 79, MacLean 83
Notts County (4-4-2): 17 Stuart Nelson; 12 Krystian Pearce, 14 Liam Chilvers, 4 Mike Edwards, 26 Jon Harley; 8 Richard Ravenhill, 25 John Spicer (7 Kevin Smith 71), 10 Neal Bishop, 11 Ben Davies (18 Stephen Hunt 85); 20 Craig Westcarr, 27 Ben Burgess (21 Jake Jervis 54). Substitutes: 5 Graeme Lee, 6 John Thompson, 15 Karl Hawley, 23 David Grof (gk).
Booked: Spicer 67, Davies 68
Referee: Steve Tanner
Attendance: 5,454 (108 away).