Milton Keynes Dons 0
by RICK COWDERY
AFTER the best part of three years, several loans, a few disciplinary issues and a horrible injury, Simon Walton's first Argyle goal was arguably worth the wait.
The Argyle midfielder - rehabilitated in more ways than one, it appears - netted from a party-piece dead-ball delivery to keep the Pilgrims' hopes of npwoer League 1 survival alive.
Walton exquisitely caressed home a free-kick midway through the first half of the Pilgrims' antepenultimate home game of this troubled season, to give them a third win in their last four matches.
A point for relegation rivals Walsall took some of the gloss off the splendid win against promotion-chasing rivals, but, hey, we are still in there, fighting.
Argyle manager Peter Reid was without his match-winner from Great Friday's previous must-win game at Dagenham & Redbridge after Rory Patterson's late red card cancelled out his 48th-minute free-kick that gave the Greens their 1-0 victory.
However, the other Pilgrim Rory, who had watched the game at Victoria Park amid the Green Army, had recovered from his long-standing groin problem to come into the starting line-up as a like-for-like replacement.
The swelling on Walton's ankle that saw him withdrawn during the game had subsided enough for him to keep his place in a midfield from which Anton Peterlin was dropped in favour of Joe Mason in what looked like a switch full of attacking intent.
Milton Keynes made one change from the side beaten 3-1 at home by Huddersfield on Friday, with their main striker that afternoon, Sam Baldock, dropped to the bench in favour of Jabo Ibhere, who had looked a potent force during the Pilgrims 3-1 victory at stadium:mk earlier in the season.
Most of the early headway was made by the visitors although their patient raids forward produced nothing too serious for David Button, in the Argyle goal, to worry about.
Indeed, it was the Pilgrims who fashioned the first clear scoring opportunity after Kári Árnason's long-ranger had been slashed away for a corner by Sean O'Hanlon.
Walton took the flag-kick and pinged the ball on to the head of Yala Bolasie who, despite having created space for himself 10 yards out, could not direct his header on target. Had he been able to, it is doubtful that MK goalkeeper David Martin would have reached the ball.
There was no doubt about Martin's inability to reach Argyle's next shot on target, the fourth fantastic Pilgrims' strike to have left the MK GK flat-footed this year.
It came from a free-kick awarded by referee Steve Tanner, who had first waited to see whether Argyle could gain an immediate advantage from Sean O'Hanlon's sly tug on Bolasie just outside the left hand side of the 18-yard box.
Walton stepped up and delivered a curling inswinging right-footer that was just far enough from Martin to deter him from attempting to come for it, but had just enough whip on it for the ball to spin inside the far post after it had passed Mason and Fallon.
The award of the goal clearly irked the visiting bench and players for the remainder of the half. They felt that should not have stood because either: (a) referee Tanner had indicated that the free-kick was an indirect one; or (b) that, if Fallon had touched the ball on its way through, the Kiwi had done so while in an offside position.
Argyle immediately came under pressure and, as on Saturday, needed a double save to preserve their lead. This time, Button was responsible for only the first part of the two-act play, beating out a shot from Daniel Powell.
Karl Duguid finished the shut-out when, after the ball had rebounded to Angelo Balanta and with Button out of position, he blocked the subsequent attempt.
That is how it stayed in the migraine-inducing brightness and salt-sucking heat until referee Tanner signalled the interval, a further cue for the Milton Keynes defenders to have another chirrup in the official's ear.
The break also gave everyone a chance to look a video tape of the goal which seemed to bear out neither of the visiting side's hypotheses, i.e. the goal came from a direct free-kick which went directly in.
The second half began in a similar vein as the first had started, with Milton Keynes passing the ball into submission while working their neat little angles. Pilgrims' legs and lungs were being asked questions; 'concentration' was the watchword.
Reid took off Mason and replaced him with Luke Summerfield six minutes into the second period but the switch had little immediate effect as Ibhre rose unimpeded to head Dean Lewington's fine delivery over the Devonport end crossbar.
The goalscorer was next to exit, with still well over half and hour to play, as Peterlin came in to disrupt MK's clean lines.
Argyle came close to relieving the pressure in the grand manner, Fallon rising majestically above his marker to send Curtis Nelson's lofted free-kick into the box, where Summerfield twisted his body to somehow fire off a shot that went only narrowly wide.
Mainly, though, the second half was a quivering mass of anxiety as the visitors methodically and remorselessly pressed and prodded Argyle's strength of character, mind and body. The nerves would surely have been worse had the players known that results elsewhere seemed to dictate that a victory was even more essential, if that was possible.
It was not all one-way traffic. Gary MacKenzie need to be alert to prevent Jim Paterson's cross reaching Fallon's head, before Martin tipped away an on-target piledriver from Árnason.
As the game opened, Argyle made intelligent use of the space that accrued and Martin saved well at the feet of Bolasie after Árnason's perceptive pass threaded through the MK back line.
Play switched to the other end, where Button riposted with a finger-tip save to turn away Stephen Gleeson's fierce low shot.
As the nails got to the quick, so Button was called on to keep the zero on the other half of the scoreline, and the young Spur twice saved brilliantly, both from long-range shots by Milton Keynes' on-loan Fulham substitute Keanu Marsh Brown.
Nelson came to the party to snuff out substitute Baldock as the game entered what seemed like 400 minutes of injury-time.
During that agony, Bolasie hit the crossbar after Fallon's finder. It mattered then. It does not now.
Argyle (4-5-1): 31 David Button; 2 Karl Duguid, 35 Curtis Nelson, 36 Stéphane Zubar, 29 Jim Paterson; 19 Yala Bolasie, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 28 Simon Walton (21 Anton Peterlin 57), 11 Kari Arnason, 16 Joe Mason (20 Luke Summerfield 51); 14 Rory Fallon. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 10 Jed Harper-Penman, 23 Krisztián Timár, 34 Luke Young.
Milton Keynes Dons (4-5-1): 1 David Martin; 4 Mathias Kouo-Doumbe, 6 Sean O'Hanlon (16 Adam Clayton 79), 5 Gary MacKenzie, 3 Dean Lewington (capt); 27 Daniel Powell (21 Keanu Marsh Brown 69), 7 Stephen Gleeson, 26 Luke Chadwick, 22 Peter Leven, 11 Angelo Balanta (10 Sam Baldock 60); 19 Jabo Ibehre. Substitutes (not used): 14 Lewis Guy, 15 Danny Woodards, 17 Stuart Searle (gk), 23 Adam Chicksen.
Booked: Gleeson 57.
Referee: Steve Tanner.
Attendance: 8,553 (262 away).