by RICK COWDERY
IT is fair to say - but not altogether fair - that neither Steve MacLean nor Luke Summerfield have been particular favourites of the Green Army, but they were the toast of Plymouth on the new season's opening day.
Midfielder Summerfield scored the winner of this top-of-the-table League 1 game in the opening minutes of the second half after good link play between Rory Fallon and MacLean.
Indeed, the Scot's teasing pass was instrumental in helping Summerfield to execute his finish in front of the massed ranks of the Green Army.
Argyle had been obliged to hold their ground and their nerve in the face of much home-side aggression and inventiveness in the first 45 minutes, and were put to the test in the closing stages but held firm to give Peter Reid a notable victory on his debut as Argyle manager.
Reid had sprung one selection surprise, giving new goalkeeper David Button a debut four days after signing him on loan from Tottenham and without so much as a minute of football in Green under his short-tie.
Elsewhere, Karl Duguid could find no place in the starting 11, neither at right-back, where Bondz N'Gala was given the nod, nor at right midfield, where Summerfield's performance at QPR a week earlier had secured him a sought-after starting spot.
The defence also included left-back Lee Molyneux, released by Saints in the summer after an unhappy spell under Alan Pardew, and central pairing Kári Árnason and Kris Timár.
American Anton Peterlin was given a first taste of European football in the central midfield role vacated by Damien Johnson, while the attack was led by the rehabilitated MacLean and - fresh from the World Cup - Fallon.
The Southampton starting 11 contained two players who had made the journey from Pilgrims to Saints - Ryan Dickson, a summer Bosman from Brentford, and Jason Puncheon - while Home Park legend Paul Wotton started on the substitutes' bench.
Neither of their two potent strikers, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, could muster fit after summer injuries, but influential French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlein took the central midfield place that Wotton had been keeping warm for him in pre-season.
The game started with both teams performing like they believed the pre-season hype about the Saints being ridiculously short-priced title-favourites.
The home side began with an abandon normally associated with a team that is 10 points clear after 44 games, and Argyle were under the pump for swathes of the first quarter.
Having said that, Button did not have a lot more to do than watch a succession of poorly directed and overhit corners sail across his horizon.
It was not until the 20th minute that one side managed a shot anywhere near the target, and then Saints' skipper Dean Hammond's attempt was more speculative, than spectacular.
Schnerderlein was closer, but no Gauloise, later as Saints kept the pressure on an Argyle defensive unit that sometimes creaked a little, but never buckled.
Schnederlein, again, sneaked into a goalscoring position with a header from a raking Dickson cross that saw Molyneux exposed on the back post. The Frenchman's header did not ask Button any questions, though.
The incessant swarming of Southampton in Button's direction did see a hugely animated Reid using the full depth of his technical area, sending out instructions with the intention of fine-tuning the stuck-in-reverse-gear Green machine.
One of the things he probably had written on his sheet of paper was 'Stop them getting the ball to Dickson' as the Saltash-born man's left peg was doing a great deal of prompting.
Molyneux's concession of a needless free-kick gave Puncheon the chance to embarrass his previous employers and Button from 25 yards, and his curled shot nearly did that as the Spurs man juggled with the ball before catching it.
Still, Argyle managed to make it through the first 45 minutes having limited Southampton, for all their bluster, to just that one shot on goal.
They suffered in doing so with Kári Árnason getting a kick in the head from Lee Barnard on the cusp of the interval and failing to emerge after it. Reda Johnson, who missed a chunk of pre-season with a groin problem, stepped up.
The game was immediately turned on its head. Within little more than a minute of the re-start, Fallon beat Radhi Jaidi to a ball at the back post and nodded the ball down to MacLean, who worked it across the penalty area, where Summerfield let it run across him before intelligently sliding it back past Saints goalkeeper Kelvin Davis.
The dynamics of the game had changed. No longer were Dickson and, to a lesser extent, Puncheon getting into space out wide, and nor were Argyle confined to their own half.
Saints were forced into introducing the not fully fit Lallana to try to regain the momentum that Argyle had stolen from their game.
Another Puncheon free-kick met with the same fate as the first but Argyle were far from hanging on, and a beautiful break to the bye-line by Bahsera ended with a low ball across the face of the Saints' six-yard area that deserved the touch that would have brought a second goal.
Puncheon drove just over after cutting in from the right flank on one of the now rarer occasions that Southampton were using the full width of the pitch.
A combination mistake by the Pilgrims' defence presented Lallana with a sight of goal that he did not shirk, loosing off a fierce shot that Button turned aside for a corner.
Creation gave way to desperation for Southampton, but such situations are meat and drink for Argyle's hungry defenders and their pre-season defensive resilience was again in evidence.
When Johnson thwarted Barnard in the opening minute of added time, that was that.
Southampton (4-4-2): 1 Kelvin Davis; 3 Dan Harding (20 Adam Lallana 65), 15 Radhi Jaidi, 6 José Fonte, 12 Danny Butterfield; 10 Jason Puncheon (21 Lee Holmes 90), 4 Morgan Schneiderlein, 14 Dean Hammond (capt), 5 Ryan Dickson; 22 David Connolly, 9 Lee Barnard. Substitutes (not used): 16 Paul Wotton, 18 Joseph Mills, 19 Dan Seaborne, 24 Bartosz Bialkowski (gk), 26 Alex Chamberlain.
Argyle (4-4-2): 31 David Button; 3 Bondz N'Gala, 23 Krisztián Timár, 11 Kári Árnason (5 Réda Johnson half-time), 34 Lee Molyneux; 20 Luke Summerfield (6 Chris Clark 83), 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 21 Anton Peterlin, 15 Onismor Bhasera; 32 Steve MacLean (8 Rory Patterson 76), 14 Rory Fallon. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk),2 Karl Duguid, 16 Joe Mason, 17 Craig Noone.
Booked: N'Gala 52.
Referee: Jon Moss.
Attendance: 21,727 (1,864 away).