Lambert 45, pen 59, Dickson 49
by RICK COWDERY
PLYMOUTH Argyle's brief stay in npower League 1 was brought to an end in their penultimate game of probably the worst, and certainly the saddest, season in their 124-year history.
It is testimony to the pride and commitment that the players lasted the best part of 45 games before having their place in the third tier of English football ripped from them by a rampant Southampton who will now only be denied automatic promotion by a miracle of New Testament proportions.
After three winding-up orders; administration; the loss of ten points; the sale of two strikers who have scored getting on for 30 goals between them for their new employers; the shedding of further playing staff which has lately made fielding a full match-day squad something of a luxury; the redundancy of 20% of Home Park office staff; the non-payment of the players since before Christmas; and remaining office staff having to rely on handouts from more-than-generous fans simply to live, it was something of a miracle we all got to the penultimate game of the season before the inevitable happened.
Showing the spirit that has typified the whole club for the last six months - one or two forgivable blips aside - Argyle went under with their heads held high. Every one of them who has represented the club, on and off the field, deserves better than their fate.
The greatest tribute they can be given now is for the future of the club they have kept alive to be resolved as swiftly and as cleanly as possible: no more fannying around. By anyone. Just get it sorted and let's get prepared for next season in League 2.
The final straw that broke the back of the ownerless Pilgrims arrived after half-time when Ryan Dickson stabbed home the ball in front of the red-and-white bedecked Barn Park end. The ex-Argyle junior then gracelessly completed the killing off of his former club by dancing on their grave.
Dickson's strike came swiftly after Ricky Lambert's opener a minute before the interval of a game in which, for the most part, it was impossible to discern on which side of the financial divide, and in which half of the division, the protagonists resided.
A later Lambert penalty heaped on more woes upon a woeful nine months and Yala Bolasie's tap home deep into injury time was little consolation.
Argyle manager Peter Reid's initial team selection had suggested he was not prepared to die wondering.
Out from the side that had lost 1-0 at Exeter two days previously went a midfielder, Luke Summerfield, to be replaced by a player with greater natural attacking instincts, Rory Patterson.
The Northern Ireland international formed one third of a support unit behind the other Rory, with Yala Bolasie and Kári Árnason also deputed to get forward when conditions dictated.
Southampton, fresh from a 3-0 win at Brentford, freshened up their side with three changes: Saltash-born Dickson replaced left-back Dan Harding, Danny Butterfield bumped right-back and captain Frazer Richardson down to the bench; and Dale Stephens replaced right-side midfielder Guilherme Do Prado.
Also among the Saints embarrassment of riches on the bench were Morgan Schneiderlin and Lee Holmes.
For a team that wears green, Argyle have had the rub far too seldom this season and it did not take long for another what-might-have-been moment to roll around.
This time, Bolasie was at the centre of things when he slipped inside Dickson around the penalty spot, only to end up flat on his face. Although that has not been an uncommon happening this season, on this occasion he did appear to arrive on the turf with the help of the former Pilgrims' junior. Seen them given.
Perhaps the evidence that Southampton's defence had been unhinged relatively easily gave the Pilgrims heart - perhaps it was the nothing-to-lose situation but, whatever, Argyle got stuck into their opponents with plenty of relish.
None more so that Árnason, who lived up to the hard man persona of the now California politician with who he shares a nickname by ruthlessly terminating a couple of the Saints' best midfield moves.
Argyle, though, showed themselves capable of switching from the ugly to the beautiful. Most notably with a sweeping end to end passing move that involved half the team and a dozen passes which ripped Southampton apart.
The final touch was with Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davies, however, as he tipped away Fallon's header following Jim Paterson's measured left-wing shot.
Saints' game appeared to be a patient one - which, of course, it could be - and, although they did not really trouble the Pilgrims, both Stephens, with a shot, and David Connolly, with a run that was snuffed out by Stéphane Zubar, worked decent positions.
By and large, though, the Pilgrims' commitment and concentration, in defence especially, was commendable and containing.
They were given a sharpener towards the interval, when Adama Lallana's work in the box saw the ball fall to Butterfield, who scooped a shot over the crossbar with his wrong foot.
Another scare followed immediately after Lambert headed Dickson's whipped-in free-kick from the right flank back across Button's goal, but Jose Fonte did not fancy tangling with Zubar and the giant Guadeloupian cleared easily.
With 17-year-old Nelson - given a Football League Apprentice of the Month award before the game - matching his senior central defensive partner in the timely intervention category, Argyle's defence looked solid.
Referee Andy Woolmer continued to do Argyle few favours, missing Radhi Jaidi's raised arm towards Karl Duguid, but seeing the retaliation; and penalising Fallon for an indiscernible foul on Davies, who spilled the ball at Patterson's feet.
The Pilgrims' defence was finally breached in the last minute of the half, when Lambert rose a little too easily to head Butterfield's right-wing delivery back across Button and past his left hand. Reid and Adam Sadler on the bench clearly felt that the ease with which Lambert scored had much to do with a push on Zubar.
The final two minutes of the half were chaotic as police struggled to sort out Southampton fans who had breached the home areas and who had been flushed out by the goal, and the aggrieved and - it has to be said - hard done by Argyle players launched into their markers with a freedom that further suggested Woolmer was not entirely in control of affairs.
The break gave everyone a chance to cool down and, afterwards, Southampton strode away
They doubled their lead within five minutes of the restart when Dickson finished off some penalty-area pinball, and put themselves well and truly out of reach 10 minutes later when Nelson tripped Lambert to concede a penalty from which the Southampton striker rose to score his second.
Man of the match Bolasie briefly lifted Pilgrim spirits at the death, slotting home a Mason lay off but, by then, it was all over.
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), 11 Kári Árnason, 28 Simon Walton (16 Joe Mason 59), 8 Rory Patterson; 14 Rory Fallon. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 3 Bondz N'Gala, 20 Luke Summerfield, 21 Anton Peterlin, 23 Krisztián Timár, 34 Luke Young.
Booking: Walton 52.
Southampton (4-4-2): 1 Kelvin Davis; 12 Danny Butterfield, 6 Jose Fonte, 15 Radhi Jaïdi (17 Aaron Martin 65), 5 Ryan Dickson; 33 Dale Stephens, 14 Dean Hammond, 30 Richard Chaplow (19 Daniel Seaborne 50), 20 Adam Lallana (4 Morgan Schneiderlin 80); 7 Ricky Lambert, 22 David Connolly. Substitutes (not used): 2 Frazer Richardson, 8 Jonathan Forte, 21 Lee Holmes, 24 Bartosz Bialkowski (gk).
Referee: Andy Woolmer.
Attendance: 13,118 (2,600 away).