Shrewsbury Town 1
by RICK COWDERY
THE key moment of this match occurred before a ball was kicked, when Carl Fletcher led out 10 of his colleagues in a new strip, supplied by new kit manufacturers, containing the name of a new sponsor.
Most of those massed behind the Greens' goal in Greenhous Meadow's North Stand rejoiced at the sight of...well, what would you call it after the madness of the last six months? A miracle, nothing short, would not be an understatement. Believe me. Alive. And. Kicking. It was a highly emotional moment.
Only starting the season with a victory would have surpassed the achievement of actually starting the season, but it was not to be.
Buckets of credit, though, to the way Reidy's Rookies came back from conceding a goal midway through the second half by James Collins to draw 1-1 thanks to Fletcher's last-minute thunderbolt. It was only the second most emotional moment of the day, though.
The Pilgrims, who avoided an opening-day defeat for the ninth successive season, went into their first match since the New World went into financial meltdown (rather topical, that) with nine first-time Pilgrims, possibly the most in one match since our opening fixture 125 years ago.
Five of the starting 11 - Durrell Berry, Ladji Soukouna, Ben Gibson, Conor Hourihane and Tom Hitchcock - experienced a kick-off in a Football League game for the first time, while Luke Daley's seniority over those whippersnappers extended only to a few games for Norwich City and Stevenage.
Only central midfield pivot and ever-dependable Fletcher and centre-back Stéphane Zubar remained from the 11 that started the Pilgrims' last proper match, with another two familiar faces - Simon Walton and Curtis Nelson on an extremely young substitutes' bench.
With Berry at right-back behind Jake Cole, the left side of the back four comprised Soukouna and Gibson, which allowed Robbie Williams to move forward and occupy the left side of a midfield that saw Daley on the opposite flank and Hourihane alongside the captain.
Similarly providing a sage shoulder for young Hitchcock up front was Warren Feeney, making his first Argyle appearance of any description, having completed his move from Oldham Athletic on Friday.
The inclusion of Fletcher, 31, and Feeney, 30 - along with Williams, 26, and Cole, 25 - brought the average age of the first 11 to just under 23½ years old; add in the five extras and that figure dropped to a smidgin over 22.
The starting 11 contained two 18-year-olds, a 19 year-old, two 20-year-olds and a 21-year-old, while, on the bench, 23-year-old Walton - no old man himself - must have felt he was babysitting an 18 -year-old (Nelson) and a trio of 17-year-old youth-teamers: Jared Sims, Jordan Copp and Isaac Vassell.
Hitchcock and Feeney took less than three minutes to show an understanding, the latter teeing up his junior partner for a near-post flicked that zipped narrowly wide.
Shrewsbury soon turned the tide of youthful optimism on the pitch and vociferous confidence off it, largely through the probing down the Argyle left of Lionel Ainsworth.The new Shrew nearly teed up Marvin Morgan before his raids were curtailed somewhat by a Gibson crunching.
The game settled quickly after the opening skirmishes with Argyle's quick young feet and minds playing keep-ball to some affect. So infectious was their running, harrying, and general willing, that it appeared to rub off on the pro's pro Fletcher and knock years off the captain.
It was not all one-way stuff, of course, but there were few real scares for Reidy's Rookies as most of the play took place inbetween the penalty areas, rather than inside them.
Shrewsbury enjoyed a period of ascendency within this area that was helped, at times, by Argyle's pernickety passing when a bit of a lump might have relived the pressure.
Ainsworth emerged from the shell into which he had retreated after being Gibsoned to pose a few more questions of Argyle's left defensive triangle that showed more than a few signs of not having played together for longer than half an hour.
Berry and Daley, on the other hand, looked like they had been team-mates for years, rather than weeks. The former worried the home defence whenever he had the ball at his feet, and his cross to Hourihane, waiting around the penalty spot, would surely have produced a goal had it been for Matt Richards' late and necessarily precise intervention.
Morgan was booked for what referee Geoff Eltringham deemed was simulation, although the gangly Shrewsbury striker appeared merely to slip under the effort of his own endeavours.
Ainsworth and Gibson resumed their match-up just before the interval, with the Shrews' winger leaving the young Teessider on his backside before firing off a shot that scudded across Cole's goal.
Then James Collins, who had given Zubar a testing first-half, fired a shot over when well placed after some slick home passing following Hitchock's ceding of possession on the halfway line.
The Pilgrims changed things at half-time, with Walton replacing Williams, who had been suffering from a bruised heel in the build-up to the game.
The change of personnel saw a slight change of shape, with Daley pushed forward on the right and Hourihane drifting towards the left of the midfield.
Hourihane loosed one off from long range after some team-hassling of Richards had ended with Walton playing in the impressive Irishman, but the shot was on the rise the moment it left his boot.
The home side's response was immediate with Ainsworth firing in a low shot that Cole spilled, but the goalkeeper recovered to prevent Morgan from profiting from his error.
The impetus shifted towards the home side and Argyle were forced to call on all their defensive reserves when Ainsworth shot across goal and then when Morgan bore down on goal opnly to be denied by Zubar's prefect intervention.
Nicky Wroe then found Collins in the centre of the penalty area for a header that Collins sent back across Cole but narrowly over the crossbar.
Shrewsbury upped the pace and Wroe found Morgan at the near post but the Shrews' other front man could not keep his header down either. Suddenly, the half-hour left for play looked like an eon of uncertainty.
Inevitably, the goal came from the opposite side, fashioned by Ainsworth's opposite flanker Mark Wright, who had been picking at Berry since the interval. After softening him up, he beat him to deliver a grasscutter cross that Collins could not help but steer under Cole's helpless dive.
Cole rescued Argyle from going further behind as Shrewsbury, with the wind in their sails, fancied more and nearly got it through Morgan.
Argyle's young hopefuls had a new lesson to learn, a new experience to deal with: how to cope with going behind. This was the obverse of the fresh and eager coin.
On which subject, the Pilgrims threw on Isaac Vassell for a debut with 10 minutes to go, longer than cousin Darius had lasted at Coventry earlier in the day.
Argyle&nbsp;kept going until the end, and nearly found parity when defenders Reuben Hazell and Ian Sharps combined for some life-size pinball that saw the ball nestle in the side-netting.
Then Berry forced goalkeeper Ben Smith into a fine save, before Fletcher's final, beautiful coup de grace.
Maybe the stars are directing our fate.
Shrewsbury Town (4-4-2): 25 Ben Smith; 20 Carl Regan, 12 Reuben Hazell, 5 Ian Sharps (capt), 6 Shane Cansdell-Sherriff; 16 Lionel Ainsworth (23 Jon Taylor 84), 14 Matt Richards, 8 Nicky Wroe 7 Mark Wright; 10 Marvin Morgan (24 Terry Gornell 88), 9 James Collins. Substitutes (not used):1 Chris Neal, 2 Jermaine Grandison, 4 Sean McAllister.
Booked: Morgan 39.
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Stéphane Zubar, 13 Ladji Soukouna, 19 Ben Gibson; 7 Luke Daley, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 20 Conor Hourihane, 3 Robbie Williams (8 Simon Walton half-time); 11 Warren Feeney, 10 Tom Hitchcock (24 Isaac Vassell 82). Substitutes (not used):6 Curtis Nelson, 17 Jared Sims, 18 Jordan Copp.
Booked: Gibson 8.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham.
Attendance: 6,421 (1,207 away, 18.79%).
ARGYLE @ SHREWSBURY
Match report http://bit.ly/qEI0nX
Reidy's reaction http://bit.ly/nLPohZ and http://bit.ly/oRNLGa
Video (Reidy) http://bit.ly/rqNVXV and (Fletch) http://bit.ly/mRCzRm