Cheltenham Town 2
Duffy pen 83, 90
Elliott own goal 26
By CHRIS PARSONS
FOOTBALL can be a cruel, cruel game and it was at its most brutal at the Abbey Business Stadium on Saturday.
The Pilgrims, who lead the game for well over an hour, were the victims of two late Cheltenham strikes and will feel bitterly disappointed not to have come away with at least a point.
After taking the lead through a calamitous own goal midway through the first-half, the Pilgrims made their way to the break relatively un-troubled.
Then, in the second period, Cheltenham began to dominate, but, against adversity and with both Carl Fletcher and Romain Larrieu on the pitch, Argyle stayed strong and defended bravely until seven minutes from time when Daryl Duffy slotted home a penalty after a Durrell Berry foul.
Jamie Griffiths was then sent-off for a late, mis-timed, challenge before Duffy wrapped up the win for the home side deep into injury-time.
After all the excitement of the previous day, caretaker-manager Fletcher decided to join the party and named himself in the middle of midfield for the first time in his tenure.
Other changes saw fit-again Zimbabwean Onismor Bhasera come in at left-back in place of Robbie Williams whilst Conor Hourihane returned from his suspension to join the manager in a four-man midfield.
Seventeen-year-old Matt Lecointe failed a late fitness test and was forced to drop out of the squad all together, pushing Griffiths into attack alongside Jared Sims.
Playing in front of a massive Argyle support, it was Fletcher himself who gave them the first thing to cheer about, when he attempted an audacious effort from just outside the centre circle.
Although the shot was high and wide, the Green Army responded positively with a hearty rendition of 'There's Only One Carl Fletcher', undoubtedly delighted to see the twice Player of the Season out of his suit and into his strip.
Cheltenham showed their threat moments later when Marlon Pack's deflected free-kick was nodded into the danger area by former Pilgrim Luke Summerfield. Luckily, though, Ben Gibson was on hand restore calm in Argyle area.
On the fifteen-minute mark, the home side were presented with their first real chance of the match when a cracking Jeff Goulding cross was headed back across goal by Daryl Duffy.
Duffy had Kaid Mohammed waiting for it in the middle but a decent punch from Jake Cole averted the danger.
But it was not all going the Robins' way and Griffiths could have perhaps done better when presented with Hourihane's looping cross. The on-loan Ipswich man connected well with the far post header, but could not direct it goalwards.
Having made light of his side's disciplinary at Thursday's pre-match press conference, Fletcher stayed trued to his word, going into the book for a crunching tackle on Summerfield.
A spectacular let-off for the Pilgrims followed when Goulding attacked a goal-bound Josh Low header only to divert it over the bar. It was a farcical miss, greeted by disgruntled murmurs from the home fans and ironic cheers from the Green Army.
From the resulting goal-kick, Griffiths won his side a corner and Argyle made Cheltenham pay for their earlier faux par.
Hourihane delivered a lovely ball to Sims, who unmarked, directed a header goalwards. On-loan Robins 'keeper Jack Butland looked to have dealt with it only to fumble it on to the foot of Steve Elliott and into the back of the net.
Sims celebrated like he had scored it and the Green Army celebrated like we had won the league.
Cheltenham then had the ball in the net five minutes before half-time but, embarrassingly for Sido Jombati, his initial throw was deemed to have been illegal and the play was brought back for an Argyle throw.
Meanwhile, the Pilgrims were buoyant and pushing forward in numbers in search of a second. Luke Young, making only his fourth senior start, came the closest, firing Curtis Nelson's lay-off just wide.
After the break, it was the Robins who looked to capitalize on the usual post half-time lull when Pack's free-kick on the edge of the area found it's way under the jumping wall, only to be saved by Cole at full stretch.
The home side were proving to be the dominant second-half side and had various efforts at goal deflected away by various body parts of the Argyle back line.
Having manfully punched away a Cheltenham corner, Cole went down heavily and after a few minutes, was replaced by Romain Larrieu leaving fitness coach Scott Russell and physio Paul Atkinson the only back-room staff on the bench.
Issac Vassell came on to replace Sims just a minute later and it almost reaped instant results when the Newquay youngster's pass found Hourihane for a stinging shot only just held by Butland.
Argyle were now back in the game and it was Vassell again causing problems when his perfectly-struck 20-yard strike was tipped on to the crossbar by the Robins 'keeper.
Back down the other end, Larrieu was forced to make a great save as substitute Russell Penn's strike, from a similar position to Vassell's, was tipped over the bar by the legendary 'keeper.
Eventually, though, the Robins' pressure told when Berry brought down Elliott in the box. A little scuffle broke out, for which both players received yellow cards, before Duffy stepped up to dispatch past Larrieu.
Four minutes before time, Griffiths received his marching orders for a late tackle on Luke Garbutt as the Pilgrims looked to hold on for a draw. It was not malicious, just mis-timed.
With the numerical advantage, Cheltenham really looked to turn the screw as they pumped ball after ball into the Argyle box.
The Pilgrims did manage one break, though, and Walton could have perhaps done better when he side-footed Young's neat little lay-off into the first defender.
Sadly, the Pilgrims could not hold out and deep into stoppage time, Cheltenham took the lead.
With a corner whipped in from the left-hand side, Duffy struck a lovely volley that was expertly saved by Larrieu, but, from the rebound, Duffy picked up the ball again and this time made no mistake, firing the ball into the bottom corner.
It was so tough on Argyle who had battled throughout the match against the odds.
At the final whistle, the near 1,300-strong contingent of the Green Army applauded their team off the pitch, clearly heartened by the brave, committed performance.
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): 13 Jack Butland; 22 Sido Jombati, 6 Steve Elliott, 15 Alan Bennett (capt), 19 Luke Garbutt; 8 Josh Low (16 Russell Penn 63), 25 Luke Summerfield (11 Brian Smikle 75), 7 Marlon Pack, 23 Kaid Mohamed (21 Bagsan Graham 63); 10 Jeff Goulding, 9 Daryl Duffy. Substitutes (not used): 1 Scott Brown, 2 Keith Lowe.
Booked: Elliott 83.
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Jake Cole (1 Romain Larrieu 69); 2 Durrell Berry, 6 Curtis Nelson, 19 Ben Gibson, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 15 Luke Young, 4 Carl Fletcher, 8 Simon Walton (capt), 20 Conor Hourihane; 22 Jamie Griffiths, 17 Jared Sims (24 Isaac Vassell 70). Substitutes (not used): 3 Robbie Williams, 13 Ladjie Soukouna, 18 Jordan Copp.
Sent-off: Griffiths 86.
Booked: Fletcher 23, Bhasera 73, Berry 82.
Referee: Jonathon Moss.
Attendance: 4026 (1,272 away).