Bristol Rovers 1
by RICK COWDERY
ARGYLE's love affair with the French may have found a new heart-throb after defender Maxime Blanchard stole a point with a late equaliser to earn the Pilgrims another point in their mission to stay in the Football League.
The Pilgrims' search for their first back-to-back win since last April - and, with it, some relief from their relegation troubles - was, however, thwarted by Matt Harrold.
The Rovers striker, who had already scored twice against the Pilgrims this year, nodded home a 14th-minute corner by Pirate captain Matt Gill to give his team a lead which, for a long time looked like being decisive.
Despite the Argyle fightback, and although results elsewhere mean there is still plenty to fight for, with eight npower League 2 games to go, Argyle are not yet in a position where they want to be.
One way or another, it is going to be an uncomfortable seven weeks for those with the Pilgrims; well-being in their heart.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher had made three changes from the side which beat Shrewsbury 1-0 four days earlier, two of them enforced by injuries, to midfielder Paul Wotton - the goalscorer against the Shrews - and to forward Nick Chadwick.
Their replacements during the game, Conor Hourihane and Alex MacDonald, were a seamless shoo-in.
Juvhel Tsoumou, the third substitute against Shrewsbury, was also given a start, in place of Warren Feeney, meaning that the Pilgrims started this match with the team that had ended the previous one.
Rovers, who had also enjoyed a 1-0 win the previous weekend - at home to Wimbledon - were unchanged, both among the starting XI and on the substitutes' bench.
Two former Pilgrims of different vintages appeared in the Pirates' team - left-back Jim Paterson and forward Chris Zebroski. Another, Gary Sawyer, was absent with a hamstring problem.
Rovers were given the benefit of a huge doubt early in the proceedings when their goalkeeper Scott Bevan rushed out to deal with a through-ball played into the path of MacDonald.
Bevan's momentum took him outside his penalty area and he fell on the ball. Argyle protests suggested that, in doing so, he handled, but referee Mark Haywood decided otherwise and Rovers, who had not named a goalkeeper among their substitutes, survived the crisis.
Suitably let off, Rovers made the most of things and, after a period of ratcheting up the pressure, took the lead a little too easily.
A simple left-wing corner into the danger area from Gill was headed powerfully home by Harrold, who took full advantage of the luxuriant amount of time and space afforded him.
Argyle came close to replying in similar kind when Robbie Williams' cross found the head of Maxime Blanchard, who sent the ball crashing against the underside of the crossbar and saw it bounce down the safe side of the line.
Heartened, the Pilgrims cranked things up, and MacDonald saw a well-placed low free-kick turned away by Bevan before the same player failed to test the goalkeeper when Joe Lennox bumbled his way through the centre of the Rovers' defence.
Tsoumou then joined the party with a speculative 30-yard shot on the angle that Bevan was never entirely convinced was going over.
A long period of Argyle dominance of possession and territory was ended with another simple Rovers' move that saw Harrold enjoy another free header, this time from a cross by former Torquay attacker Mustapha Carayol.
Fortunately for the Pilgrims, although the ball bounced wide of wrong-footed goalkeeper Jake Cole, it also passed wide of the post, and Argyle went into the break just the one goal in arrears.
They emerged for the second half with Luke Young on as a substitute for Lennox, and the teenage Plymothian was soon to the fore, firing in a right-foot shot that was deflected wide.
It was Young who created Argyle's next opening, linking well with MacDonald, who showed the Rovers' defence a clean pair of heels before firing in a medium-range shot which was only just off target.
Despite playing largely on the back foot, Rovers always possessed a latent threat and came close to doubling their lead through Carayol, whose grubber was denied only by the fingertips of Cole's outstretched arm.
Ashley Hemmings replaced Onismor Bhasera just after the hour in an overtly attacking move by Fletcher,a nd it spurred Argyle to mount an attack which ended with Simon Walton shooting wide.
As the Pilgrims' efforts became more urgent, so their opportunities increased, and Young's deep ball into the area fell for MacDonald, who could not get enough power on his shot to trouble Bevan unduly.
Bevan then saved an on-target effort from Hourihane before Carayol wasted an opportunity to sew up the points when, after doing all the hard work, he smashed the ball over Cole's crossbar.
Just as they seemed to be running out of ideas, Young slung the ball into the box and when it eventually came to earth, Blanchard blasted the loose past Bevan.
How Argyle would have loved to add to Blanchard's strike, and they continued to seek what would have been a massive morale-boosting winner.
In the end, they needed Durrell Berry's coolness in front of their own goal to make a clearance as Rovers threatened to take all three points.
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse, 22 Maxime Blanchard, 3 Robbie Williams; 21 Joe Lennox (15 Luke Young half-time), 8 Simon Walton (capt), 20 Conor Hourihane, 14 Onismor Bhasera (31 Ashley Hemmings 62) ; 32 Alex MacDonald, 9 Juvhel Tsoumou. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 11 Warren Feeney, 28 Luke Bignot.
Booked: Walton 52.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): 1 Scott Bevan; 4 Danny Woodards, 5 Cian Bolger, 37 Tom Parkes, 17 Jim Paterson; 14 Lee Brown (2 Michael Smith 54), 8 Matt Gill (capt), 6 Craig Stanley, 11 Mustapha Carayol (34 Andy Dorman 88); 26 Chris Zebroski, 9 Matt Harrold. Substitutes (not used): 16 Joe Anyinsah, 18 Eliot Richards, 23 Matthew Lund.
Booked: Zebroski 32.
Referee: Mark Haywood.
Attendance: 7,531 (543 away).