Bradford City 0
by RICK COWDERY
JUVHEL Tsoumou's first goal for Argyle could prove the most vital of the Pilgrims' season. No, make that the Pilgrims' 125-year history.
The on-loan Preston striker sumptuously headed home Paul Wotton's perfectly-placed free-kick in the fourth minute of the match to win all three points for the Pilgrims.
The next 91 minutes were nothing less than sheer agony, but an agony which ended so sweetly when referee Andy D'Urso signaled a victory which puts Argyle four points above the relegation places.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher's team selection had suggested that he did not want to die wondering.
Reverting to a 4-4-2 from the defensive formation that had eked out a 0-0 draw at Northampton a week earlier, he started with an attacker on each of the flanks - Alex MacDonald and Ashley Hemmings - in support of central forwards Tsoumou and the recalled Nick Chadwick.
Hemmings started his first match since the home defeat by Gillingham at beginning of March, while Chadwick had been substitute for the previous two games.
The two unfortunate midfielders to make way were internationals Onismor Bhasera and Conor Hourihane.
Bradford manager Phil Parkinson was obliged to make changes following the sending-off of three of his players in the aftermath of their 2-1 home defeat by Crawley four days earlier.
Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin and both centre-backs - Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver - received red cards and suspensions of varying lengths.
In addition, Parkinson was without the injured Matt Fry, and elected to bench leading scorer James Hanson and tricky winger Kyel Reid, who had a slight back problem, meaning the City starting line-up showed six changes from that which had kicked off in midweek.
Matt Duke, who had kept a clean sheet against Argyle for Northampton the previous weekend, took over in goal, having been recalled from Sixfields, while ex-Argyle loan player Guy Branston was called into the heart of the defence after six months in the wilderness, alongside Lee Bullock, normally a midfielder.
Simon Ramsden replaced Fry at full-back, while Michael Flynn, Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones came into a midfield in which only David Syers kept his place.
A combination of Argyle's positivity and Bradford's unfamiliarity with each other probably both had a part to play in the Pilgrims' opener which came from their first meaningful attack of the game.
Chadwick won a free-kick on the right flank, midway into the City half, which Wotton whipped into the area. Tsoumou, blissfully free of attention, rose to plant a header powerfully and deliberately past Duke.
It was so nearly 2-0 soon afterwards from another free-kick, central to goal, 25 yards out. This time Robbie Williams fired in a low shot which beat the wall and Duke, but hit a post.
The ball rebounded and hit a still sprawling Duke on the back of the head, and bounced behind him for a corner.
The Pilgrims were given a reminder that Bradford are also prepared to scrap for their Football League life when a sweet move down the Argyle right ended with Ravenhill scooping a shot across the goal that clipped the post on its way out.
Further evidence was provided by Flynn who, after another patient build-up, drilled in a drive that Argyle custodian Jake Cole, at full stretch, was relieved to see travel just the wrong side of his right-hand post. How close was it? Well, it hit the wooden stanchion behind the goal.
Argyle were largely on the back foot at this stage and attacked only sporadically - to the evident frustration of the anxious home support - but looked threatening when they did and Tsoumou brought a good save out of Duke.
Bradford's expected threat from set-pieces reared its head again when Syers rose at the far post to head a corner goalwards, and only Durrell Berry's cool headed goal-line clearance prevented an equaliser.
The Pilgrims could have done with a second before the break, to settle the nerves of players and supporters alike, and one nearly arrived when Hemmings broke free of his double-team markers and crossed to the far post.
MacDonald headed the ball back across goal, but it just would not come down quickly enough for Chadwick to get a clean strike on the ball and Duke scooped it up.
Bradford began the second half with Reid having replaced Ravenhill, who had spent the last few minutes of the first half limping after colliding with Tsoumou.
Argyle were quickly out of the blocks for the second 45 and immediately looked creative down Hemmings' flank.
The Wolves wingman again found MacDonald at the far post but the cushioned header fell behind Tsoumou, who was thus unable to divert the ball goalwards despite an acrobatic attempt.
The game was dramatically more open than it had been in the first half and Argyle were the main beneficiaries of the commitment of both sides.
A sustained attack ended with Chadwick, who had earlier been denied by a fairly desperate block, shooting just wide.
Bradford's response to the pressure was to bring on target-man Hanson for defender Ramsden, and it was not long before the substitute was denied twice in a minute by former Leeds man Walton, whose stated lack of love for the opposition would have made the clearances even sweeter.
The cannot-take-your-eyes-off-it nature of the game continued, with Steve Fletcher making his Pilgrims' debut from the substitutes' bench before MacDonald shot wide after cutting in from the flank.
MacDonald's trickiness won another free-kick in a useful position, courtesy of Bullock's lunge, but Wotton's drive around the defensive wall caused Duke little concern.
Bradford continued to chase a dividend and came close when Hanson diverted a corner goalwards only for the ball to be blocked on its way to goal by what could even have been a team-mate.
Final agonies would have been spared had not Duke made two fine stops after good work by Berry down the right, first punching out Fletcher's header, and then tipping Wotton's goalbound drive away for a corner.
Bradford survived - just - another Wotton free-kick, and Argyle were given a reprieve after substitute Nahki Wells was flagged offside after he had slammed a deflected Jones shot home.
Cole then came to the party with two brilliant saves, first from Branston's point-blank header and then from Bullock's goalward flick.
Five minutes of injury-time was a prescription for agony, and the call to arms for the Pilgrims' defence in which Fletcher played a pivotal role.
And so to Hereford.
If the heart can stand it.
Argyle (4-4-2):23 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse, 22 Maxime Blanchard, 3 Robbie Williams; 32 Alex MacDonald, 19 Paul Wotton, 8 Simon Walton (capt), 31 Ashley Hemmings (14 Onismor Bhasera 79); 9 Juvhel Tsoumou, 29 Nick Chadwick (10 Steve Fletcher 66). Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 11 Warren Feeney, 20 Conor Hourihane.
Bookings:Wotton 63, MacDonald 76, Tsoumou 89.
Bradford City(4-4-2): 34 Matt Duke; 2 Simon Ramsden (9 James Hanson 57), 5 Guy Branston, 22 Lee Bullock, 24 Rob Kozluk (21 Nahki Wells 78); 23 David Syers, 14 Ricky Ravenhill (32 Kyel Reid half-time), 8 Ritchie Jones, 4 Michael Flynn (capt); 17 Chris Dagnall, 39 Craig Fagan. Substitutes (not used): 11 Dean Smalley, 15 James Annerson (gk).
Attendance:6,933 (311 away).