Swindon Town 1
by CHRISTOPHER PARSONS
ARGYLE were denied a hard fought point at Swindon Town by substitute Alan Connell's 84th minute goal.
The striker, who had replaced Ronan Murray ten minutes after the break, fired Swindon one foot closer to npower League 1 in a tight game at the County Ground.
In the first-half, there was just one team in it with the league leaders dominating proceedings.
However, with the scores level at the break, the Pilgrims obviously felt they were still in it and rallied well.
But just as the Pilgrims looked like they may secure what would have been a credible draw, Connell struck to send the Pilgrims home empty handed.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher had opted to make two changes from the side that ground out victory against Aldershot five days previously.
The first inevitable change came between the sticks where the Jake Cole, now fully recovered from the groin injury that had kept him out on Easter Monday, replaced Romain Larrieu.
The next change came in midfield where Luke Young claimed his right midfield space back off Alex MacDonald who moved back into his native forward position at the expense of the injured Nick Chadwick.
Paolo Di Canio had originally made the solitary change to his team with winger Raffaele De Vita stepping in for Luke Rooney. But long after the teamsheets had been printed, the Swindon captain Alan McCormack was summoned to the local hospital for the birth of his first child.
Paul Caddis was drafted off the bench and into the starting line-up, whilst Lander Gabilondo filled his place among the substitutes.
Swindon had not lost at home since late August and quickly showed why they had soared to the top of the league when De Vita rattled the crossbar from a Lee Holmes cross as early as the sixth minute.
The home side continued to press as Holmes and Caddis pinged cross after cross into the Argyle area, forcing the visiting defence into hasty clearances that only invited more pressure.
Simon Ferry was the next to test the Pilgrims' backline when he skinned Robbie Williams, only to see his shot saved by Cole.
Argyle were desperately trying to find a way into the game and lofted several hopeful balls into the channel for both Feeney and MacDonald to chase. A few balls even made it into the box but just as the Pilgrims had done at the other end, the Robins' defence stood firm.
Five minutes before half-time, Argyle fashioned their best chance of the half when Simon Walton got a foot on Williams' out-swinging corner. The Pilgrims' captain made a connection but saw his half-volley blocked before it could reach the goal.
On the brink of the break, Warren Feeney became the first player the afternoon to go into the referee's book as he was punished for a late tackle on Caddis right in front of the Swindon bench.
Despite the home side's overall dominance, the score at half-time was level, again a testament to Carl Fletcher's 'hard-to-beat' mentality.
Argyle started the second-half brightly with Luke Young working hard to win a corner on the lefthand side. Paul Wotton whipped a dangerous ball in the box for Maxime Blanchard whose header was punched away by Wes Foderingham in the Swindon goal.
The Pilgrims were looking a lot more sharp on the attack and were creating some nice little openings, particularly down the right flank through Berry and Young.
Just after the hour mark, Fletcher opted for a change and sent Ashley Hemmings into the fray at the expense of MacDonald.
Hemmings' introduction almost made an immediate impact when we fired his first touch just wide of the lefthand post from Feeney's smart lay-off.
But Swindon were still looking potent and almost took the lead when substitute Rooney's shot was first blocked by Berry and then cleared off the line by Wotton.
With just over 15 minutes to go, Steve Fletcher was introduced in place of Feeney in the hope that the big man would hold things up and waste a bit of time.
But ten minutes later, Swindon took the lead when substitute Alan Connell turned well in the box to drive a shot past Cole.
It was tough on the Pilgrims who had matched their top-of-the-league opponents throughout the second-half.
Onismor Bhasera and Young both had chances to equalise during a four minute spell of injury time, but it just was not to be.
With the final whistle blown, attentions turned elsewhere. Luckily for Argyle, Macclesfield could only manage a draw against Crewe, meaning that with three games to go, the Pilgrims are seven points clear of relegation
Swindon Town (4-4-2): 35 Wes Foderingham; 7 Paul Caddis (capt), 4 Aden Flint, 5 Joe Devera, 2 James McEveley; 22 Lee Holmes, 8 Simon Ferry, 13 Oliver Risser (24 Jonathan Smith.74), 23 Raffaele De Vita (19 Luke Rooney 58); 9 Paul Benson, 34 Ronan Murray (17 Alan Connell 55). Substitutes (not used):15 Nathan Thompson, 21 Lander Gabilondo.
Booked: Flint 60, Cornell 74, McEveley 76
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse, 22 Maxime Blanchard, 3 Robbie Williams; 15 Luke Young, 8 Simon Walton (capt) (20 Conor Hourihane 88), 19 Paul Wotton, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 32 Alex MacDonald (31 Ashley Hemmings 63), 11 Warren Feeney (10 Steve Fletcher 73). Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu, 7 Luke Daley.
Booked: Feeney 45, Bhasera 59
Referee: Scott Mathieson.
Attendance: 10,422 (1238 away)