by CHRIS PARSONS
ARGYLE produced an impressive and assured display to spoil Barnet’s party at a full-to-capacity Underhill.
The hosts, who unveiled former Ajax, Inter Milan and Barcelona midfielder Edgar Davids before the kick-off, were on the back-foot from the off when Rhys Griffiths netted his third goal of the season from the penalty spot after just two minutes.
The Pilgrims were relentless and were two ahead soon after when Maxime Blanchard, cleared to play after recovering from concussion, thundered home a header from an Alex MacDonald corner.
Although Barnet pulled one back through defender David Stephens, they never looked like scoring the equaliser, and after the break, Paris Cowan-Hall headed Argyle further in front from another MacDonald set piece.
Deep into stoppage time, Luke Young put the cherry on the cake, curling home a delightful free-kick from 25 yards.
Following the 2-1 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory over Aldershot on Tuesday night, the result marked the first back-to-back wins of Carl Fletcher’s managerial career and who could deny it of him?
His side were comfortable in possession, had very few moments of weakness and were clinical.
It was truly a vintage Argyle performance.
Despite the midweek cup victory, Fletcher made six changes to his starting line-up.
Firstly, Jake Cole, returning to his former club, took the gloves from Rene Gilmartin, whilst the centre-half pairing of Darren Purse and Blanchard was preferred to that of Jamie Richards and Curtis Nelson.
Having signed loan extensions in the week leading up to the game, both MacDonald and Guy Madjo were recalled, with Macca stepping in for Joe Lennox and Guy for Nick Chadwick.
The last change came in attack where Welsh striker Rhys Griffiths was recalled at the expense of Andres Gurrieri.
All six casualties lined-up on the Pilgrims’ bench and were joined by Jamie Lowry, involved in his first competitive Argyle squad having recovered from an ankle ligament injury that had ruled him out of any action so far this year.
Barnet, meanwhile, had made just one change from their JPT defeat to Leyton Orient with former Dutch international Collins John selected to make his debut for the club.
There was also a new face on the home bench, as Davids took his place in the technical area for his first game since being appointed joint head coach of the Bees on Thursday.
With Barnet sitting at the bottom of the Football League, the Pilgrims understandably looked to get at their hosts early on in the match , and playing down the famous Underhill slope, took the lead after just two minutes in somewhat controversial circumstances.
When Paris Cowan-Hall cut back a deft pass to the edge of the area for incoming Young, it looked as though Bees defender Mark Byrne had made a strong, but fair, tackle to deny the midfielder a shot.
But, without appeal from the visiting players, referee Fred Graham pointed to the spot, and after several minutes remonstration from the Barnet defence, Rhys Griffiths stepped up to stroke the spot-kick past former Argyle goalkeeper Graham Stack.
Just nine minutes later, Argyle had doubled their lead, with Young again instrumental in the build up, pinging a delightful cross-field pass to find the run of Durrell Berry.
Berry, using experience beyond his years, won a corner off Jordan Brown and MacDonald delivered an exquisite ball into the box for Blanchard to divert into the top corner.
It was a magnificent finish from the French defender, who rose well to power his headed home.
Things got worse for Barnet just a few minutes later when debutant John was forced off with an injury.
But their worries did not last long, and just seconds after the Dutchman had been replaced by John Oster, Barnet pulled a goal back when Stephens reacted first to Darren Purse’s goal line clearance to half the deficit from the edge of the box.
Following their goal, Barnet had a spell of pressure and committed more and more players forward in search of an equaliser.
The trouble was, when they lost possession, they left themselves susceptible to the counter-attack and were lucky not to go further behind when Madjo diverted a Cowan-Hall cross just wide.
But it was from set-pieces that Argyle looked the most dangerous as Young headed over from a corner before Rhys Griffiths’ shot from a MacDonald free-kick was caught by Stack.
After the break, Fletcher opted for a change and, just as he had done to great effect on Tuesday, deployed Gurrieri, behind front man Rhys Griffiths, in place of Guy Madjo.
But before the Argentinean could get his first touch, Griffiths had a great chance to score, pouncing on a poor back-pass to round the sprawled Stack. Sadly, though, the angle of his run took him to an impossible angle and, in the end, could only guide his shot into the side-netting.
But Gurrieri did have a chance just a few minutes later, when, after a nice passing move, he unleashed a thunderous effort toward the Barnet goal that was kept out by an outstanding reactionary save from Stack.
Argyle had been a threat from free-kicks all game and when Griffiths went down under challenge from Barry Fuller on the corner of the area, the Pilgrims made Barnet pay when another textbook delivery from MacDonald found Cowan-Hall to head over Stack and into the net.
Now with a two goal cushion, the Pilgrims were playing well, keeping the ball with assurances and ease.
But they still had to be on their guard when, with 15 minutes remaining, Blanchard was forced to clear a strong Krystian Pearce header off his own goal line.
Pearce’s effort was to be the last of Barnet’s faint resistance and just moments later, substitute Lennox was unlucky denied at the other end by a last ditch challenge from Stephens.
But, two minutes into injury time, Young put the game to bed, curling in a free-kick with ease and aplomb to cap a man-of-the-match performance.
Barnet (4-4-2): 29 Graham Stack; 2 Barry Fuller (capt), 32 Krystian Pearce, 30 David Stephens, 3 Jordan Brown; 11 Ricky Holmes (25 Jamal Lowe 80), 8 Mark Byrne, 4 Clovis Kamdjo, 15 Andy Yiadom (17 Anthony Edgar 72); 19 Jake Hyde, 36 Collins John (31 John Oster 15). Substitutes (not used): 1 Liam O'Brien (gk), 7 Oliver Lee, 10 Jon Nurse, 26 Elliott Johnson.
Booked: Byrne 2, Stephens 56
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse (capt), 4 Maxime Blanchard, 33 Scott Griffiths; 32 Alex MacDonald (19 Joe Lennox 72), 6 Conor Hourihane, 8 Luke Young, 7 Paris Cowan-Hall; 10 Rhys Griffiths (9 Nick Chadwick 83), 18 Guy Madjo (27 Andres Gurrieri h-t). Substitutes (not used): 16 Jamie Lowry, 17 Curtis Nelson, 20 Rene Gilmartin, 23 Jamie Richards.
Booked: Hourihane 21, MacDonald 57
Referee: Fred Graham.
Attendance: 3,229 (1053 away)