Madjo pen 4, pen 90, Gurrieri 7
by RICK COWDERY
FORTRESS Argyle, the Brigadoon of all Argyle fans, might just not be a mirage much longer.
A second successive home victory, and third in all on the bounce, against highly-rated opponents lifted the Pilgrims up the npower league 2 table. Bringing on back the good times, indeed.
Early goals by Guy Madjo, from the penalty spot, and Andres Gurrieri put the Pilgrims in control of the game which started dramatically and increased in intensity as it went on.
Dale were denied by Jake Cole’s 55th-minute penalty save of Bobby Grant’s kick before they pulled a goal back when Dele Adebola profited from a controversial free-kick award to net with a close-range header.
As tempers and defending became increasingly fraught, Madjo put the three points beyond doubt with his second penalty of the game.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher had been unable to include pivotal forward Rhys Griffiths, because of injury, which meant that Madjo retained his place in the side that had started the previous week’s 4-1 thrashing of Barnet.
Gurrieri was drafted in for a start after his successful half-time introduction at Underhill as the Pilgrims’ line-up replicated the 4-5-1 shape that stung the Bees and which Rochdale have utilised to good effect this season.
There was no place in the Argyle squad for midfielder Onismor Bhasera, after his African Cup of Nations exploits with Zimbabwe, but striker Warren Feeney made a return from injury on the substitutes’ bench, alongside the likewise recuperating Jamie Lowry.
Rochdale manager John Coleman dropped former Pilgrim George Donnelly to the bench, along with Joseph Rafferty, and recalled Bobby Grant, after a three-match suspension, and Jason Kennedy.
Argyle started with a confidence that the players had talked about in the wake of the victory at Barnet, and, as they had been in North London, were again lightning quick off the mark.
There were other uncanny echoes of Underhill.
The opening goal came inside the first five from a penalty, the type of which football folk these days have a tendency to describe as ‘soft’, before Rochdale had ventured out of their own half.
It was awarded against Ryan Edwards, who handled Scott Griffiths’ low cross after Gurrieri had manufactured space for the on-loan left-back.
The Dale players complained that Edwards had slipped and was, therefore, not responsible for his misdemeanour, but referee Gary Sutton – who had initially played an advantage that did not pan out – was adamant and Madjo dispatched the gift.
Just as week earlier, too, the Pilgrims went further ahead within minutes of their opener, again from a header.
This time, Gurrieri was on the end of the move, rather than at the beginning, rising eight yards out to powerfully direct Alex MacDonald’s cross down and away from goalkeeper Josh Lillis.
Two-nil up after seven minutes at home is, of course, the ultimate ‘what-could-possibly-go-wrong-from-here?’ situation and Argyle sought a nerve-settling third.
Twice, they were denied by some fine goalkeeping by Lillis.
First, he blocked Madjo’s bullet header after Cowan-Hall had hung up a delightful cross to the far post; then, he got down well to keep out Alex MacDonald’s dipping drive.
Although the Pilgrims were asking most of the questions, Rochdale worked a toe-hold in the game and Ashley Grimes gave the Greens a little nudge when he worked his way into a shooting position, only to be denied by Jake Cole.
Mainly, though, the traffic was headed towards the Devonport end, as Argyle continued to look bright, breezy and inventive.
The influential Gurrieri forced Lillis into another goal-denying sprawl, with Cowan-Hall’s follow-up to the rebounded shot being deflected for a corner.
The visitors proved more of a match as the first half progressed and came close to reducing the deficit when Dele Adebola sent a looping header across the face of Cole’s goal, with the ball dropping only just wide of the post.
Argyle made a change early in the second half, with Cowan-Hall limping off to be replaced by Joe Lennox, and, this time, it was Rochdale who started better.
They were given a massive break by Sutton, who awarded them an even softer – and, frankly, baffling – penalty when Jason Kennedy appeared to fall over Max Blanchard’s head after Frenchman headed the ball.
Whatever. Cole, who has already confessed this season that he relishes facing penalties, outsmarted Grant to keep out his low 55th-minute attempt.
Like a heavyweight slugger who does not know when he’s beaten, Dale kept coming at the Pilgrims and no little defensive mettle was required.
There were the occasional breakouts which threatened to lead to something, with Luke Young and Conor Hourihane both trying their luck from distance, and MacDonald having a shot blocked after some Madjo muscle.
Dale increased their attacking options by bringing on Donnelly and youth-team striker Joel Logan, who showed a more than decent turn of pace.
It was Logan who won the highly dubious 76th-minute free-kick from which Dale clawed their way back into the game.
Evidence of what Carl Fletcher thought of Sutton’s decision can be gauged by how far he kicked a water bottle down the touchline after Adebola headed home Andrew Tutte’s delivery.
The goal produced an inevitably tense ending to a game which was never for the faint-hearted and grew in fierceness as the final whistle loomed.
Sutton completed a hat-trick of arguable penalty awards in injury-time when Ryan Edwards brought down, the loosest sense of the phrase, Lennox, and Madjo did the necessary.
1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse (capt), 4 Maxime Blanchard, 33 Scott Griffiths; 32 Alex MacDonald, 8 Luke Young, 27 Andres Gurrieri (17 Curtis Nelson 90), 6 Conor Hourihane, 7 Paris Cowan-Hall (19 Joe Lennox 48); 18 Guy Madjo. Substitutes (not used):
9 Nick Chadwick, 11 Warren Feeney, 16 Jamie Lowry, 20 Rene Gilmartin (gk), 22 Jared Sims.
Griffiths 30, Hourihane 87, MacDonald 89.
1 Josh Lillis; 12 Phil Edwards, 5 Ryan Edwards, 3 Rhys Bennett, 14 Kevin McIntyre; 22 Bobby Grant, 8 Andrew Tutte, 4 Peter Cavanagh (capt, 26 Joel Logan 69), 7 Jason Kennedy, 11 Ashley Grimes (9 George Donnelly 69); 15 Dele Adebola. Substitutes (not used)
: 2 Joseph Rafferty, 6 Brian Barry-Murphy, 19 Matty Pearson, 23 Ian Craney , 31 Ben Smith (gk).
P Edwards 85.
6,261 (111 away).