Cheltenham Town 2
by CHRIS PARSONS
THE uninitiated will look on the Pilgrims’ defeat to promotion chasing Cheltenham as one that was expected; one that went the way of the form book – play-off chasers overcome mid-table oppotision.
But the 670 Argyle fans at the Abbey Business Stadium on this crisp autumnal night, and perhaps some of the remaining 2,388 if they are perfectly honest, will know that it was anything but.
Argyle matched their opponents with every stride. They were just as hungry, just as wanting, just as talented but somehow, could not find a way to take a share of the spoils from their high-flying hosts.
Having taken the lead through Conor Hourihane’s 20 yard drive, the Pilgrims were pegged back almost immediately when a well worked corner routine allowed Steve Elliott to equalise.
But, in the second half, Argyle dominated. They were the first to every ball and spent most of the half camped in the Cheltenham area, desperately looking for the break.
Then, with just 12 minutes remaining, the home side brought out their training ground routine again and it was Kaid Mohamed who punished the Pilgrims, heading home to steal all three points.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher was forced into just one change from the side that had comfortably washed away Rochdale the previous Saturday.
Paris Cowan-Hall, who had been forced off with a knock just a few minutes into the second half in that game at Home Park, was replaced by Joe Lennox, making his second league start of the season having won the penalty that had sealed the game four days previously.
The hosts, beaten 3-1 at Bradford City in their last outing, opted for not only two changes, but a switch in formation with Alan Bennett and Shaun Harrad replacing Keith Lowe and Kaid Mohamed respectively to match their visitors toe-to-toe in a 4-5-1.
Cheltenham started the match from the heady height of fourth position in npower League 2 and showed their determination to bounce back from their little blip in Yorkshire as early as the second minute when a long goal-kick by Scott Brown found Chris Zebroski on the edge of the Argyle area.
The former Argyle apprentice, who has scored twice for the Robins since arriving from Bristol Rovers in the summer, controlled the ball well on his chest before rifling a fierce half-volley towards goal that Jake Cole, a yard of so off his line, saved at full stretch.
Then, just a few minutes later, it was Jermaine McGlashan troubling the visiting defence, swiping Sido Jomati’s well-worked cut-back in to the side-netting.
In fact, it took until the 20 minute mark for Argyle to carve out their first opportunity when a slick, cross-field passing movement led to Luke Young thundering a smart Guy Madjo knockdown over the bar from the edge of the box.
It was from the flanks that Argyle had looked dangerous in recent weeks and Cheltenham, having clearly done their homework, set about restricting how much work Alex MacDonald on the right, and Lennox on the left, could do.
After 25 minutes, the two wide men swapped wings but before they could set about their new defending opponents, Zebroski went close for the Robins again, this time dragging his shot from just inside the area wide.
From the resultant goal-kick, the ball found its way to Lennox, who, from the corner of the area, fed the on-rushing Young whose shot drifted just wide of Brown’s righthand post.
Zebroski and Cole looked to be having their own personal battle and the Cheltenham striker again tested the Pilgrims’ ‘keeper, this time from a Billy Jones corner, but, as always, Cole was on hand to deny him, saving low to his right.
Most of Argyle’s chances had come from long range efforts and it was from one of these that the Pilgrims took the lead after half an hour.
Hourihane was the Pilgrims’ scorer but it was Andes Gurrieri who had shaped the opening, beating his marker on the right before letting loose with an effort from the corner of the box.
Cheltenham, with several men behind the ball, defended it well but as the ball came out to the edge of the box, via a deft deflection off the back side of the referee, it fell to Hourihane, who took a touch, looked up, and then despatched his drive across Brown and into the back of the net.
Sadly, though, the Pilgrims’ lead was not to last and seven minutes later, Cheltenham were level, as Elliott rose highest to head home Jones’ free-kick from the edge of the box.
Straight from the restart, Argyle nearly retook the lead when an uncharacteristic run through the middle from Darren Purse sparked an attack which nearly saw the Pilgrims’ captain slot home his side’s second goal of the night.
Having found more space than he expected in the middle of the park, Purse just ran and ran with it from midway inside his own half before feeding MacDonald on the left as he approached the opposition area. MacDonald then instinctively launched a low, curling cross across the box which Purse, in a Gascoigne-at-Euro-96-type moment, just failed to make contact with as he slide in at the back post.
As the game approached the break, it was Argyle who were looking like the stronger side and, on the stroke of half-time, could have perhaps gone in ahead had Brown not been alert enough to stop Hourihane’s effort, sourced from a nice one-two with Madjo.
The beginning of the second-half began just as the first had finished and it took just three minutes for the first talking point to materialise when Madjo, reacting first to Lennox’s lovely low cross, looked to have been bundled over on the edge of the six yard box.
Referee Stephen Martin paused, had a quick think and then waved away the many Pilgrims’ protests.
They had another shout just a few seconds later when Purse looked to have been pushed whilst trying to attack a MacDonald corner from the left but again Martin decided that there would be no penalty.
Cheltenham made an attacking double substitution just shy of the hour mark but before either replacement could prove effective, it was Argyle on the attack with Gurrieri again weaving his magic, this time on the left flank to provide a pull-back that Lennox just failed to make contact with.
Then, just a few minutes later, he proved the main man again, this time by threading in MacDonald, only for the Scotsman to miscue his shot.
The Argentinean was on fire and having seen two of his team mates spurn his most recent gift-wrapped passes, opted to have a strike himself and would have scored had it not been for Brown’s excellent reaction save.
But despite all of the Pilgrims’ promise, it was Cheltenham who took the lead with 12 minutes remaining, when, against the run of play, Jones made the Robins corner routine work again, delivering a peach of a ball for substitute Mohamed to nod Jones’ past Cole.
Inevitably, Cheltenham’s goal was followed by a glut of home pressure in which Zebroski again fluffed his lines, diverting a weak lob goalwards that Maxime Blanchard was able to hook clear.
But with five minutes remaining, it was Argyle who were asking all of the questions and when Young’s free-kick from 25 yards came bouncing back off the post, MacDonald came within a whisker of stealing a share of the spoils only to see his rushed header float just over the bar.
Jamie Lowry then replaced Young late on for his Argyle debut but he barely had a touch before the referee blew time on a gut wrenching match for the Pilgrims.
Cheltenham Town (4-5-1): 1 Scott Brown; 22 Sido Jombati, 15 Alan Bennett (capt), 6 Steve Elliott, 3 Billy Jones; 11 Jermaine McGlashan (8 Sam Deering 79), 7 Marlon Pack, 16 Russell Penn, 4 Darren Carter (23 Kaid Mohamed 56), 26 Chris Zebroski; 14 Shaun Harrad (9 Darryl Duffy 57). Substitutes (not used): 2 Keith Lowe, 10 Jeff Goulding, 12 Connor Roberts (gk), 21 Bagasan Graham.
Booked: Jombati 62, Penn 87.
Argyle (4-5-1): 1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse (capt), 4 Maxime Blanchard, 33 Scott Griffiths; 32 Alex MacDonald, 6 Conor Hourihane, 27 Andres Gurrieri, 8 Luke Young (16 Jamie Lowry 89), 19 Joe Lennox (14 Onismor Bhasera 70); 18 Guy Madjo (9 Nick Chadwick 83). Substitutes (not used): 11 Warren Feeney, 17 Curtis Nelson, 20 Rene Gilmartin (gk), 22 Jared Sims.
Booked: Hourihane 38
Referee: Stephen Martin
Attendance: 3,058 (670 away)