Rotherham United 1
ARGYLE suffered back to back defeats for the only time this revival season on their first visit to the New York Stadium, the unlikely-sounding new home of Rotherham United.
Substitute Kieran Agard netted the Millers’ second-half winner to give Steve Evans’ promotion fancies their sixth win from eight on their new turf in what was always going to be a most difficult match.
Argyle, though, damaged by injury and suspension to key players, again showed plenty to suggest that narrow defeats like these will become fewer and more far between under the canny stewardship of Carl Fletcher.
Disciplined in defence, creative and willing elsewhere, the work in progress under Fletcher might not have been productive on this off-day, but the underlying trend is firmly upward.
Compare and contrast exactly one year ago, the weekend Argyle dodged the first of last season’s two bullets when it came out of administration.
Fletcher had made three changes to the Pilgrims’ starting line-up which had begun the previous Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at Cheltenham, two of them forced.
Captain and defensive stalwart Darren Purse was obliged to miss the visit to South Yorkshire after limping away from Whaddon Road, while midfielder Conor Hourihane picked up a fifth yellow card of the season at the same venue to trigger a one-game suspension.
The Irish Under-21 international’s ban opened the way for Jamie Lowry to make his full Argyle debut following his summer move from nearby Chesterfield, while teenager Curtis Nelson came in for the skipper.
The third change was on the flank, where Paris Cowan-Hall was recalled, after his dead leg, in place of Joe Lennox.
Rotherham included former Pilgrim Kári Árnason in a starting line-up that saw left-back Josh Morris make his debut on loan from Blackburn.
The Millers were also forced into a very late change when Lionel Ainsworth went lame during the warm-up, with Gareth Evans stepping up from the bench.
Their game-plan was further disrupted in the opening minutes, when, after Andres Gurrieri had already fired just wide of the Millers’ goal, right-back Dale Tonge hobbled out of the action following a clash with Cowan-Hall.
Evans showed he was worthy of his promotion by producing a shot that kept Cole’s fingers warm on a day when the wind-chill at the New York saw temperatures enter the minus numbers.
Rotherham’s most potent weapon early on was Árnason’s familiar long throw-ins – still illegal, but still potentially lethal – and Frecklington picked up the loose from one bomb to again keep Cole honest.
The Argyle goalkeeper then denied Rotherham twice in a minute.
His best save of the afternoon saw him dive full length to tip Ben Pringle’s low shot around the post for a corner from which striker Alex Revell headed powerfully downwards towards goal.
Again, Cole was equal to the effort, palming the effort away.
After a lull, helped by Argyle not conceding throw-ins in Arnie range, the Greens again showed the defensive mettle when Luke Young chased back to brilliantly thwart Frecklington.
The chance presaged another chapter of home-side pressure. Revell broke through before shooting wide; skipper Max Blanchard blocked Evans’ shot; and Árnason also had a shot deflected.
The Icelander then had the ball in the net from Pringle’s corner but referee Darren Bond had whistled before the ball hit the net, signifying a push by Daniel Nardiello.
Argyle were not without their moments. Nelson, who seems to have developed a prodigious leap, headed wide before Alex MacDonald broke down the right and clipped in a cross which Madjo, on the stretch, headed wide.
There was still time for Rotherham to resume their trial by set-pieces of a Pilgrims’ defence which successfully reached the interval with their goal intact, at which point manager Fletcher turned on his heels for the dressing-room, exhaling from puffed out cheeks.
It had been that sort of half.
The second half began similarly to the first: Gurrieri firing wide before Evans finding himself with room for a shot which, this time, he spooned over.
There the similarities ended. The Argyle that started the second period was a different prospect tan the one that had ended the first.
They had apparently best form of defence was attack and, employing the swift pass-and-move style that has become their hallmark, the Barcelona of League 2 moved the Millers around to create the space into which their midfielders drove.
As if to further emphasise their non-reliance on the long ball, Fletcher sent on Warren Feeney for Madjo on the hour.
Clear-cut chances at either end were, however, rare occurrences, and it was not until midway through the half that Cole was obliged to go to ground to keep out Nardiello’s grubber from the left flank.
Nardiello then worked Scott Griffiths on the right side of the pitch before driving in a low cross that was deflected into the net with Agard claiming the crucial touch. None too convincingly, it has to be said.
With the wind in their sails, and Argyle’s zest having dissipated a little with the withdrawal of Gurrieri and the game Lowry, Rotherham eased their way to the final whistle.
Rotherham United (4-4-2): 21 Andy Warrington; 2 Dale Tonge (14 Mark Bradley 4), 5 Ian Sharps (capt), 20 Craig Morgan, 23 Josh Morris; 11 Gareth Evans (22 Kieran Agard 62), 27 Lee Frecklington, 4 Kari Arnason, 15 Ben Pringle; 17 Daniel Nardiello (16 Kayode Odejayi 87), 9 Alex Revell. Substitutes (not used): 8 Jason Taylor, 10 Michael O'Connor, 30 Tony Thompson (gk).
Booked: Evans 22, Odejayi 90.
Argyle (4-5-1): 1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 17 Curtis Nelson, 4 Max Blanchard (capt), 33 S Griffiths; 32 Alex MacDonald, 8 Luke Young, 27 Andres Gurrieri (9 Nick Chadwick 72), 16 Jamie Lowry (14 Onismor Bhasera 79), 7 Paris Cowan-Hall; 18 Guy Madjo (11 Warren Feeney 59). Substitutes (not used): 10 Rhys Griffiths, 19 Joe Lennox, 20 Rene Gilmartin (gk), 23 Jamie Richards.
Booked: MacDonald 52, Lowry 71.
Referee: Darren Bond.
Attendance: 6,938 (633 away).