Fleetwood Town 3
Ball 2, Nelson og 83, Brown 90
by RICK COWDERY
IN recent weeks, Argyle have played well against, and arguably deserved more from contests with, npower League 2 promotion contenders Cheltenham, Gillingham and, now, Fleetwood.
However, a tendency that must be frustrating for manager Carl Fletcher to concede soft goals is apparently costing them points, and not providing an accurate reflection of their efforts and ability.
Indecisive defending after just 90 seconds of their first-ever long-haul to the Flyde coast made the Pilgrims’ task of trying to get something out of the already difficult first leg of their cross-Pennine double-header so much harder.
In that time, David Ball nipped in to score the goal which effectively condemned Argyle to a sixth successive game without a win, a streak which does not fully reflect the efforts of everyone at Home Park.
A second strike with ten minutes to go, when Curtis Nelson unluckily turned the ball into his own net, came as the afternoon increasingly soured for the Pilgrims.
A third, five minutes into injury time by Junior Brown, was simply cruel.
By that time, captain Darren Purse had been sent off for an off-the-ball incident, apparently unseen by referee David Webb.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher had made one change to the starting line-up that pushed league leaders Gillingham all the way in a 2-2 draw at Home Park seven days earlier.
Up front, Nick Chadwick was recalled to partner Warren Feeney in front of two banks of four.
Chadwick, who was omitted from the Argyle squad altogether at Dorchester a fortnight previously, was given the nod ahead of the injured Rhys Griffiths and Guy Madjo, who had been under the weather during the week.
Irishman Rene Gilmartin was retained in goal, getting a first taste of league action away from Home Park with the Pilgrims, while central defender Nelson kept out-of-sorts player of the season Max Blanchard on a strong-looking bench.
Among the opposition replacements was former Pilgrim Damien Johnson, who turned down a contract extension with Championship Huddersfield to sign for Fleetwood - which tells you plenty about the league new boys’ pulling power.
As did the presence in their midfield of former Scotland international Barry Ferguson, or ‘Barry Ferguson MBE’ as the team-sheet gloriously had it.
Another one of their big signings, Jon Parkin, was injured, so Blackpool loan player Tom Barkhuizen, who scored twice against the Pilgrims last season in each of Argyle’s matches with Hereford, was called in to beef up the home side’s attacking options.
Another of those options was one which Argyle have sometimes looked vulnerable against this season, the long throw, and it again proved their undoing in only the second minute.
The defence failed to deal with Barkhuizen’s bomb from their left and Ball, who would make anyone’s starting 11 of appropriately-named footballers, finished off some penalty-area pinball by deflecting his namesake past the exposed Gilmartin from inside six yards.
The Pilgrims’ fragility showed itself again after ten further relatively pressure-free minutes, when Ball played in Barkhuizen for a shot that seemed destined to benefit from another deflection that again wrong-footed Gilmartin.
However, Durrell Berry swept up and cleared the ball from the goal-line.
Berry’s defensive stoicism was matched by some equally ‘they-shall-not-pass’ tackling and blocking from Purse, erroneously announced pre-match as ‘Daniel’ Purse.
The skipper’s appetite for the fray was matched all over the field, with some tasty challenges being delivered by both sides. Chadwick’s personal battle with the gargantuan Steve McNulty twice required Webb to make the peace.
From the wreckage emerged a couple of decent Argyle chances: Chadwick headed a corner just wide, while Paris Cowan-Hall came in off his right-wing to sting the hands of Fleetwood goalkeeper Scott Davies with a low drive.
If fact, with a similar attempt by the same player being saved, it was the Pilgrims’ best weapon of a half in which they grew in both confidence and threat as it progressed.
That was further illustrated just before half-time, when Jamie Lowry won a free-kick which Luke Young managed to work around the defensive wall only for Davies to again prove equal to the decent effort.
Fleetwood made a start to the second period nearly as fleet as the one with which they had begun the first. Ferguson played in his fellow Scottish international midfielder, and fellow Barry, Nicholson of that ilk, for a shot that Gilmartin saved well.
Argyle brought on Alex MacDonald, for Feeney, before Nicholson again found space in the area for another shot, but was this time denied by Onismor Bhasera’s block.
After that, the game rather degenerated into one of those where we the performance of the officials comes under as much scrutiny as those of the players.
Purse was booked, then almost immediately straight red-carded for an off-the-ball incident that required referee Webb to consult with both linesmen before delivering his verdict.
Purse did not go quietly, remonstrating with McNulty, who had been spoken to four times by Webb without so much as a yellow card appearing.
An own goal by Nelson, when he turned in substitute Curtis Obeng’s driven cross past the unfortunate Gilmartin, was almost inevitable.
A third, deep into injury time, by Brown, capped a horrible afternoon.
Fleetwood Town (4-5-1): 1 Scott Davies; 2 Shaun Beeley, 5 Steve McNulty, 28 Youl Mawene, 3 Dean Howell; 32 Tom Barkhuizen (35 Curtis Obeng 59), 11 Barry Nicholson (20 Damien Johnson 69), 37 Barry Ferguson, 18 Jamie McGuire, 12 Junior Brown; 26 David Ball. Substitutes (not used): 8 Jamie Milligan, 10 Lee Fowler, 13 Alan Goodall, 16 Chris Maxwell (gk), 27 Alex Marrow.
Booked: Nicholson 61.
Argyle (4-4-2): 20 Rene Gilmartin; 2 Durrell Berry, 17 Curtis Nelson, 5 Darren Purse (capt), 14 Onismor Bhasera; 7 Paris Cowan-Hall (4 Maxime Blanchard 84), 16 Jamie Lowry (18 Guy Madjo 75), 6 Conor Hourihane, 8 Luke Young; 11 Warren Feeney (32 Alex MacDonald 53), 9 Nick Chadwick. Substitutes (not used): 1 Jake Cole (gk), 19 Joe Lennox, 27 Andres Gurrieri, 33 Scott Griffiths.
Sent off: Purse 79.
Booked: Bhasera 35, Chadwick 46, Purse 76.
Referee: David Webb.
Attendance: 2,657 (300 away, est.)