Hourihane 10, Cowan-Hall 16
by RICK COWDERY
IT was fitting, perhaps, that two young Irishman were to the fore as John Sheridan’s reign as Argyle manager began with a victory as needed as it was welcome.
Conor Hourihane and new loan signing Ronan Murray, long-time team-mates in the Republic’s age-group sides, did much to ensure that Sheridan, a man with Dublin blood who represented Ireland in two World Cups, could celebrate a hectic first week at Home Park with a win.
Cork-born Hourihane, still a month shy of 22, responded to being entrusted with the captain’s armband by his newly-appointed countryman with a marvellous strike less than 10 minutes into the game.
Fellow 21-year-old Murray, who hails from County Mayo, then quickly helped settle Argyle nerves by teeing up the team’s leading scorer Paris Cowan-Hall for the second.
Perhaps it is the Green shirts?
Argyle failed to build further on their fine start, and had to do plenty of defending thereafter, so it was no shock when Morecambe’s probing saw substitute Ryan Williams thrash one in from long range.
However, the Pilgrims doggedly succeeded in returning the three points.
The new manager’s handiwork on his mobile and the training-ground was immediately evident: four changes of personnel in a new 4-4-2 formation; three switches of position; two debuts; and one eyebrow-raising tactical innovation.
The latter was in central midfield, where the gaffer found a role for Max Blanchard, previously exclusively a central defender during his 13-month Argyle career but not a total stranger to the position.
The debuts were made by Guy Branston and Murray, although, technically, Branston’s was more a second coming, than a first footing.
The veteran centre-back had played eight games for the Pilgrims back in the last century – his previous Argyle appearance had been 13 years, 11 months and 21 days previously – on loan from Leicester City, since when he has embarked on a tour of the country that has seen him play for a total of 18 clubs.
Branston, a free agent, has joined the Pilgrims until the end of the season, as has Irish Under-21 international striker Murray, who has been loaned from Ipswich.
As well as the loan pair, Sherdidan recalled his former Chesterfield midfielder Jamie Lowry and striker Warren Feeney, balancing youth with experience, although that balance was soon tilted as not every Irishman enjoyed the afternoon.
Lowry, previously identified as a central midfielder or right-back, was deployed on the left side of midfield, with Onismor Bhasera dropping into the defence in place of Robbie Williams.
Williams, Luke Young and the still recuperating Paul Wotton were selectorial casualties, missing out on inclusion in Sheridan’s first Argyle starting line-up, along with the uber-suspended Nick Chadwick.
Morecambe showed several changes to the starting 11 that had beaten Dagenham & Redbridge 2-1 at the Globe Arena in midweek, when midfielder Andrew Wright earned himself a one-match suspension.
Defenders Will Haining and Robbie Threlfall returned to the side, as did midfielders Andrew Fleming and Izak Reid, while new signing Williams – formerly with Rhyl and Chester – was included on the substitutes’ bench.
Feeney’s participation lasted less than five minutes after he went down off the ball in some distress, a not uncommon occurrence at Argyle games these days, it appears.
However, there appeared to be nothing sinister about Feeney’s departure, which allowed Tyler Harvey an earlier than expected chance to impress the new man.
It is a moot point whether the teenager had even touched the ball before the Pilgrims went ahead, a mere nine minutes and 21 seconds into Sheridan’s tenure.
It owed everything to the foresight and tenacity of a young Irish midfielder – Sheridan himself, 18 years ago, had those qualities and would have been delighted to see them in his young skipper.
After Hourihane robbed a dallying Andrew Parrish of the ball on the edge of the right-hand side of the penalty area, he had one thing on his mind, and drove into the box before shooting across Barry Roche.
Six minutes later, as the rain stair-rodded it down, it was two.
Murray seized on to Bhasera’s pass down the left flank, showed Parrish a clean pair of heels, and crossed low into the six-yard box for Cowan-Hall to clip ball home for his fifth strike of the season.
If the manager’s promised attacking was going well, it was not all one-way traffic and Morecambe more than once threatened to break through a defence that sometimes looked like it had not played together.
Kevin Ellison, who had sent a shot scudding across the goal between Argyle’s two strikes, thumped in another low shot from the left-hand side which Hourihane blocked in front of a sprawling Gilmartin.
For the remainder of the half, Argyle were largely reliant on breakaways to make progress and it was pleasing that most of these carried a degree of menace, not least of all because of the quality of Murray’s crossing.
On the subject of quality crossing, Morecambe spurned an opportunity to get back in the game after the break, when Robbie Threlfall’s curled delivery was headed over Gilmartin’s crossbar by Jordan Burrow when it looked easier to get the ball on target.
As they had been at the end of the first half, Argyle were obliged to show plenty of defensive discipline and patience during much of the second.
It was often frustrating, and occasionally agonising, viewing for the Green Army, but the Pilgrims’ application saw them through.
Maybe mixed with a little luck of the Irish?
Never was fortune more evident than when, after Williams had reduced the arrears, substitute Jack Redshaw found himself free inside the Pilgrims’ six-yard box but somehow managed to turn a perfect right-wing cross wide of an open goal.
Murray came close to relieving the pressure, following Parrish’s late sending-off, when his measured shot beat Roche but rebounded from a post, but the agony continued.
It was not the perfect performance – that would have been expecting far too much.
However, it was the perfect result.
Argyle (4-4-2): 20 Rene Gilmartin; 2 Durrell Berry, 17 Curtis Nelson, 5 Guy Branston, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 7 Paris Cowan-Hall, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 4 Maxime Blanchard (8 Luke Young 90), 16 Jamie Lowry (15 Paul Wotton 77); 11 Warren Feeney (29 Tyler Harvey 8), 28 Ronan Murray. Substitutes (not used): 1 Jake Cole (gk), 3 Robbie Williams, 10 Rhys Griffiths, 19 Joe Lennox.
Booked: Harvey 37.
Morecambe (4-4-2): 1 Barry Roche; 22 Andrew Parrish, 2 Nicholas Fenton, 6 Will Haining (capt), 3 Robbie Threlfall (27 Jack Redshaw 76); 7 Izak Reid (16 Stewart Drummond 31), 17 Andrew Fleming, 18 Gary McDonald (10 Ryan Williams 67), 11 Kevin Ellison; 14 Jordan Burrow, 9 Lewis Alessandra. Substitutes (not used): 12 Dan Parkinson, 15 Chris McCready, 19 Joe McGee, 25 Andreas Arestidou (gk).
Sent off: Parrish 85.
Booked: Parrish 26, Threlfall 29, Fenton 90.
Referee: Tim Robinson.
Attendance: 6,401 (33 away).