Dagenham & Redbridge 0
by RICK COWDERY
JOHN Sheridan remains unbeaten since becoming Argyle manager as his radically reshaped Pilgrims added a second successive goal-less draw to the 2-1 victory over Morecambe which marked his arrival.
Five points from three unbeaten home matches against opposition in Argyle’s – bottom – half of the table probably qualifies as the minimum requirement.
However, given the Pilgrims’ parlous position, the failure to take the other four points on offer means they are still looking up the npower League 2 table.
There were plenty of positives to take from the game, if you looked for them: more than three hours without conceding a goal; a significantly more cohesive display than the stalemate against Accrington seven days before; signs that a much-changed team containing five new players is beginning to gel.
The Argyle manager had been obliged to make changes to the heart of his defence, where goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin and centre-back Curtis Nelson were unable to take their places because of injury.
Gilmartin’s misfortune saw a recall, after 14 games starting on the bench, for Jake Cole, who had replaced his custodian team-mate when the Irishman’s thigh gave out during the previous Saturday’s 0-0 home draw with Accrington.
Nelson’s ankle troubles saw Anthony Charles move inside from left-back to the right centre of defence, which allowed Sheridan to give a debut to his new loan signing from Crystal Palace, Jason Banton.
Banton took up his preferred left-wing role, with Onismor Bhasera dropping back to his international position of left-back.
Luke Young, the most effective Pilgrim against Accrington after his second-half introduction as a substitute, came into central midfield, displacing Max Blanchard.
The new-look defensive unit was soon tested by Dagenham & Redbridge, and they would have been mightily relieved when Luke Howell headed Femi Ilesanmi’s cross wide after no-one had picked him up and he had drifted into a position from where, frankly, he should have scored.
Howell was more accurate when the ball dropped to him from a corner by Billy Bingham (now, there’s a name to produce a nostalgic warmth at Home Park), but Cole was perfectly positioned to beat out his powerful rising drive.
Argyle’s first chance to make a mark came midway through the half after Luke Young’s cross from the left into the Devonport penalty area evaded everyone in the centre but was smartly rescued at the far post by Paris Cowan-Hall.
Cowan-Hall’s industrious recovery and clip back caught everyone by surprise, not least of all Reuben Reid, whose off-guardedness resulted in a scuffed shot that did not trouble Daggers’ goalkeeper Chris Lewington.
Like the previous week, and against the express wishes of the manager, Argyle were obliged to show their mettle at defending corners with Dagenham averaging more than one every five minutes for the first half-hour.
The trial by set-piece abated enough for Banton to drive a ball from the left into the six-yard box, from where Ronan Murray instinctively stuck out a boot and directed the delivery on to the crossbar.
The Pilgrims continued to work hard and got more of a foothold as the half wore on. Indeed, the half-time whistle came as they were enjoying their most sustained threatening spell of the game.
Reid headed wide from Banton’s cross to the far post before the new boy went alone with a teasing little run that ended with him switching the ball from his right foot to left and bringing out a good near-post save from Lewington.
The brightness remained after the interval (and after another Dagenham and Redbridge corner) with Bhasera threading in Hourihane for a shot that again required Lewington to be at his best.
Lewington was a beaten man following Murray’s subsequent corner, but Reid’s goalbound shot was cleared off the line by Ilesanmi.
Argyle continued to take the game to their visitors, to the extent that Cole was little more than an interested observer for large periods. The breakthrough, though, remained elusive.
As the clock ticked away and chances did not materialise, the new manager shuffled his pack with positive substitutions that showed he had no intention of dying wondering.
Banton was clobbered out of proceedings by Abu Ogogo’s fine tackle, which brought Andres Gurrieri into the action for the first time under Sheridan, while Murray gave way for Matt Lecointe’s first game since September.
Tyler Harvey was introduced for the final eight minutes or so, but it seems that the die had long since been cast.
Next Saturday’s visit to Aldershot looks a little bit more interesting now.
1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 26 Anthony Charles, 5 Guy Branston, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 7 Paris Cowan-Hall, 8 Luke Young, 6 Conor Hourihane, 19 Jason Banton (27 Andres Gurrieri 78); 28 Ronan Murray (21 Matt Lecointe 80), 24 Reuben Reid (29 Tyler Harvey 85). Substitutes (not used):
4 Maxime Blanchard, 13 Ollie Chenoweth (gk), 15 Paul Wotton, 16 Jamie Lowry.
Dagenham & Redbridge (4-3-3):
1 Chris Lewington; 19 Abu Ogogo, 4 Scott Doe, 2 Luke Wilkinson, 3 Femi Ilesanmi; 15 Matt Saunders (18 Gavin Hoyte 67), 17 Luke Howell, 24 Billy Bingham (23 Brian Woodall 88); 7 Sam Williams, 9 Ben Strevens, 12 Medy Elito. Substitutes (not used):
14 Jake Reed, 16 Kevin Maher, 21 Jake Caprice, 26 Louis Dennis, 30 Jordan Seabright (gk).
6,234 (84 away).