Exeter City 0
by CHRIS PARSONS
JASON Banton was already a hero to the Green Army. Now? Now he is a legend.
For it was his goal, in first-half stoppage time, which handed the Pilgrims victory in one of the most important Devon Expressway derbies in recent memory in front of the biggest crowd seen in npower League 2 this season.
Banton has now scored six goals to help the Pilgrims pull away from the dreaded Football League trap door and open a safety net of what now amounts to four points.
The victory on this crisp Easter afternoon also marks the first time Argyle have secured three successive victories since February/March 2011.
Exeter may be still chasing the automatic promotion but it was Argyle who looked the better side throughout. They were quicker, stronger and most importantly, they wanted it so much more.
They were first to every ball, they attacked with confidence and venom and defended resolutely when needed.
As derby days go, it rarely gets much better than this.
With the win against Southend United now a distant memory, Argyle manager John Sheridan made two changes for his side’s first game in 11 days.
Anthony Charles had hobbled off at Roots Hall, to be replaced by eventual goal scorer Paul Wotton, so it was no surprise that Wottsy was restored to the centre of defence to partner Guy Branston in a match that he above other will have been relishing for weeks.
The Pilgrims other change came in midfield where Andres Gurrieri, who had played so well in the reverse fixture at St James’ park earlier in the season, replaced Paris Cowan-Hall as the right wing prong in a five man midfield.
Exeter, meanwhile, had not played for two weeks, with Grecians’ manager Paul Tisdale also opting for two changes. Top scorer Jamie Cureton was recalled in the place of John O’Flynn whilst Tommy Doherty stepped into the shoes on Jake Gosling.
Mark Molesley, a loan signing under the stewardship of Carl Fletcher, lined up for Argyle against Exeter back in December, but this time he was within their ranks, and thus was due some stick from a simply incredible Home Park crowd.
When the referee Darren Drysdale led the two sides on to the pitch, they were greeted by an incredible wall of green and white stripes, created by placards left on the seats by fans’ group Forza Verde 1886.
It was truly a sight to behold and the cauldron of noise that accompanied it made sure that the Plymouth leg of this season’s Devon Expressway derby got off to a cracking start.
On the pitch, though, it was the visitors who began the more spritely. Maintaining possession nicely, it was Cureton, a League 2 Player of the Year runner-up, slicing a good chance high and well wide with the Greicans’ first attack.
Jason Banton seized on an Exeter mistake to fire an effort into the hands of Artur Krysiak soon afterwards before Molesley’s long range attempt was blocked by Branston on the edge of the area.
From there, the pace of the game seemed to stall slightly, but the atmosphere in the stands remained electric.
It was not until the 20 minute mark that either side created the enxt opening when Gurrieri, who had worked tirelessly, got made head way to the edge of the area and dragged a daisy-cutting drive wide of the post.
A series of Argyle corners ten minutes before half-time raised a few pulses as Gurrieri and Joe Bryan combined to create havoc in the Exeter area. But, four corners later, the scores were still level.
Argyle’s best outlet seemed to be coming down the left flank where between them, Bryan and Onismor Bhasera had the beating of Kevin Amankwaah.
On several occasions, one or the other of them managed to get to the byline and produce a cross but sadly, the delivery was lacking and Exeter would manage to clear.
It was also becoming apparent that Exeter had done their homework. Having watched videos of Jason Banton, they were all too aware that when the ball falls to him on the edge of the box, then something needs to be done.
As a result, when that situation occurred, you had Grecians run at him from all over to shut him down from all over the place.
But in first-half stoppage time, he finally found a sight of goal and gathering the ball 25 yards from goal, pulled the trigger to send an effort in off the post and send Home Park absolutely wild.
Loanee Lee Cox, who had picked up a knock in the first-half, was replaced by Luke Young at the break and as the Pilgrims set about Exeter once more.
It was not long until Banton was again causing problems, latching onto a Danny Coles mistake to get off a stinging shot at Krysiak from ten yards.
Gurrieri curled a free-kick wide of the post before skipper Conor Hourihane launched a short set-piece over the bar as Argyle continued to thunder forward.
As everybody knows, 1-0 is a very slender lead and Argyle were made only too aware of this when Cureton inexplicably fluffed his lines on the edge of the six yard box with Exeter’s first chance of the half.
Ronan Murray replaced Banton before Paris Cowan-Hall came on for Gurrieri as the Pilgrims utilised fresh legs to protect their lead with.
Inevitably, Exeter began to throw increasing resources forward and there was no doubt that the last few minutes were going to be edgy.
But they held on and received a roar at the final whistle that could be heard all around the city.
1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 15 Paul Wotton, 5 Guy Branston, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 27 Andres Gurrieri (7 Paris Cowan-Hall 76), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 19 Jason Banton (28 Ronan Murray 72), 10 Lee Cox (8 Luke Young h-t), 18 Joe Bryan; 24 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used):
9 Nick Chadwick, 17 Curtis Nelson, 20 Rene Gilmartin, 29 Tyler Harvey.
Exeter City (4-5-1):
1 Artur Krysiak; 16 Kevin Amankwaah, 6 Danny Coles, 5 Pat Baldwin, 3 Craig Woodman; 14 Tommy Doherty (32 Jake Gosling h-t), 28 Mark Molesley (22 Jimmy Keohane 71), 4 Scot Bennett, 25 Lawson D'Ath (19 John O'Flynn 59), 11 Arron Davies; 12 Jamie Cureton. Substitutes (not used):
2 Steve Tully, 21 Guillem Bauza, 24 Rhys Evans (gk), 37 Jordan Moore-Taylor.
Bennett 90, Coles 90.
13,251 (1,635 away)