Reid 40, Hector og 54
Cheltenham Town 0by RICK COWDERY
ARGYLE, led by the youngest skipper in the club’s history, proved Easter Monday’s defeat at York was a major blip and continued their fine run of form which is leading them away from relegation with a comfortable bounceback win.
Reuben Reid’s first Home Park strike five minutes before half-time and an own goal by Cheltenham defender Michael Hector early after the break gave the Pilgrims a fourth win out of five, all against promotion candidates.
The only shame was that they could not turn one or more of some well-crafted second-half opportunities into a game-settling third. Reid, who again led the line well, might have had a hat-trick, and Robins’ chief tormentors Jason Banton, Andres Gurrieri and man-of-the-match Joe Bryan all deserved a goal for his efforts.
With Argyle’s regular central midfield claimed by injury (Lee Cox) and suspension (Conor Hourihane), manager John Sheridan turned to a first-time engine-room pairing of Luke Young and Curtis Nelson.
Teenager Nelson had missed the previous 12 matches following an upper-leg injury and had not played anywhere other than defence for two seasons; Young, just 20, had made the majority of his previous 49 Argyle starts on the wing.
Nelson had previously had just two outings at centre-back for the new manager before succumbing to injury and was an unused substitute in Argyle’s last two games; Young had started just two previous matches during the new gaffer’s 14-match spell in charge.
Such was Sheridan’s faith in the admirable Nelson that he was also given the captain’s armband most recently worn by Hourihane, making him the youngest player to lead out the Pilgrims in the club’s researchable history.
By three days. The previous youngest also ran the show from midfield, Norman Piper, who was 19 years and 323 days old when he headed the team from the tunnel on August 19, 1967 at Cardiff City.
Nelson was also the fifth Argyle player to contest the coin-toss this season after Darren Purse, Max Blanchard, Nick Chadwick and Hourihane.
There was one other change to the starting 11 that had gone down 1-0 to York City on Easter Monday, with Gurrieri, the manager’s preferred home option on the right side of midfield, replacing his away choice, Paris Cowan-Hall.
Cheltenham manager Mark Yates made no changes to his side, or his squad, after Monday’s more than useful 1-0 home win over promotion rivals Northampton Town.
The Argyle that started the match resembled more the uncertain side which had been exposed by York five days earlier, rather than the one that had so comprehensively disposed of Exeter in their previous home game.
They did not threaten the Cheltenham goal in the opening ten minutes. By the time they did, through Nelson’s snap shot, they had already survived a goalbound shot by Byron Harrison, the weakness of which aided Jake Cole’s save.
However, Argyle gradually eased themselves into some control of the situation, which allowed them to get their main attacking option, Banton, on the ball.
The Pilgrims’ leading scorer showed Hector a clean pair of studs after sucking him in, and then made ground on goal before firing a right-foot shot over the crossbar.
Cheltenham remained unfazed, though, and fashioned a really good opening with some slick passing that saw Bryan nip the ball off the toe of Sam Deering as the Cheltenham man shaped to shoot from well inside the penalty area.
The visitors lost forward Paul Benson midway through the first half, the Swindon loan man requiring a stretcher after collapsing with an ankle injury that appeared to be the result of an awkward turn, rather than a collision.
Immediately, Gurrieri teased Banton in behind the Cheltenham back line, and the Argyle man chose to seek goal number seven at the narrow angle of the near post, rather than by shooting across the goalkeeper, with the result that the ball flew wide.
Still, the sight of goal appeared to empower the Pilgrims, and Gurrieri himself was next to go close when, after Onismor Bhasera had ferreted away on the left to be able to cross the ball low to the near post, his shot was deflected by Steve Elliott.
Argyle had momentum, though it was not without the odd stutter, and, after Banton had again fired over, after again making an opening for himself, took the lead.
It came from another raid down Cheltenham’s right-hand side, where they had looked particularly vulnerable, this time after Bryan had made some easy yards.
The young Bristolian’s shot thudded back off the inside of goalkeeper Scott Brown’s left-hand post and, with the Home Park groans were still hanging in the air, Reid muscled the ball into the goal.
Cheltenham immediately switched Jermaine McGlashan from the right side of midfield to the left. The move was ostensibly to shore up the Robins’ defence, but McGlashan looked more potent on the opposite side and made himself room for an injury-time shot that brought the best out of Cole.
Argyle looked a little reticent to commit themselves in the opening minutes of the first half, content instead, it seemed, to contain Cheltenham’s attacking intentions.
That changed when Bhasera decided to take on Keith Lowe, beat him for pace and made the bye-line. His powerful cross hit Hector, facing his own goal, flush on the chest and gave Brown no chance.
The Pilgrims then spurned tow good opportunities to go further ahead as their quick-breaking counter-attacks proved the perfect antidote to Cheltenham’s high pressing game.
First, Bryan found Reid in the penalty area, but, although the striker kept cool to fashion the opening for a shot, his attempt failed to beat Brown.
Then Brown foiled a better Reid shot, but could only parry the ball up towards Gurrieri, who must have wished he was Nelson’s height because a taller player would have been able to head the loose ball home.
Cheltenham’s promotion ambitions demanded a response and they found one through substitute Kaid Mohammed, scorer of the winner in the 2-1 Robins’ victory over Argyle at Whaddon Road earlier in the season, but Cole made another fantastic save.
The game settled down after that little flurry, with Argyle seemingly happy to defend in numbers and repel Cheltenham’s increasingly Route One options.
They were not helped in their endeavours by a non-impact injury that saw Paul Wotton limp off, to be replaced by Anthony Charles.
The Pilgrims continued to cause Cheltenham problems on the break, with Bryan bringing out the best from Brown, and Reid failing to double up when his cute shot that left Brown flat-footed cannoned off a post.
The best chance of the lot came when the increasingly influential Banton fed Gurrieri, but Brown was equal to the little Argentinean’s best efforts.
There was one scare late on, when Bhasera lost McGlashan, and Cheltenham’s most consistently potent threat lifted the ball over Cole.
And the crossbar.
1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 15 Paul Wotton (26 Anthony Charles 76), 5 Guy Branston, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 27 Andres Gurrieri, 17 Curtis Nelson (capt), 19 Jason Banton (28 Ronan Murray 90), 8 Luke Young, 18 Joe Bryan, 24 Reuben Reid (7 Paris Cowan-Hall 90). Substitutes (not used):
2 Durrell Berry, 9 Nick Chadwick, 20 Rene Gilmartin (gk), 29 Tyler Harvey.
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2):
1 Scott Brown; 2 Keith Lowe, 27 Michael Hector, 6 Steve Elliott, 22 Sido Jombati; 11 Jermaine McGlashan, 7 Marlon Pack, 4 Darren Carter (16 Russell Penn 60), 8 Sam Deering (23 Kaid Mohamed 55); 19 Paul Benson (14 Shaun Harrad 25), 29 Byron Harrison. Substitutes (not used):
3 Billy Jones, 9 Darryl Duffy, 12 Connor Roberts (gk), 25 Jason Taylor.
7,941 (316 away).