Fleetwood Town 2
Ball 10, 12
by RICK COWDERY
IT is fair to say that the first week of Argyle’s 2013-14 season has neither gone to plan, nor been remotely predictable.
A second successive league defeat in their opening home match means that the Pilgrims are one of only three pointless Sky Bet League 2 teams and, therefore, in recently familiar territory at the foot of the table.
Two early goals from David Ball propelled Fleetwood to victory that maintained a place among the division’s leaders which many have tipped them to maintain for the duration of the campaign.
It is early days, of course, and there is plenty of evidence – not least of all from the previous Tuesday’s fine Capital One Cup display – that John Sheridan’s majorly revamped whole team has yet to gel and is still somewhat less than the sum of its talents.
So, the quest to find that managerial Holy Grail of consistency goes on after a naughty-boys lock-in at Southend on the season’s opening day; deserved praise for unexpectedly pushing Championship side Birmingham all the way in the cup on Tuesday; off the pace and more dressing-room truths at home to the Football League’s newest members.
Sheridan had sent out the same starting 11 – in name, anyway – that he had at St Andrew’s in midweek for the honourable 3-2 extra-time Capital One Cup defeat.
That meant that the manager’s much debated decision on who would go into the campaign as the Argyle number one was, in fact, the Argyle No.1, with Jake Cole winning the nod over Luke McCormick. It must have been a close call.
With no injury concerns, Sheridan had no apparent reason to deviate from the side that performed so admirably in midweek, when they were unrecognisable from the team that had surrendered meekly at Roots Hall.
The stand-out midweek moments had been the two screaming goals of Lewi Alessandra, and the former Morecambe man threatened to net his third goal of the campaign early on, when he stole Marvin Morgan’s far-post cross from Stephen Jordan but could not quite get a shot off.
As a week earlier, Argyle’s initial promise received a slap across the chops from Fleetwood, although, this time, the blow was twice as bad.
The Pilgrims went behind to the first of Ball’s quick-fire double as Fleetwood’s lone striker took advantage of some space to drive home a low shot from 25 yards.
As George Santayana once observed, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and there was a lot of similarity between Ball’s first goal and his second 126 seconds later, set up by Jeff Hughes’ unchecked run. The chief difference was that the denouement was a sweetly curled left-foot shot.
Ball might have had his hat-trick before the first quarter of the game was over. This time, he managed to ride a couple of tackles and take the ball closer to, but wider of, goal before a shot that beat Cole but drifted across the face of the target.
Argyle needed to show character and they did. Durrell Berry almost sneaked a goal back from a hanging cross that Town goalkeeper Scott Davies was obliged to tip over before the opposition’s last man twice denied Reuben Reid – paddling out a low shot and then rushing from his goal to thwart a quick break.
Despite this, and some enterprising forward play, the visitors had few problems in protecting their lead until an interval which was heralded by more than a smattering of jeers from the faithful.
Those jeers were heard again just after the hour and aimed, rather unfairly, at Reid, when he was substituted by Tyler Harvey. Reid appears to be the one who supporters feel should shoulder more of the blame than others for the side’s stuttering start.
Sheridan made two further substitutions at the same time, bringing on Luke Young for Dominic Blizzard, and – after missing all of pre-season – Andres Gurrieri for Rommy Boco.
The triple switch failed to bring a change in the Pilgrims’ fortunes, though it was not for the want of trying.
Gurrieri was off target with a shot from distance, the rare direct attempt on goal provoking ironic cheers from his own fans, borne of desperation from the unimagined start to the season by their team.
Young, too, tried to reduce the arrears with a long-range shot from Harvey’s tee-up, and Blackman sent in a dipper from the edge of the penalty area.
However, nothing the Pilgrims conjured up could dislodge Fleetwood from the comfort zone given them by Ball’s early double.
1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 3 Andre Blackman; 7 Lewi Alessandra, 6 Conor Hourihane (c), 11 Dominic Blizzard (14 Luke Young 64), 8 Rommy Boco 27 Andres Gurrieri 64; 10 Marvin Morgan, 9 Reuben Reid (18 Tyler Harvey 64). Substitutes (not used):
22 Jamie Richards, 23 Luke McCormick (gk), 25 Ben Purrington, 30 Ryan Lane.
Fleetwood Town (4-5-1):
1 Scott Davies; 14 Liam Hogan, 16 Ryan Cresswell, 5 Mark Roberts (capt), 25 Stephen Jordan; 24 Ryan Crowther (15 Conor McLaughlin 89), 18 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 Steven Schumacher (4 Stewart Murdoch 86), 11 Jeff Hughes, 12 Junior Brown (3 Dean Howell 86); 23 David Ball. Substitutes (not used):
6 Nathan Pond, 10 Jamille Matt, 17 Matty Blair, 33 David Lucas (gk).
7,280 (90 away).