Reid pen 25
Rochdale 0by RICK COWDERY
IT would be far too clichéd to describe Argyle’s first home win of the season as game of two halves but certainly the worst thing to happen to the Pilgrims in the match was the half-time whistle.
Led by the awesome physical presence of Marvin Morgan and Reuben Reid, they totally bossed the opening 45 minutes. More so, even, than they had when they overran Cheltenham in the previous weekend's first half.
Yet, thanks to some inspired goalkeeping from Dale number one Josh Lillis as his team-mates wilted around him, the Greens were unable to replicate their three-goal lead at Whaddon Road.
Instead, when the teams turned round, they had only Reid’s 25th-minute penalty to show for their near-constant attacking.
Whatever happened during the break – foot off the gas; the chance for Dale to re-organise; momentum lost – the second half was a different contest altogether, with Dale dominating.
The other side of Argyle was required and their determination to be winners won out. Just.
Given a clean bill of health, the selection of the Argyle starting 11 must have been one of John Sheridan’s easiest decisions in his near eight-month tenure.
The 11 that ruthlessly destroyed Cheltenham’s 22-match unbeaten home run a week earlier was unsurprisingly given the chance to bring that form back to Home Park. They did not disappoint.
The same-again policy meant that full-back Durrell Berry continued on the ‘wrong’ left-hand side of defence, with Curtis Nelson on the right and the ex-Rochdale pairing of Neal Trotman and Guy Branston in the middle.
The only change to the 18 on duty at Whaddon Road came on the bench, where Max Blanchard made a welcome return to the Green after his recent absence on compassionate grounds.
Rochdale, managed by former Pilgrim Keith Hill, were without suspended midfield enforcer Peter Kavnagah and injured ex-Home Park striker Georgie Donnelly.
The Pilgrims would have found it difficult to deny the charge that they have previously started – and re-started – somewhat lackadaisically this season, but that was emphatically not the case this time.
Indeed, it took a fine save from Lillis to deny them from taking the lead within 30 seconds, when Marvin Morgan got his head to Lewi Alessandra’s corner only for the powerful effort to be tipped over.
Morgan was to the fore a few minutes later, taking a pass from Alessandra and muscling his way past two Dale defenders before obliging Lillis to again make a save from his low shot.
Argyle were then denied by referee Brendan Malone’s decision to penalise Reid for a foul just before the Argyle number nine plonked a left-footed shot past Lillis. One man’s legal shoulder-charge is another’s foul.
Reid and Malone then failed to see eye to eye again when the Pilgrim was left on the ground after a clash with Dale captain Olly Lancashire. Reid disputed the official’s decision to play on for several minutes, until Malone halted play to tell him and Argyle skipper Conor Hourihane it had to stop.
There was no stopping the Pilgrims’ man’s influence on the game, though, and it was his determination to win the ball – twice – that set up the game-clincher.
Another challenge between Reid and Lancashire 30 yards from the Rochdale goal saw the ball corkscrew into the opposition penalty area, with the long-striding Morgan just winning the footrace against Lillis, poking the ball away from the ’keeper, and drawing the inevitable foul.
Lillis and his team-mates clearly felt aggrieved, but their protestations did not affect Reid, who sood calmly above the chaos before cracking a right-footer past the overworked Dale custodian.
Lillis’s one-man determination to keep the score respectable continued as he blocked another Morgan header, following Conor Hourihane’s delightful free-kick.
When he was beaten, as he was, all ends up, by Hourihane’s dipper out on the left flank, the crossbar came to Dale’s rescue.
The half ended as it had begun, with Argyle attacking from all angles, and Dale dizzy from the assault.
Morgan played in Rommy Boco, who was so quick that he easily evaded, not only Javan Vidal’s attempted tackle, but also a subsequent crude attempt to bring him down, before being halted by a more legitimate challenge. The same fate befell Morgan on the follow-up.
The only disappointment when Malone blew the whistle to signal half-time was that the Pilgrims had not managed to turn their all-round dominance in every area into more goals.
The second 45 minutes saw Argyle revert to their slow re-starting former selves. Trotman conceded a free-kick from which Ian Henderson fed Matt Lund at the far post and his shot required the first meaningful intervention of the match from Pilgrims’ goalkeeper Luke McCormick.
Trotman then nearly skewed a low cross by Michael Rose over McCormick’s head as Argyle struggled to reassert their first-half supremacy.
The early opportunities set the pattern for a half about as different as the first as the Green Army could have conjured up only in a nightmare.
Dale’s determination to make a match of the contest was further in evidence when Peter Vincenti broke through and was upended by Branston, leaving McCormick to make a sprawling save from Lund’s low free-kick.
Sheridan sent on Andres Gurrieri to try to turn what was by now becoming a worrying Blue tide of pressure, but McCormick remained the busier goalkeeper, and had to save again from Dale substitute Bastien Hery.
The tension – not helped by the addition of more than five minutes injury-time – was almost palpable but the Greens sat deep, dug deep, and clung on.
23 Luke McCormick; 17 Curtis Nelson, 5 Guy Branston, 16 Neal Trotman, 2 Durrell Berry, 7 Lewis Alessandra , 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 11 Dominic Blizzard (14 Luke Young 86), 8 Romuald Boco (3 Andre Blackman 82); 9 Reuben Reid (27 Andres Gurrieri 73), 10 Marvin Morgan. Substitutes (not used):
1 Jake Cole (gk), 4 Max Blanchard, 18 Tyler Harvey, 22 Jamie Richards.
Berry 12, Branston 62.
1 Josh Lillis; 15 Javan Vidal, 6 Olly Lancashire (capt), 22 Jack O'Connell, 25 Michael Rose; 7 Peter Vincenti, 12 Matt Lund, 8 Andrew Tutte (14 Bastien Hery 69), 40 Ian Henderson; 16 Matt Done (39 Joe Bunney 54), 11 Scott Hogan. Substitutes (not used):
2 Joe Rafferty, 3 Rhys Bennett, 5 Ashley Eastham, 10 Reece Gray, 21 Robbie Thomson (gk).
Lund 33, O’Connell 38, Done 53.
6,978 (148 away).