Bristol Rovers 0
REUBEN Reid’s third goal of the season handed the Pilgrims all three points in a scrappy game with Bristol Rovers at Home Park.
After a first-half nearly totally devoid of goalmouth action, the Pilgrims began to turn the screw in the second half and just eight minutes from time, Reid capitalised by heading home Conor Hourihane’s well-worked free-kick.
There was no dressing it up; it was not a pretty game. The passing was not scintillating and the skill was not sublime. But the performance or the spectacle of the match will not what will be remembered.
What will be remembered are three shiny Sky Bet League 2 points.
After the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy against Cheltenham on Tuesday, Argyle manager John Sheridan opted for four changes and the return of the classic 4-4-2 for re-engagement in Sky Bet League 2 battle.
The first came in goal, where Luke McCormick was preferred in favour of shoot-out hero Jake Cole.
Then, in defence, Neal Trotman and Durrell Berry returned to action, replacing Max Blanchard and the suspended Curtis Nelson.
Finally, Andre Blackman, who had performed so well at Whaddon Road, was sacrificed to allow Marvin Morgan to partner Reid in attack.
Leading up to the match, Rovers had not won in six away matches but set about Argyle right from the kick-off. But their momentum was spoiled by after just a few minutes when Tom Lockyer required treatment for a late challenge from Hourihane.
After that, the Pilgrims began to become the more dominant, forcing three corners within the opening ten minutes. While two were cleared without too much fuss, Trotman managed to find the net from one, only to see his effort disallowed for a push on the defender.
Then followed a desolate period of the game in which the only thing worth a mention were the vaguely amusing exchange of chants between the two sets of supporters on who produced the best cider.
Slowly, though, Argyle began to up the tempo as several free-kicks flashed dangerously across the Pirates’ ‘keeper Steve Mildenhall’s goal.
Good battling play by Hourihane then saw his cross from the cy-line snuffed out but when the clock struck 30, the game was still without a genuine goal-scoring opportunity.
By now, Rovers had woken up, too, as a deflected Ryan Brunt effort kick-started a period of Argyle defending that was not over until John-Joe O’Toole’s half-volley was ushered to safety.
There was no denying it, the first half had not set the world alight, so it was refreshing to see that when the teams ran out for the second 45, Sheridan had opted for a change of system.
Leaving the back five in situ, Argyle were now operating in a 4-2-1-3 formation, with Morgan and Alessandra providing the width in attack with Romy Boco just behind.
And within minutes, the system seemed to have clicked when Boco fed Reid to cross from the right. Beating Mildenhall all ends up, the ball arrived at the back post where Alessandra was just inches away from poking the Pilgrims in front.
But at the other end, Rovers were just as determined and it took a brave diving interception from McCormick to deny Brunt from converting Tom Lockyer’s cut-back.
Another baron spell passed before Boco was again in the thick of it, muscling through two defenders before firing a shot that was deflected over the bar.
Then, from the resultant corner, came the best chance of the match as Trotman arrived to thunder Alessandra’s near post delivery against the cross bar. Morgan was the first to react to the rebound but under immense pressure, he could only toe-poke over the bar and into the crowd.
The Pilgrims were beginning to grow in confidence and just moments later, a scrambling Mildenhall looked very relieved to see Alessandra’s 25 yard drive drift narrowly wide of his far post.
A long and looping Hourihane free-kick then had Mildenhall panicking once more when he was forced to rely on a defender to steer the ball away with Morgan bearing down on him.
But Argyle finally did make the difference with just less than ten minutes to play, and it again came from a Hourihane free-kick.
This time, after a brief one-two with Alessandra, he whipped the ball in from the left after a Morgan had been fouled for Reid to head home with aplomb.
The inevitable Rovers response came and, as has not been the case in previous campaigns, was effortlessly weathered.
It had not been the prettiest victory but frankly, who cares?
23 Luke McCormick; 2 Durrell Berry, 16 Neal Trotman, 5 Guy Branston, 28 Jamie Reckord; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 20 Hamza Bencherif (14 Luke Young 66), 8 Romuald Boco; 9 Reuben Reid, 10 Marvin Morgan. Substitutes (not used):
1 Jake Cole, 3 Andre Blackman, 4 Maxime Blanchard, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 18 Tyler Harvey, 27 Andres Gurrieri.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2):
1 Steve Mildenhall; 2 Michael Smith, 6 Tom Parkes, 29 Mark McCrystal, 14 Lee Brown; 30 Tom Lockyer (31 Shaquille Hunter 86), 15 Oliver Norburn, 32 John-Joe O'Toole, 17 Ellis Harrison (9 Matt Harrold 83); 26 Ryan Brunt, 7 David Clarkson (33 Alefe Santos 69). Substitutes (not used):
5 Garry Kenneth, 8 Matt Gill, 20 Conor Gough (gk), 35 Josh Southway.
8,631 (1,273 away)