Accrington Stanley 0
FOOTBALL is basically a numbers game and there were a fair few flying round at Home Park as the Pilgrims were held to their first goal-less draw for 21 matches.
Paul Wotton made his second appearance of the season, and 478th as a Pilgrim, on the same day that current team-mates Conor Hourihane and Curtis Nelson were celebrating personal century milestones.
Wotton’s former team-mates, the Boys of ’01-02 who amassed a record-breaking 102 points in winning their equivalent of League 2 12 seasons ago, were honoured interval guests.
These are all interesting numbers but, of course, the only stat that really ever matters in football is the scoreline and the fact that Argyle failed to score against a side that doubled their season’s points tally by keeping a clean sheet is there for all to see.
More frustrating for manager John Sheridan and everyone who has the Greens’ good at heart is that they have now failed to score in approaching five hours of league football.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had made two changes to the Pilgrims’ starting line-up which had taken to the field at Scunthorpe a week earlier, both in the back four; one from necessity.
Curtis Nelson replaced virus victim Durrell Berry at right-back, while Paul Wotton – whose experience and on-pitch volubility has been highlighted by the manager in recent weeks – made his first start of the season since injuring himself in the opening-day defeat at Southend, coming in for centre-back Neal Trotman.
The changes meant that Argyle fielded two players who were making their 100th appearance in the Green: skipper Conor Hourihane, 22, and Curtis Nelson who, at 20, is one of the youngest ever Pilgrims to hit the three-figure mark.
Argyle began at a gallop. Barely had the final strains of Semper been blown away on the wind than Marvin Morgan shrugged off the illegal challenge of Tom Aldred to loose off a shot that Stanley goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli saved well. Aldred was booked.
Then, former Stanley sweetheart Rommy Boco came in off the left wing to find space in the centre and beat Bettinelli with a shot across the on-loan Fulham goalkeeper which hit the outside of his far post.
With Morgan and Reuben Reid linking well, and Boco and Lewis Alessandra joining in Argyle’s pacy breaks, the Pilgrims continued to give Acrrington plenty to think about.
Reid went close twice with shots from inside the box, finding the side-netting on both occasions, although the second effort appeared that far offside it was as surprise to see Stanley meekly re-start with a goal-kick.
Another Reid long-range shot, after a swift and accurate breakout, required Bettenelli to go full stretch to keep his goal intact.
Half an hour of more or less constant home pressure culminated with Boco skinning Accrington right-back Nicky Hunt on the right side of the penalty area and putting in one of those for-a-want-of-a-touch crosses across the face of the goal that evaded at least two players from each side.
Stanley reacted with their first meaningful shot of the contest, and it was quite close, too, with striker Shay McCartan zipping one past Luke McCormick’s dive and just the wrong side of the goalpost.
The Pilgrims took up the cudgels once more as Hamza Bencherif headed the ball into the path of Reid. Despite controlling the awkward pass and getting off a shot which Bettinelli saved, Reid incurred the wrath of his own fans to an extent that he was – shamefully – booed.
Reid’s response was to play in Boco for a cross which was clearly handled by Aldred as he went to ground for a penalty-area tackle. There was not much of a shout from the Pilgrims and referee Fred Graham let matters be, which was good for Aldred who would have been sent off had a penalty been given.
The second half began as the first had ended – with Argyle on the prowl and Reid on the end of the move. Morgan’s persistence on the right bye-line saw the ball pulled back for his strike partner, whose first-time effort flew wide.
The same fate befell Hourihane’s longer-range attempt as the clock ticked past four hours since the Pilgrims had previously scored.
Encouraged by the lengthening parity, Accrington started finding positions from which they could, if not hurt, then at least worry Argyle.
A break by Will Hatfield was vigorously snuffed out by Guy Branston and Nelson, with Graham again deciding not to award a penalty and Hatfield being booked for protesting that he should have done so.
The longer the game remained goal-less, the more the frustrations built: in the stands, first; then trickling down to the pitch. The faithful Devonport tried to raise spirits and, immediately, Reid’s bustling run raised their spirits but realised nothing more than a corner.
Reid was replaced by Tyler Harvey – jeerlessly, it is good to report – before the Pilgrims won their next flag-kick, and Harvey’s industry helped set up fellow substitute Luke Young for a rising shot that cleared the crossbar.
As the half passed by, you sensed that Acrrington fancied completing a proper smash’n’grab raid, and Hatfield again nearly picked their pocket before being denied by McCormick.
Argyle sent on Andres Gurrieri to try to unlock the Accrington defence with his some South American artistry, but it was too little, too late, and Stanley held on to maintain their lifetime unbeaten run at Home Park: four games, three draws, one win.
23 Luke McCormick; 17 Curtis Nelson, 15 Paul Wotton, 5 Guy Branston, 28 Jamie Reckord; 7 Lewis Alessandra (27 Andres Gurrieri 84), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 20 Hamza Bencherif (14 Luke Young 60), 8 Rommy Boco; 9 Reuben Reid (18 Tyler Harvey 71), 10 Marvin Morgan. Substitutes (not used):
1 Jake Cole, 3 Andre Blackman, 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman.
Morgan 75,Branston 80.
Accrington Stanley (4-4-2):
26 Marcus Bettinelli; 16 Nicky Hunt, 5 Tom Aldred, 25 Rob Atkinson, 27 Lee Naylor; 12 George Miller, 2 Peter Murphy, 4 Luke Joyce (capt), 10 Will Hatfield; 7 Shay McCartan (17 James Gray 70), 24 Kayode Odejayi. Substitutes (not used):
8 Michael Richardson, 11 Kal Nasismith, 14 Luke Clark, 15 Piero Mingoia, 20 Josh Windass, 23 Connor Mahoney.
Aldred 3, Hatfield 59, Hunt 87.
6,180 (39 away).