Northampton Town 0
by RICK COWDERY
ARGYLE’S season is showing signs of gradually getting into gear with a second successive late, late win.
Lewi Alessandra was rewarded for his personal – and the team’s – persistence when he converted a 90th-minute winner past impressive goalkeeper Matt Duke after a fine through-ball from Reuben Reid.
Again, chances were created – possible more and of better quality than in any other game this season; again, it took a determination to keep going until the bitter end to breach stoic opposition. Much of the credit for that should go to Duke.
Pilgrims’ manager John Sheridan had stayed more or less faithful to the starting line-up which had ultimately triumphed in the war of attrition seven days earlier.
The only change was the one made at half-time at the One Call Stadium, when Sheridan ditched the 3-4-3 formation that had begun the 1-0 triumph in favour of the more tried and trusted 3-5-2. That meant Rommy Boco dropping back from a rotating front three to play in the hole behind Alessandra and Reid.
Curtis Nelson, whose long-term future even Sheridan sees as a defender, continued in central midfield, which allowed Guy Branston to be retained as one of the three centre-backs, while striker Paul Hayes started the final match of his seven-game loan from Brentford on the substitutes’ bench.
Northampton’s line-up included former Home Park defender Mat Kouo-Doumbe, who made nearly 150 Championship appearances in the Green between 2004-09. Ben Tozer, who was an Argyle junior and who lives a Luke McCormick drop-kick from Home Park, was named as a substitute.
Argyle began the game playing towards the FES Devonport End in the first half, into the teeth of a swirling wind that had bent one of the corner flags to a 45 degree angle.
The difficult conditions clearly affected the ambitions of both sides, who cancelled each other out to numbing effect.
The closest either side came to scoring in the opening quarter of the match was when Nelson, facing his own goal, attempted to head out Chris Hackett’s cross and, instead, planted his header against McCormick’s upright.
Gradually, the Pilgrims got on the ball, found some momentum, and fashioned a couple of decent chances. The first followed a period of pressure that stemmed from Branston’s break, included a six-yard-box overhead kick from Max Blanchard, and ended with Jamie Reckord’s rising left-footed drive being palmed over the crossbar by Town goalkeeper Duke.
Then, the match-winning combination of seven days previously linked up again, with Neal Trotman heading Conor Hourihane’s sweet delivery just over Duke’s crossbar.
Northampton looked organized at set-pieces, as one would expect from an Aidy Boothroyd side, and Doumbe nearly made a scoring return to Home Park when he headed Darren Carter’s corner just wide.
Argyle, though, generally carried the greater threat and Reid went close to breaking the deadlock five minutes before half-time when the increasingly influential Alessandra teed him up for a shot from the edge of penalty area that screamed just over the bar.
Alessandra’s next assist was a corner from the left which traveled all the way across the goal to Nelson, at the far post, but the 20-year-old’s instinctive shot was well saved by Duke and the teams ended the half as they had begun it.
Northampton were quickly out of the blocks at the start of the second half, with lone striker Luke Norris seizing on an indiscretion by Branston to drive into the box. The on-loan Brentford man tried to beat McCormick on his near post with a fierce drive but became the latest League 2 player to discover that the Pilgrims’ custodian is the best in the division.
Argyle responded with Reid delightfully squeezing a pass to Alessandra for a first-time shot along the ground that Duke had to get down to quick-smart to keep out.
After a period of jab and move, Duke was at it again, keeping out Reid’s well-placed long-range effort from Blanchard’s pass thanks to a combination of good positioning and strong hands.
Reid’s influence on the game continued and he again found the target, and Duke impassable, from a tapped free-kick 30 yards out.
As the game ended in an on-off deluge, Luke Young and Hayes came on to add impetus to the forward play, and Hayes spun to turn the ball into the six-yard box, where Alessandra stretched to get a touch, and succeeded, but without getting enough on the ball to divert it into the inviting net.
Duke saved his best until last, sprawling on the turf to turn a powerful drive by Alessandra around the post as the game approached Trotman time.
Or is that Alessandra time?
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 5 Guy Branston (14 Luke Young 76); 2 Durrell Berry, 17 Curtis Nelson, 8 Rommy Boco (19 Paul Hayes 81), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 28 Jamie Reckord; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid (18 Tyler Harvey 90). Substitutes (not used): 1 Jake Cole, 3 Andre Blackman, 20 Hamza Bencherif, 27 Andres Gurrieri.
Booked: Branston 74, Trotman 83.
Northampton Town (4-5-1): 1 Matt Duke; 6 Lee Collins, 18 Paul Reid, 27 Mat Kouo Doumbe, 3 Joe Widdowson; 11 Chris Hackett, 32 Kane Ferdinand , 8 Ian Morris, 4 Darren Carter, 29 Stuart Dallas; 33 Luke Norris. Substitutes (not used): 7 Ishmel Demontagnac, 12 Ben Tozer, 17 Gary Deegan, 19 Danny Emerton, 21 Ben McNamara (gk), 24 Ivan Toney, 26 Matthew Harriott.
Booked: Collins 66.
Referee: Trevor Kettle.
Attendance: 6,547 (220 away).