Brown 9, Richards (pen) 42
by ROB McNICHOL
ARGYLE boss John Sheridan could not repeat his victorious winning return to his old territory for a second consecutive season, as his Pilgrims lost to high-flying Chesterfield.
At the end of last season, Argyle came to the Proact Stadium and comprehensively outplayed their counterparts in Sheridan’s first return to Derbyshire since he was let go by the Spireites. This time, despite playing decent football for a large part of the afternoon, the scoreline was not so sweet.
The game was not without its controversy, though. After debutant Matty Brown headed the home side in front inside ten minutes, Chesterfield doubled their lead before half-time due a penalty decision so contentious that most in the ground couldn’t even have told you, with any certainty, what it was awarded for.
Argyle had a penalty of their own – equally as dubious - in the second period, which led to Brown being sent off, but Reuben Reid could not convert from the spot.
Sheridan, as expected, had recalled Luke McCormick between the posts for Argyle. Jake Cole, who went off injured in the previous week’s win over Welling, was fit enough to make the bench. Luke Young and Jamie Reckord, though, were asked to make way for Rommy Boco and Dominic Blizzard as The Pilgrims, perhaps a little surprisingly, opted for a 4-4-2 formation.
For their part, Chesterfield’s injury troubles mean they could only field six substitutes, although since one of them was former Coventry and Birmingham man Gary McSheffrey, it was hard to feel sorry for them. To help deal with their shortfall of players, Chesterfield recalled defender Matty Brown from a loan spell at Southport, and the 23-year-old former Manchester City reserve team captain went straight into the side to make his Spireites debut.
It is a little known fact that the city of Chicago is named the Windy City more for the tempestuous nature of its politics rather than weather conditions. You could take either reading of Illinois' premier city's nickname and drop them in north Derbyshire for this encounter. Both meanings had plenty of relevance here.
Within the first ninety seconds there came a pair of indicators that climate, as much as personnel and formations, would play a major part in proceedings. Maxime Blanchard had to ‘re-spot’ a free-kick three times as the wind simply blew the ball back to his starting position. Then, after Chesterfield had safety defending said free-kick, a regular enough kick from home keeper Tommy Lee sailed, with one bounce, into Luke McCormick at the other end of the field.
Fair to say, it was a tad blowy.
Chesterfield forced an early corner, with the wise old head of Richie Humphreys drifting in a nice ball that Armand Gnanduillet headed tamely wide.
Argyle, though, should have heeded the warning, as only a few minutes later Humphreys floated an even more potent corner from the same spot, which was met by the incoming Brown, rising about a sea of players to nod home.
The response from Sheridan’s men was positive. Sharp thinking from Andres Gurrieri saw the Argentine play a quick free-kick into the path of Lewis Alessandra, whose powerful effort flew wide.
Then, Argyle caused problems from a series of corners of their own. Conor Hourihane dropped a cross into the six-yard area, and the headed clearance shot up, not out. When it plunged to earth, a scramble ensued, and Chesterfield temporarily averted danger.
Not for long, though. Another fizzed-in delivery fell eventually to Alessandra, who forced a couple of flying blocks from defending blue shirts.
From a third corner, shortly afterwards, Hourihane himself latched onto a half-clearance but sliced his shot well wide.
The scoreline made unhappy reading, but the performance did not. Much of the pretty Argyle play was going through Gurrieri, and once again he popped up in an effective area. He played Reuben Reid in down the right flank, and Reid’s powerful cross was nearly turned home by Boco. The flag, though, had been raised for offside.
Chesterfield asked tentative questions of the referee when they felt a Gnanduillet cross was handled, but it was a hopeful claim at best. Any disgruntlement felt about that decision turned to dismay seconds later when Gnanduillet went to ground following a shoulder-to-shoulder tussle with Gurrieri ended with the former going to ground in some obvious pain. After several minutes of treatment he was replaced by Callum McFadzean, having seemingly suffered a dislocation.
Soon after, though, Chesterfield got their penalty. Marc Richards turned just inside the area, under pressure from a pair of Argyle defenders. All three tumbled over in a heap, with referee Andy Haines close by. Suddenly, around thirty yards away, the assistant referee raised his flag and draped it across his chest, signalling for a penalty.
That is about as far as facts can take you. Around the press areas, discussions abounded as to exactly why the penalty had been given. Some decided a foul by Hourihane must have been reason; others, including this reporter, felt it may have been for a handball whilst on the ground by Durrell Berry. The consternation was certainly prevalent among Argyle’s player, who protested vigourously. Hourihane was booked for his protestations, as the Greens clearly sensed an injustice.
Any hope of a perceived wrong being righted ended as Richards struck low to McCormick’s left to convert the spot-kick and doubled Chesterfield’s lead.
Argyle continued to press, and came very close to halving the interval deficit as Lee saved well to deny Alessandra. To apply salt to raw Argyle wounds, as they prepared to take the resultant corner, the referee blew for half-time.
Richards did not appear for the second half, presumably due to another injury for a Chesterfield player, but his replacement, Jay O’Shea, nearly made a sudden impact. His curling effort from an acute angle seemed destined for the top corner until McCormick arched backwards to make a stunning save.
Sheridan decided at this point to introduce Caolan Lavery to the fray, stepping from the bench to replace Boco. He joined Reid in the attack, with Alessandra taking up a wide position.
Lavery was soon involved, playing a part in a patient Argyle build-up which saw him lay the ball off to Maxime Blanchard overlapping from right full-back. The Frenchman’s cross was fast and dangerous, but Reid’s shot, under pressure, found Lee.
Then, more controversy. Lavery burst between a pair of retreating Chesterfield defenders. Brown slid in to relieve Lavery of the ball, and did so, but once again a flag was raised. And not only did Argyle have a penalty, but Brown, having a more than eventful debut, was sent off.
Reid stepped up to take the kick, but his previously exemplary record from twelve yards this season was blotted as Lee stretched to tip the ball around his right-hand post.
The sense that it was simply not Argyle’s day was firmly entrenched by this post, but further evidence continued to emerge. Hourihane hit a well-struck effort from range that just dipped too late to slide under the cross bar. Then a firm Berry cross evaded all defenders to find Gurrieri at the far post, but for the first time all afternoon his touch let him down.
If it wasn’t bad Argyle luck, then it was the brilliance of Tommy Lee. A dangerous free-kick by Hourihane found Lavery in an abundance of space, but his creative back-header was excellently turned round by the athletic Chesterfield stopper.
As one would expect with a numerical advantage, Argyle dominated the game territorially under the end. But Chesterfield’s cushion of a two-goal advantage, coupled with a sense of confidence that comes with dwelling at the top of the table, saw them through.
(4-4-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 2 Durrell Berry (28 Jamie Reckord 77); 8 Rommy Boco (13 Caolan Lavery 54), 11 Dominic Blizzard (14 Luke Young 77), 6 Conor Hourihane (6), 27 Andres Gurrieri; 9 Reuben Reid, 7 Lewis Alessandra.
(not used): 1 Jake Cole, 5 Guy Branston, 15 Paul Wotton, 20 Hamza Bencherif.
: Hourihane 41, Reid 65, Nelson 76.
(4-4-2): 1 Tommy Lee; 25 Drew Talbot, 23 Ian Evatt (c), 22 Matty Brown, 15 Richie Humphreys; 7 Tendayi Darikwa (28 Gary McSheffrey 90), 4 Sam Hird, 8 Sam Togwell, 17 Eoin Doyle; 9 Marc Richards (10 Jay O'Shea HT), 21 Armand Gnanduillet (24 Callum McFadzean 31).
(not used): 20 Aaron Chapman, 16 Jamie Devitt, 18 Jack Broadhead.
: Andy Haines.
: 5,786 (472 away).