Lavery 60, Alessandra 85
Torquay United 0
by ROB McNICHOL
ARGYLE moved into the top half of Sky Bet League 2 with a third win out of four games in a sensational Christmas and new Year period.
A virtuoso striker’s performance by Caolan Lavery saw the on-loan forward score his third goal in four starts on the hour, as Argyle ground down a resilient Torquay side.
Lewis Alessandra added a second with five minutes to go, chesting the ball into the net with a superb piece of invention that raised spirits even higher than they were already flying in PL2.
After a successful festive period, John Sheridan had named the exact same starting line-up as took to the field at Wimbledon and at Oxford United. This meant a home debut for Ben Purrington, who does not turn 18 until beyond the season’s close.
Torquay brought Jordan Chapell back into their team at the expense of Courtney Cameron, and the addition of Jayden Stockley on their bench meant they were able to put out a full compliment on the bench, something they had been unable to do against Exeter in their previous Devon derby a few days earlier.
After the Argyle Angels strutted their stuff to Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory, within five minutes there was drama on the edge of the area. Caolan Lavery burst past Torquay defender Aaron Downes, who could only halt his progress by virtue of an outstretched arm. Optimistic members of the Green Army may have wanted a penalty and a red card, but referee Mr Stroud’s assessment of a free-kick and a caution was probably the right call.
Nothing resulted directly from the free-kick, but having your main centre half walking the yellow card tightrope for the bulk of the game can’t have been an ideal situation for the Gulls.
As you may have expected from an Argyle side with such a strong recent record, they started this derby with their tails in the vertical position. Lavery was at the centre of much of the build-up work, first teeing up Lewis Alessandra for a twenty yard strike which Torquay goalkeeper Michael Poke did well to tip over the bar, then nodding into the path of Reuben Reid. Reid shrugged off Downes easily, but the advance of Poke snuffed out the danger.
An exchange by Andres Gurrieri and Reid on Argyle’s right flank led to the Argentine delivering an unchallenged cross, but as Reid arrived a rare moment of miscommunication between he and Lavery, a pair seemingly in telepathic communication up until now, saw the chance fizzle out.
With ten minutes until half-time, the referee once again brought out the yellow card, in a similar position to when Downes was cautioned, to book Poke. This time, though, it seemed the catcalls of the Argyle faithful had rather more substance.
There is no doubt that Lavery, latching on to a glorious over-the-top pass by Gurrieri, was going away from goal and was outside the box when Poke took him out. However, it was probably not for prevention of a goalscoring opportunity that raised the ire of the home support, but more the dangerous and wild nature of the ‘challenge’ that Poke put in. He was extremely lucky to escape with only yellow.
Torquay, for their part, had huffed and puffed throughout, but had never been able to formulate a tangible scoring chance. Until, that is, Gulls skipper Lee Mansell let fly from outside the area and buzzed one into Luke McCormick’s side netting. Fortunately, it was on the outside of the post.
The Reid and Lavery ESP was renewed just before the break, with Reid nudging Blizzard’s clever throughball into Lavery’s path. Unfortunately, the restoration of the mental association played havoc with Lavery’s radar, and he struck the ball high and wide.
From a corner earned by another relentless Lavery run down the channel, Argyle again went close, as Hourihane met a half-cleared ball in mid-air, but it flew just wide.
From the restart of the second half, Argyle gave the ball away immediately, and Torquay pushed on to earn their first corner of the game. Billy Boden, though, headed tamely wide.
Chapell then hit an ambitious shot from thirty yards which McCormick nearly parried into the path of Hawley, as the visitors looked to emerge from the pressure that Argyle had inflicted on them in the first period.
Argyle hit back with a couple of corners that yielded those excited yelps when you think something is going to happen but never actually does. A handball by Gulls defender Anthony O’Connor gave Argyle a free-kick about as close the edge of the box as is possible, but Reid’s shot was charged down.
On the hour Argyle had their breakthrough, and though it owed a lot to lady luck, it owed even more to the poise and anticipation of Lavery. Reid and Alessandra linked well with an exchange of passes on the angle of the penalty area, but when the ball rebounded off of Alessandra the chance seemed to be gone.
This assumed without Lavery, though, who not only made it to the ball before any Torquay defender has a chance to react, but whipped the ball low to Poke’s right with a left-footed snapshot from just outside the six-yard area.
Another Chapell effort from range kept McCormick honest with a flying save, before it looked like Argyle would double their lead.
Every time Lavery has scored for Argyle so far it has been The Pilgrims’ opening goal of the game. And on the previous two occasions, it has been followed by a Reuben Reid goal.
As Reid manoeuvred into a position twelve yards out to fulfil this prophecy, Poke decided otherwise, and make an excellent save. The ball rebounded to Lavery, though, who was denied from his second by O’Connor, anticipating the follow-up with a block on the line which you could certainly describe as ‘all-in’ defending.
Torquay remained a danger, though, and Hawley’s quick thinking saw him react to a deflected cross by Dale Tonge with an overhead kick which went just wide.
The ubiquitous Lavery was then in the action again, showing mesmorisingly fast feet to escape two defenders inside the six-yard box, but the ball agonisingly would not settle for him when he needed to get a shot away.
The game felt as open as it had ever been, with United pushing to grab an equaliser, and McCormick had to think fast when Gulls substitute Elliot Benyon tried to sneak one past him at the near post with the outside of his boot.
Lavery, quite possibly several inches shorter after an astonishing individual performance, was replaced by Luke Young as Argyle looked to consolidate. They nearly added to their tally when Torquay were caught committing men forward, and Gurrieri and Hourihane combined to set Alessandra away, but as he checked inside to shoot he was hustled out of it.
The ‘your chance, our chance’ mentality of the game continued as Torquay’s Jayden Stockley, another second half substitute, couldn’t prod anything meaningful when meeting a corner, before Young had an effort blocked after excellent build up work from Reid.
With five minutes remaining, Argyle finally killed the game off. Once again Gurrieri and Hourihane combined, the latter whipping in a fierce cross from the left side. It was met by the flying figure of Alessandra, who amazingly managed to power the ball home with his chest in possibly a unique piece of improvisation never before witnessed at Home Park.
Ten points from twelve over the festive period and back in the top half. Happy New Year barely covers it, does it?
: 23 Luke McCormick; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 25 Ben Purrington; 27 Andres Gurrieri, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 6 Conor Hourihane (Captain), 7 Lewis Alessandra; 9 Reuben Reid (26 Tope Obadeyi 88), 13 Caolan Lavery (14 Luke Young 79).
: 1 Jake Cole, 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Guy Branston, 8 Rommy Boco, 19 Nathan Thomas.
: Lavery 60, Alessandra 86
(4-1-4-1): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Dale Tonge, 4 Aaron Downes, 29 Anthony O'Connor, 21 Thomas Cruise; 36 Damien Mozika (26 Elliot Benyon 71); 10 Billy Bodin, 7 Lee Mansell (captain), 17 Jak McCourt, 12 Jordan Chapell (19 Jayden Stockley 77); 9 Karl Hawley.
: 5 Krystian Pearce, 11 Courtney Cameron, 13 Martin Rice (GK), 20 Nathan Craig, 31 Daniel Sullivan.
: Downes 5, Poke 40
: Keith Stroud
: 10, 126 (888)