Allen 4, Henderson 75, Rose 89
By ROB McNICHOL
THREE goals from an ultra-confident Rochdale side put Argyle to the sword in Lancashire.
Jamie Allen’s early goal for the home side set the tone for the afternoon, and when Andres Gurrieri was sent off soon after the half-time break, the chances of Argyle getting any points from the trip to Spotland looked bleak.
This proved to be the case as Ian Henderson and Michael Rose scored exquisite goals to leave Argyle heading home with nothing, and further confirming Keith Hill’s side as the form team in the division.
Matt Parsons, who completed his transfer to Argyle shortly before the team departed PL2 on Friday morning, had to be content with a place on the Pilgrims’ bench, as Ben Purrington continued on the left side of Argyle’s defence.
John Sheridan did make three changes to the side that went down Valiantly in the FA Cup the previous Tuesday. Luke McCormick returned between the posts for Argyle, while the previously cup-tied Jason Banton came back in for Isaac Vassell. Durrell Berry, replaced at half-time against Port Vale through injury, did not pass muster and was replaced by Max Blanchard.
Rochdale struck very early, with a move that cut a swath through the centre of Argyle. Former Pilgrim George Donnelly controlled a swift moving ball and fed a ball through the heart of Argyle – figuratively and literally – finding the run of Jamie Allen who, clean through, clipped the ball confidently past McCormick.
Confidence is so often a byword in football. It is hard enough to come to a side like Rochdale, second in the league and in great form, without them taking the lead within four minutes of the start.
Dale operated what on the face of it seemed a defensive formation, with only one up front, but with the experienced Peter Cavanagh acting as a fulcrum in front of his back four, the home side were able to dictate the pace of the game to their satisfaction. More than once their intricate play only fell short of a meaningful chance by a great block by an Argyle defender or a stray touch from a front man.
It seemed Argyle would need to live off scraps and set-plays, and indeed their first chance of note came from a dead-ball. Curtis Nelson launched in a long throw which was flicked on first by Neal Trotman then Reuben Reid, in the end falling to Andres Gurrieri. The Argentine’s first time volley was sweetly struck and well saved by Josh Lillis.
It was from a Dale set-piece that they next came close to doubling their lead. A well delivered corner from the left was headed powerfully towards goal by Peter Vincenti, but blocked by a posse of Argyle defenders in the six-yard area.
After Henderson fired just over, Donnelly then went even closer, meeting a cross by overlapping full-back Rhys Bennett and going only inches from notching against his old club.
Next up to create havoc was left winger Michael Rose, who with the outside of his left foot sent in an outrageous spinning cross that perplexed everybody, including his own team-mates.
Argyle seemed to be winning a lot of free-kicks in semi-dangerous areas, but despite some decent deliveries from Conor Hourihane, the nearest they could come was from a glancing Curtis Nelson which went harmlessly wide.
As the teams exited for the break, it was certainly Dale who noticeably walked with their heads higher and a bounce in their step. However, Argyle created their best chance to that point within a minute of the restart. Hourihane and Banton worked an opening for Lewis Alessandra, who wriggled free of his marker but saw his shot flicked over by Lillis.
Within minutes, though, Argyle’s hopes of getting back into the game had taken a huge blow, when they had a man sent off at Spotland for the second consecutive season.
Gurrieri leapt forcefully into Dale defender Jack O’Connell when jumping for a ball, and referee Brown saw red, dismissing the midfielder after almost every player on the pitch rushed to the scene to offer their opinion.
Incredibly, it was Argyle who went oh-so-close to reacting in the most positive way. This time, from another lovely Hourihane free-kick delivery, Alessandra met it with a powerful header, but it was superbly turned away by Lillis.
There followed a most odd period of football, where Rochdale spent the best part of twenty minutes with ostensible control of the game, but without doing anything of note or even looking like breaching Argyle for a second time. In all fairness, there was little threat from Argyle either, but it seemed Dale were content to let their numerical advantage show via the medium of winning midfield battles than trying to roll Argyle over.
That was, until Ian Henderson decided that this was the perfect opportunity to book himself onto various highlight reel packages to be shown on various channels for the coming week or two. After making a tidy run into the inside right channel he was found by a clip over the top. He then proceeded to impudently flick the ball inside his nearest opponent and volley the ball into the net via the far post. Put simply, it was a pearler.
It was also a perfect demonstration of the theme of the game. Confident players in teams at the top of the league score goals like that. In a few years time he will try that for a team in the bottom three and he’ll find the players’ car park. But in the moment, it was superb.
Argyle, to their eternal credit, kept on plugging away. Hourihane, who again never shirked a yard of running, arched his run into the area and received the ball, but with the goal gaping and the keeper advancing, shot wide.
With less than two minutes remaining, Blanchard’s miscontrol allowed Rose to rob him of the ball, surge forward and, with McCormick advancing, flick a classy lob into the far corner. It was another aesthetically pleasing goal from a home perspective, and a sign of Dale’s poise and self-belief.
We shall put this down to a ‘when it isn’t your day’ type of occasion. We shall recover from this very soon. Be confident of that.
(4-1-4-1): 1 Josh Lillis, 3 Rhys Bennett, 6 Oliver Lancashire, 22 Jack O'Connell, 16 Matt Done; 4 Peter Cavanagh (capt) (38 Gary Dicker 64); 7 Peter Vincenti, 40 Ian Henderson, 24 Jamie Allen, 25 Michael Rose; 9 George Donnelly (11 Scott Hogan 67)
(Not used): 21 Robbie Thomson (gk), 2 Joe Rafferty, 5 Ashley Eastham, 29 Graham Cummins, 39 Joe Bunney.
(4-4-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 25 Ben Purrington; 27 Andres Gurrieri, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 7 Lewis Alessandra (8 Rommy Boco 76); 9 Reuben Reid (19 Nathan Thomas 78), 20 Jason Banton (14 Luke Young 57).
(Not used): 1 Jake Cole (gk), 15 Paul Wotton, 18 Tyler Harvey, 26 Matt Parsons.
: Blanchard 82, Purrington 85
: Gurrieri 53
: Mark Brown