Cheltenham Town 1
By RICK COWDERY
YOUNG, gifted and back.
Argyle midfielder Luke Young dragged the Pilgrims to what looked, for long periods of the game, a frankly unlikely draw with a late equaliser that spoke much for their resilience.
Free-kick specialist Young fired home a dead-ball from 25 yards to earn his hometown side a point against a side they had already beaten and knocked out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy this season.
Young had been introduced as a second-half substitute in the immediate aftermath of Byron Harrison’s opener from a deflected shot eight minutes after the interval.
Thus, the Pilgrims avoided a third consecutive defeat for only the second time this season – in the opening eight days of the campaign, in fact – to keep alive their Sky Bet League 2 play-off ambitions.
Pilgrims’ manager John Sheridan had limited himself to just the one enforced change to his starting line-up, with Andres Gurrieri serving the first game of a three-match ban following his dismissal in the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale seven days earlier.
The Argentine’s place went to Rommy Boco, who was making his first start since the Pilgrims previous away defeat, at Chesterfield on December 14. It was his first home start in a league game since the Pilgrims beat Northampton 1-0 on November 2.
There was no debut for the newest Pilgrim, former Crystal Palace defender Matt Parsons, who suffered a dead leg during a private full-scale game in midweek.
Cheltenham manager Mark Yates dropped Steve Elliott, Terry Gornell and Jermaine McGlashan to the Robins’ substitutes’ bench, recalling Sam Deering and Harrison, and handing a professional debut to on-loan Wolves’ central defender Michael Ihiekwe.
Boco started with the enthusiasm of a man eager to make up for lost time but his urgency produced nothing tangible in the opening quarter, during which the Pilgrims’ best opportunity came from Conor Hourihane’s free-kick that Neal Trotman headed into the Barn Park end seating.
The game sparked into life when Cheltenham – who had showed precious little early intent – broke down the Argyle right. The ball reached Kemar Roofe, who nominatively should have fired it high, but elected for something more subtle and saw his shot bounce back off Luke McCormick’s right-hand post.
McCormick might or might not have got the slightest of diversionary touches to that effort, but there was no doubt of his incredible part in what happened next.
The ball rebounded straight to Curtis Nelson, who was making ground towards his own goal and unable to get out of the path of the ball. It duly hit him and was returned into a goalmouth where McCormick was still grounded following Roofe’s effort.
Astonishingly, barely believably, McCormick reacted with jaw-dropping athleticism to keep the ball out of his net, even though it had gone passed him. If there is a better goalkeeper in the lower leagues, he is being kept well hidden.
The let-off provoked an immediate riposte from Argyle, and Lewis Alessandra rattled off two shots in quick succession from the edge of the penalty area that requited full-length diving blocks from Troy Brown and Ihiekwe.
Mainly, though, the ball remained in a midfield comfort zone in which no quarter was given. Hourihane was booked by referee Lee Collins for a foul on Jason Taylor, which meant that the official, who had sent off the Pilgrims’ skipper at Dorchester last season, had shown the same player three yellows in 38 minutes. At that rate, Hourihane did well to last until half-time.
As the game ground on, the visitors looked increasingly more confident and Max Blanchard did very well to read, and then block, a first-time volley from Robins’ captain Jamie Cureton.
The former Exeter City man then tried his luck from range, attempting to curl in a low shot that went wide of McCormick’s left-hand post close enough for the goalkeeper to dive full length to see it out.
The second half started much as the first had ended, with Cheltenham finding Cureton, and Cureton happy to try his luck from more or less wherever he received the ball. In the first five minutes after the break, he shot over and gave McCormick an easy save.
The Argyle custodian was then tested more severely as Roofe tried to chip him from long distance but was equal to the ambitious attempt.
Having done his utmost to prevent Cheltenham from going ahead, McCormick was powerless to keep out Harrison’s 53rd-minute effort. He had the shot covered, but was left hopelessly wrong-footed by the deflection it took off Trotman’s block.
The Pilgrims’ restarted with a reformed midfield, Boco and Dominic Blizzard giving way to Young and Tyler Harvey, the latter having made all of his previous senior appearances in an attacking role.
Young’s impact was immediate, striking a wonderful shot from 30 yards that did not rise more than a couple of feet off the ground and seemed destined for the corner of the goal until goalkeeper Scott Brown stretched to push it on to the post with the merest of touches.
The goal, the substitutions, the closeness to an equaliser all combined to produce a spirit of urgency in the Greens, who nevertheless still struggled for cohesion.
They were not helped by Cheltenham’s obduracy, which persisted even after Sheridan threw on Thomas in the latter stages.
Argyle needed a break, and got one when Matt Richards scythed down Reuben Reid on the edge of the D. Young stepped up and drilled a perfect free-kick around the wall and wide of Brown’s despairing dive.
The Southway midfielder came close to netting a winner from another deadball two minutes later after Reid had again proved too much of a nuisance, this time for Troy Brown. Young’s kick was to the other side and just a fraction too high.
This Argyle side never calls it a day until midnight, and they twice came close to snatching all three points late on, when home defender Craig Braham-Barrett all-but netted an own goal, and then when Reid fired just wide.
As the man once said, every point is a prisoner.
: 23 Luke McCormick; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 25 Ben Purrington (19 Nathan Thomas 79); 8 Rommy Boco (18 Tyler Harvey 54) 11 Dominic Blizzard (14 Luke Young 54), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 20 Jason Banton; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 1 Jake Cole (gk), 15 Paul Wotton, 23 Jamie Richards, 24 Isaac Vassell.
: Hourihane 30, Nelson 73.
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2)
: 1 Scott Brown; 20 Sido Jombati, 5 Troy Brown, 28 Michael Ihiekwe, 22 Craig Braham-Barrnett; 14 Matt Richards, 8 Sam Deering, 23 Kemar Roofe, 4 Jason Taylor; 9 Byron Harrison, 7 Jamie Cureton (11 Jermaine McGlashan 79). Substitutes (not used): 6 Steve Elliot, 10 Terry Gornell, 12 Conor Roberts (gk), 17 Joe Hanks, 19 Zack Kotwica, 21 Ashley Vincent.
: Richards 83.
: Lee Collins.
: 6,735 (162 away).