Northampton Town 0Argyle 2
Reid 5, Alessandra 39
by RICK COWDERY
JOHN Sheridan's immediate response to Argyle's disappointing draw at home to Mansfield had been that they now had to win some away games to restore the balance; his players' immediate response was to do just that against the Football League's bottom side.
Reuben Reid gave the Pilgrims a great start, converting inside the first five minutes, and that margin was doubled just before the break, when birthday boy Lewis Alessandra's low cross flukily found its way past Cobblers' goalkeeper Matt Duke.
The game also marked a happy return to action for goalkeeper Jake Cole, whose second-half solidity in the face of a near gale helped the Pilgrims to a first clean sheet since New Year's Day.
Sheridan had made two changes from the side that shared the points with Mansfield a week earlier, one wholly anticipated; one largely unexpected; both involving Lukes.
With McCormick of that ilk's broken ring finger having ruled him out for the rest of the season, Cole was back between the posts for only his second Sky Bet League 2 start, with England Under-19 'keeper Cameron Dawson, Argyle's new loan signing form Sheffield Wednesday, on the substitutes' bench.
At the other end of the pitch, Rommy Boco was given the nod as Reuben Reid's strike partner in a revamped 4-4-2 line-up, nominally replacing the Pilgrims's other Luke, Young.
Northampton manager Chris Wilder, making his Sixfields bow, sent out a Cobblers' side that showed four changes from the one that had drawn 1-1 at Cheltenham last time out, bringing in defender Leon McSweeney, wide midfielders Chris Hackett and Brennan Dickenson, and forward Emile Sinclair.
With the exception of Hackett, all three were also debuting at Sixfields, along with Striker Alan Connell, while Ricky Ravenhill was playing the first home game of his second spell as a Cobbler.
Former Pilgrim Mat Doumbe lined up in the centre of a back four that had conceded nine goals in their previous three home games, while former Home Park junior Ben Tozer was on their bench.
Town's new contingent's honeymoon period lasted four minutes and 38 seconds, which is precisely how long it took Reid to prick the bubble of optimism that the fresh blood had brought the league's ultimate strugglers.
With a minor gale at their backs, and on a boggy pitch, Argyle made ground down the right, and Reid seized on the scraps of a poorly defended shot from Jason Banton to send the ball non-too-convincingly beyond none-too-convincing goalkeeper Duke.
Duke did not have a pleasant opening. His best kicks barely made the halfway line before coming back on the breeze, and his decision-making was questionable, not least when he rushed from his goal to challengee Reid and missed out as the Argyle scorer poked the ball goalwards. The cut-up surface acted as a man on the line for Northampton, though, diverting the one-target shot just wide.
The Cobblers' goalkeeper emerged from his dodgy opening, however, when he denied Neal Trotman from converting a header from the edge of the six-yard box with a marvellous reflex save.
The Pilgrims were given few concerns as they looked to extend their lead. Northampton looked exactly what they are – a collection of talented individuals in search of a team - which was little match for the Pilgrims' all-for-one, one-for-all attitude.
As the half dragged on, and a further breakthrough failed to materialise, the bigger worry was whether the one-goal lead would be enough to sustain through a second-half playing against 11 men and one strong wind.
That feeling was eased six minutes before the break when Argyle's birthday boy cashed in his lottery ticket.
Alessandra's only intent from his position wide on the left was surely only to put the ball into the danger area and invite contributions from colleagues. However, his waist-high cross caught the wind, almost predictably caught out Duke, and drifted into the far corner of the goal.
Elements aside, Argyle must have expected to face a storming re-start from their hosts, and Northampton duly put them under pressure, with Sinclair going close from a header.
Cole, who had held a watching brief for most of the first half, found himself at the eye of the storm and did well to pouch a volley on the turn from Connell.
Like Duke in the first half, and like his team-mates were also experiencing, he found kicking into a stiffening gale that turned long kicks into up-and-unders extremely testing.
The back four, too, had to be strong to stand up to Northampton's second-half second wind (come to think of it, they probably had to be strong just ton stand up) and Trotman especially caught the eye. Captain Conor Hourihane's protection in front of the defence was noteworthy, too.
Sheridan replaced Banton with Tyler Harvey midway through the half, which brought Boco back into the midfield, before Cole made another fine save to keep out Connell's Alessandra-style wind-assisted cross-come-shot.
But that was about as near as Northampton came to breaching the Argyle rearguard as the Pilgrims allowed the opposition threat to blow itself out.
(4-4-2): 1 Matt Duke; 2 Leon McSweeney, 6 Lee Collins (capt, 25 Antonio German 68), 27 Mathias Kouo-Doumbe, 3 Joe Widdowson; 11 Chris Hackett, 34 Ricky Ravenhill, 4 Darren Carter, 35 Brennan Dickenson; 7 Emile Sinclair, 18 Alan Connell. Substitutes (not used): 8 Ian Morris, 10 Roy O’Donovan, 12 Ben Tozer, 13 Dean Snedker (gk), 17 Gary Deegan, Gregor Robertson.
: Widdowson 82
(4-4-2): 1 Jake Cole, 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 25 Ben Purrington; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt); 20 Jason Banton (18 Tyler Harvey 71); 9 Reuben Reid, 8 Rommy Boco, Substitutes (not used): 14 Luke Young, 15 Paul Wotton, 19 Nathan Thomas, 23 Jamie Richards, 24 Isaac Vassell, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
: Nigel Miller.
: 4,845 (766 away)