York City 4
Fletcher pen 12, McCombe 45, 89 Carson 90
By ROB McNICHOL
A red card against a team from the county of the white rose gave the Green Army the blues.
On an afternoon when multiple rainbows formed a backdrop behind the Lyndhurst stand, ten men of Argyle gave battle in vain as goals from Wes Fletcher, a brace from John McCombe and an injury-time goal from Josh Carson gave York City a comfortable victory at Home Park.
Fletcher’s opener came from the penalty spot after Neal Trotman had felled Ryan Bowman – an infraction for which the defender was dismissed, meaning Argyle played nearly 80 minutes a man down.
McCombe scored near the conclusion of each half, and Carson added an even later fourth to inflict a comprehensive defeat on Argyle and make a severe indentation on the Pilgrims’ play-off aspirations.
John Sheridan was able to call upon several new faces that were not available to him the previous week when Argyle brushed aside Sky Bet League 2 bottom side Northampton Town, but chose to simply use three on the bench. Andres Gurrieri, returning after a three-game suspension, joined fit-again Durrell Berry and Marvin Morgan in putting on a substitute’s tracksuit. For Morgan, it was his first involvement in an Argyle squad in more than four months.
York, a side that had failed to score in four of their previous five games, moved Michael Coulson to the bench in favour of Will Hayhurst, and matched Argyle’s preferred 4-4-2 formation.
The game took ten minutes for any sort of life to be breathed into it, but when it occurred, it happened in an explosion of incident.
In the world of archery, a York Round is a sequence in which you fire your arrows in competition. Also in archery, you need your Fletcher to work well with your Bowman.
Just before the ten-minute mark, the York front pair of Bowman and Fletcher pulled Argyle’s strings rather too easily, and as a result the former found himself in behind the Pilgrims’ backline and advancing into the area. As Jake Cole came to meet him, Trotman made an all-or-nothing lunge for the ball.
What is almost undoubted is that Trotman got all of the ball. The question of whether he did so by virtue of getting nothing of the man is where the big question came.
It will surely come down to a matter of interpretation. To many, winning the ball is the only thing that matters in a challenge. To referees, this is not the sole factor to bear in mind. Charles Breakspear, officiating, decided that the Argyle centre-back had got a little more man than would be deemed fair, and pointed to the spot. Once a penalty had been given, the referee had little choice to dismiss Trotman for a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Fletcher stepped forward to face off with Cole, but despite the Argyle goalie’s excellent record at stopping balls from 12 yards, the York striker’s calm finish into the bottom right of the goal was enough to give the visitors the lead.
Berry was immediately summoned from a brief warm-up to stand-by on the touchline to reshape Argyle’s defence in Trotman’s absence, but Sheridan opted to wait awhile, reshuffling instead with Dominic Blizzard slotting in as auxiliary centre-back.
It was his new central defensive partner, Curtis Nelson, that had Argyle’s first, and very swift, chance to equalise. A corner from Conor Hourihane found Nelson in space, but his left-footed flick had no power, and York gratefully shuffled the ball to safety.
Undeterred by the numerical disadvantage, Argyle endeavoured to push on and level matters. Had McCombe not timed a tackle to perfection when Reuben Reid got beyond all else in red, parity might have come in player numbers too, given that Reid was unequivocally ‘in’.
As you would expect, York also had chance to extend their lead - Fletcher shooting into the ground in space and in the area being an example of their profligacy – but Argyle looked oddly composed despite being a man down. An uneasy piece of defending by McCombe presented the ball to Reid on the edge of the area, and as he was tackled the ball spun to Hourihane, whose powerful effort drifted just wide.
By now Berry had been stood down entirely, taking his seat on the WH Bond Timber bench. The story evolving was Blizzard looking like he had been playing as a centre-back all his life, joining Nelson in shepherding the Minstermen comfortably enough. In front of them, Rommy Boco had joined Hourihane, and the Benin international’s energy was another factor in Argyle’s somewhat counter-intuitive grip on the game.
But then, such is football, Argyle’s hillock evolved into a mountain as McCombe’s soft header agonisingly found the corner of Cole’s net. After a smart piece of play by York following a partially cleared corner, the ball found its way to Hayhurst on the right flank. His clipped cross was nodded back across goal by Bowman to McCombe, who got the faintest flick on the ball to turn it goalwards. It appeared to spin in bullet time, inexorably reaching the inside of the post, but torturing us all before it did.
When the teams emerged for the second period, there was a shift in the Argyle shape, if not personnel. Lewis Alessandra joined Reid in Argyle’s front-line, with Ben Purrington taking a step forward to play ostensibly as a left-sided midfielder in a 3-4-2 formation. Within a minute of the restart, Reid laid the groundwork for Hourihane to have another try from outside the area, which Nick Pope momentarily spilled, but eventually gathered.
York engineered a couple of notable efforts; captain Russell Penn curling over the ball shortly after Bowman got caught in several minds and listened to none of the voice when dinking harmlessly into Cole’s arms.
Sheridan then shuffled his deck, introducing Nathan Thomas and Berry for Boco and Jason Banton, leaving a rather fluid system that resemble 3-4-2 at its heart, with the substitutes operating down either flank.
It was York, though, that had the next major chance, with Hayhurst’s snapshot being acrobatically tipped over by Cole after the York man had been teed up by Fletcher, who had for some reason become a bête noir of the Home Park faithful. He was shortly afterwards replaced by Michael Coulson, but the switch was down to an injury and certainly not down to any lack of industry.
As has happened more than once of late, Thomas provided a busy cameo from the bench. One more than one occasion his pace and trickery took him beyond York defenders, but no-one seemed able to meet one of his many crosses into the box.
In fact, acceptance seemed to set in that this was not to be Argyle’s afternoon in any way. Coulson’s run past several Argyle players was in the end thwarted by another smart save by Jake Cole, but met with little in the way of audible reaction. It then took a terrific tackle, tracking back, by Berry to stop Bowman as he threatened to sneak in again.
Coulson managed eventually to evade everybody and lay on a tap-in for McCombe from two yards, and Carson managed a pearler from range and over Cole to give York a fourth. Plenty of Argyle fans will have missed it, having walked after the third goal to end their misery.
It was an afternoon of discontent, made inglorious for Argyle by these sons of York, and hardly helped by a Mr Breakspear.
On to next week – is this the Daggers we see before us?
(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 (19 Nathan Thomas 54); 9 Reuben Reid, 8 Rommy Boco (2 Durrell Berry 54). Substitutes
(not used): 32 Cameron Dawson (gk), 10 Marvin Morgan, 14 Luke Young, 18 Tyler Harvey, 27 Andres Gurrieri.
: Reid 80, Thomas 90.
York City (4-4-2)
: 31 Nick Pope; 2 Lanre Oyebanjo, 15 Keith Lowe, 16 John McCombe, 3 Ben Davies; 12 Josh Carson, 10 Russell Penn (capt) (14 Lewis Montrose 79), 37 Adam Reed, 26 Will Hayhurst; 19 Ryan Bowman (25 Chris Dickinson 90), 9 Wes Fletcher (7 Michael Coulson 67). Substitutes
(not used): 5 David McGurk, 18 Tom Platt, 24 Michael Ingram (gk), 28 Sander Puri.
: McCombe 20, Penn 22, Lowe 65, Carson 90.
: Charles Breakspear.
: 6,502 (126 away).