Bristol Rovers 2
Beardsley 7, Mohamed 71
by ROB McNICHOL
TWO headed goals for Bristol Rovers were enough to end Argyle's unbeaten away run in a distinctly unmemorable game at the Memorial Stadium.
Chris Beardsley's early opener for the home side was followed in the second half by a Kaid Mohamed goal that saw off the Pilgrims. In between, on the stroke of half-time, Neal Trotman notched a nodded goal of his own to draw Argyle level, but in truth the visitors never came to terms with some awful conditions at the Mem.
A pitch perhaps more known for its hosting of Rovers' oval-ball tenants made good football - and even balanced running - a severe challenge, while a wind whistling in from the Bristol Channel swept away any lingering prospect of a classic.
Unsurprisingly, John Sheridan opted not to change the starting eleven that had an aggregated nine goals for and none against in their two outings as a unit. A sole change on the Argyle bench saw Dominic Blizzard return to the squad following injury. Ben Purrington stepped down to allow space.
In Argyle’s previous three visits to the Memorial Stadium they had found themselves two goals behind before they knew what was going on. On the first two occasions they produced sensational comebacks to win 3-2. Last time, on January 1, 2013, they could not repeat the feat.
That day was Carl Fletcher’s last as the Pilgrims’ manager. He had shown impressive dignity in leaving his post, but the comeback that didn’t quite happen on the pitch that was somewhat symbolic.
For an Argyle side, only a shade over 14 months since Fletcher’s departure, to be returning to this ground two points outside the play-off zone was really quite something.
Rovers themselves are a bit of an enigma this season. Relegation for them would seem unlikely, but it is a genuine danger. Their home form, though, makes impressive reading. Only three defeats in Sky Bet League 2 suggests that few had visited and plundered the Pirates.
On arrival, it was clear conditions could be a factor. This was not the extreme tunnel of Northampton several weeks previous, but despite the pleasant sight of the sunshine, the wind – blowing directly from one goal to another – was sufficient to alter the flight of a any ball that passed through the air.
The pitch, shared by the local Rugby Union team, had one or two qualities akin to an allotment about it – mind you, it would be quite a smart allotment.
Inside two minutes, Ollie Clarke fizzed a sighter over Jake Cole’s goal as the hosts began with far more assurance than their visitors.
Indeed, with less than seven minutes gone, they were ahead. A long throw-in was glanced on by Mohamed and floated around a no-mans-land in the six yard box before Chris Beardsley, who looked the most astonished man in the stadium to see the ball arrive at him, headed against the post from hardly any distance at all. Fortunately for him, and all Rovers, it spun into the net.
Argyle’s response was rapid. Using the wind to their advantage, they pressed Rovers into their own area for several minutes, launching a corner, a long throw and several crosses into the proverbial mixer. A blue-and-white head or a gloved hand, though, always seemed to just about do enough.
By the midway point in the half a pair of Pilgrims had found their way into the book. Max Blanchard was most unlucky, being the only one caught shirt-pulling as Beardsley ran though. The Rovers player was undoubtedly filling his hand with fabric too, but perhaps more subtly.
Paul Wotton then found himself in the notebook for an old-fashioned cruncher, borne of frustration from losing out in an aerial battle seconds before.
Patient build-up play by Argyle teed a ball up for Luke Young, who, with his left foot, forced experienced goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall into a smart save to turn the ball over the crossbar. At the other end, David Clarkson snatched at a shot from the edge of the area when space suddenly seemed to form around him.
As half-time approached, Rovers had a staggering ninety seconds or so where three times they looked guaranteed to double their lead. A free-kick which looked to have been cleared for a corner held up in the wind, and Cole had to be sharp to block it. The ball pinballed around the area being blocked by desperate green legs.
Second later Clarke read a spinning ball better than Conor Hourihane, and fired a powerful effort goalwards. Cole saved brilliantly to his right, and Argyle defenders scrambled to block as Clarkson followed. The same player, who looked a constant threat, picked out the outside of the side-netting shortly afterwards.
It was Argyle, though, that sprang a surprise when equalising in the final seconds of the first 45 minutes. Young’s free-kick from an angle was designed as a shot on target that could be diverted into the net, but it found its way through to Mildenhall. The goalkeeper shuffled the ball high into the air, seemingly for a corner, but Blanchard retrieved it with a header back across the six-yard box. As a clutch of heads went up for the ball, Neal Trotman rose highest and nodded home.
In truth, it was a little harsh on Rovers, who had shaded the half, thanks largely to the fact that they seemed far more able, far more used, to keeping their balance on the atrocious surface.
Rovers attempted to begin the second half as they had spent much of the first, but Argyle’s trench warfare approach saw them enact a ‘they shall not pass’ attitude from the edge of their area. As a result, Rovers were reduced to speculative efforts from range which did more to trouble the catching ability of those in the Blackthorn stand behind the goal.
At the other end, Young clipped in a corner which Mildenhall eventually caught, but did so in the manner of Frank Spencer handling a cake his wife had made and trying hard not to drop it on the baby.
Rovers threw on Matt Harrold, a man with form against the Pilgrims in this fixture, with 25 minutes remaining. Minutes later, Sheridan countered with a double change, introducing Tyler Harvey and Tope Obadeyi for Young and Lewis Alessandra.
From one of a string of corners Durrell Berry bravely blocked Mohamed’s acrobatic attempt, while Argyle made their final change, replacing Reid with Marvin Morgan.
It was Rovers, though, that nabbed a decisive goal. A floated ball from the left by Lee Brown, who had displayed a proclivity to cause havoc with his left foot, saw Mohamed power in from the opposite flank and leap between horses to head home.
Harrold had a chance late on to extend Rovers’ lead, which would have been a little cruel on a battling Argyle, but the goal was not needed.
It did, though, take a marvellous save by Mildenhall to deny Morgan from grabbing a last-gasp equaliser. Then, in the final seconds, Hourihane sliced a volley wide as various Pirates retreated in a panic.
We’ll allow Rovers to say ‘Goodnight’ to Irene. We, though, shall refuse to give the same sentiments to Vienna, just yet.
(4-4-1-1): 1 Steve Mildenhall; 2 Michael Smith, 6 Tom Parkes, 29 Mark McChrystal, 14 Lee Brown; 39 Kaid Mohamed, 30 Tom Lockyer, 24 Ollie Clarke, 7 David Clarkson (9 Matt Harrold 65); 32 John-Joe O’Toole; 19 Chris Beardsley (25 Seanan Clucas 90). Substitutes
(not used): 20 Conor Gough, 4 Danny Woodards, 8 Steven Gillespie, 17 Ellis Harrison, 33 Alefe Santos.
: Mohamed 78
(3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 2 Durrell Berry, 14 Luke Young (19 Tyler Harvey 69), 15 Paul Wotton, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 26 Matt Parsons; 7 Lewis Alessandra (28 Tope Obadeyi 69), 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes
(not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 10 Marvin Morgan, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 27 Andres Gurrieri, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
: Blanchard 17, Wotton 23
: James Linington
: 7,799 (1398 away)