Wycombe Wanderers 0Argyle 1
by RICK COWDERY
A WONDERFUL goal from captain Conor Hourihane pushed the Pilgrims closer to the Sky Bet League 2 play-off zone as the Pilgrims resumed their superb recent form after their weekend hiccup at Bristol.
The young skipper, who has led from the front for most of a season which is still pregnant with possibilities, struck just after the interval with a sublime volley in front of the Green Army.
It proved enough to maintain their post-Christmas surge, and with three of the division’s top five to visit Home Park in the final weeks of the campaign, and another to be visited, who is to say that the play-offs should be the limit of Argyle’s ambition?
Argyle manager John Sheridan had limited himself to one change to the starters that lined up for Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers, a like-for-like swap to the defensive central midfield role, with Dominic Blizzard coming in for the old warhorse Paul Wotton.
Otherwise, the only other change to the Memorial Stadium squad was on the bench, where Nathan Thomas came in for Tyler Harvey – a nod, perhaps, to the width of the Adams Park pitch.
Wycombe came into the match on the back of a 2-1 home win over Hartlepool – their sixth game unbeaten – but were obliged to make two changes to that successful weekend starting line-up.
Former Pilgrim forward Paris Cowan-Hall gave way to injury and Matt McClure, while midfielder Josh Scowen’s suspension allowed Jesse Kewley-Graham a seasonal debut.
McClure barely saw more of the ball as Cowan-Hall in the opening quarter as Argyle, back on a surface which resembled a football pitch, totally dominated play.
The midfield was something of a mismatch with the result that the game was largely played on Pilgrims’ terms in Wycombe territory. Pleasing though the possession was, there was little accompanying penetration and Chairboys goalkeeper Matt Ingram was not obliged to dirty his gloves.
At least he was busier than Jake Cole, who must have been grateful for the company of 600-plus members of the Green Army behind his goal.
However, buoyed by their survival, Wycombe edged forward after the mid-point of the half and Cole needed his team-mates to get close and keep out some searching crosses. Reuben Reid, at the near post, and Matt Parsons, at the far, both intervened at vital moments.
Durrell Berry had taken 97 games to notch his first senior goal in the 5-0 demolition of Morecambe, and nearly doubled his career tally two games later when he fired a first-time shot wide from the edge of the area.
It was not until the 35th minute, though, that either side created an on-target chance and then it was Wycombe, who had been growing in confidence as the half progressed, who fashioned the opportunity.
Just for a split second, when McClure got his head to a right-wing cross, did it seem that the effort might catch Cole cold. However, the ball decelerated as it looped the ten yards to goal, allowing Cole to gather comfortably.
Comfortable was certainly not what Cole felt in the final minute of an increasingly even half, when Sam Wood’s inswinging corner from the right threatened to curl into the goal over his head. The Argyle custodian, though, stuck out a mitt to paw the ball away behind him by way of the crossbar.
The Pilgrims came out for the second half with renewed purpose. This was first evidenced by a 30-yard run down the left flank by centre-back Curtis Nelson that won a corner.
Luke Young’s first flag-kick earned another, from which the ball found its way across the goal to Hourihane at the far post. The Argyle skipper measured the dropping ball with utter precision and showed great technique to volley it deliberately across Ingram into the far corner of the net. Or, in other words, he absolutely roofed it.
Stung, Wycombe were forced to respond and Max Kretzschmar found space on the left of the Pilgrims’ penalty area for a shot that Cole was glad to see ping into the side-netting of the goal.
The momentum was with Argyle, though, who worked the ball from side to side to good effect, and they came close to grabbing to what would have been a fantastic second goal when Reid’s drive was well saved by Ingram.
Cole mopped up from Kretzschmar’s loopy little half-chance before Reid stretched Ingram again with a stinging shot.
The rest of the match was a contrast in styles between the home side’s frenetic hunt for an equaliser and Argyle’s composed search for the nerve-settling second.
That nearly arrived from substitute Tope Obadeyi, when he seized on Reid’s through-ball but he was forced out of his stride and lifted the ball over Ingram’s crossbar.
As it was, the defence was forced to stay strong during a where-did-that-come-from final five minutes of injury-time.
(4-4-2): 1 Matt Ingram; 2 Marvin McCoy, 11 Sam Wood, 6 Leon Johnson, 5 Anthony Stewart; 21 Jesse Kewley-Graham, 23 Nick Arnold (18 Jo Kuffour 76), 10 Matt Bloomfield (capt), 22 Max Kretzschmar; 7 Dean Morgan (27 Reece Styche 76), 29 Matt McClure (20 Steven Craig 57). Substitutes
(not used): 13 Charlie Horlock (gk), 15 Anthony Jeffrey, 19 Aaron Pierre.
(3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 2 Durrell Berry, 14 Luke Young (15 Paul Wotton 90), 11 Dominic Blizzard, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 26 Matt Parsons; 7 Lewis Alessandra (28 Tope Obadeyi 85), 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes
(not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 10 Marvin Morgan, 19 Nathan Thomas, 27 Andres Gurrieri, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
: Trotman 72.
: Andy Davies.
: 3,042 (612 away).