Argyle 0Scunthorpe United 2
Syers 79, Cole (og) 90
by ROB McNICHOL
GOALS from David Syers and an unlucky own-goal from Argyle goalkeeper Jake Cole took Scunthorpe’s unbeaten run under manager Russ Wilcox to 21 – and hindered Argyle’s search for the key to Sky Bet League 2’s play-off door.
A tight, intense game was settled in the last eleven minutes by the visiting Iron, who cemented their own place in the division’s automatic promotion places. Syers stole inside the six-yard area to poke beyond Cole with just over ten minutes remaining, before, in stoppage time, substitute Hakeeb Adelakun’s effort that struck a post and then the unfortunate Cole trickled over the line.
John Sheridan had stayed faithful to the starting eleven from four days previous, when the Pilgrims won 1-0 at Wycombe Wanderers. The only Argyle change was on the bench, where Tyler Harvey was included instead of Nathan Thomas.
Scunthorpe went into the fixture unbeaten in the 20 games since Russ Wilcox had taken over as manager, and in second position. The Iron, in thirteen previous visits to Home Park, had never drawn with Argyle. Of late, though, they had drawn nine of their previous eleven games.
They made one change from their last outing, recalling Terry Hawkridge and dropping the experienced Matt Sparrow to the bench.
On Argyle’s annual celebration of the armed forces, the highly decorated WO1 (RSM) Matt Tomlinson presented the match-ball to referee Darren Drysdale, a military man with experience of a tour of Iraq himself. Indeed, his whole officiating team were serving military.
In bright sunshine, and after the National Anthem, proceedings in the match began with a start. An early – and rare – slip by Curtis Nelson presented the ball to Sam Winnall, but the league’s top goalscorer had a surprising rush of blood, and dragged his shot, from the edge of the area, harmlessly wide. Moments later, Lewis Alessandra got to the bye-line and stood a dangerous ball up that was only just flicked away from the incoming Matt Parsons.
It was certainly a lively and open start. A long, powerful run by Reuben Reid saw him evade several challenge before his long-range effort was blocked. Scunthorpe countered with a Paddy Madden volley that lead to a series of corners for the Iron, all of which Argyle dealt with admirably.
Profligacy from Scunthorpe saw a ball casually presented to Alessandra in a promising area. He got the ball back after switching it left to Conor Hourihane, and his powerful shot was not far over the crossbar. He would repeat the act, from a slightly more acute angle, a few minutes later.
Scunthorpe proceeded to have a several minute spell of strong possession that never really led them anywhere, but had Argyle chasing the ball for a fair stretch. To the Pilgrims’ credit, they held they shape to frustrate Scunthorpe, and it resulted in Reid pinching the ball on the halfway line. Another bustling, direct run drew defenders, and allowed Hourihane to surge into space. His fierce effort was on target, but was well saved by goalkeeper Sam Slocombe.
Shortly afterwards, Max Blanchard, having stayed forward after the corner, knocked a header into a dangerous area which deflected off of Niall Canavan and forced Slocombe into a retreating flick over the bar. From this corner, Neal Trotman headed over. The ever moving pendulum had swung back into the green half of the graph.
That was, until the end of the first period loomed, and Scunthorpe were presented with the best chance of the half by far. Again, their patient build-up looked to be heading nowhere, but a ball that ricocheted heavily from Syers sent Gary McSheffrey away down the left channel that he has plundered successfully during a long and illustrious career. This time, though, his dinked finished curled away from the far post to relief of the majority in attendance.
The longer the time in the game elapsed, the more it felt like a bout between two cagey pugilists that knew the fight was going the full twelve rounds. It took nearly ten minutes of the second half to go by before any chance of significance appeared. When it did, it was Winnall, scurrying into a channel and make Jake Cole work at his near post.
But despite the dearth of clear chances and excitement, this was not a game that felt destined for a throwaway stalemate. Both teams displayed quality and maturity in going about their business – as well as a respect for their opponents’ current stature.
Just before the hour, Paddy Madden hustled his way through a crowd and emerged unscathed, before fizzing one at Cole from fifteen yards that the Argyle keeper safely pushed over the bar.
At the other end, Reid, a recent team-mate of Madden’s at Yeovil Town, set off on another driving run. When challenged, the ball spilled to Parsons, who deftly squared toward Alessandra. The Argyle number seven beat his dithering marker to the ball and clipped past Slocombe with his left foot. Despairingly, the ball struck the post. Alessandra met the rebound on the stretch, and the ball just floated past the opposite upright.
It felt, once again, that things were swinging Argyle’s way. Captain Hourihane was in the vanguard of the renewed push, buzzing in two strong efforts from the edge of the box. Neither troubled Slocombe, but they were serious statements of intent.
Scunthorpe introduced Hakeeb Adelakun for McSheffrey, having already brought on Paul Hayes, briefly a Pilgrim earlier in the season, for Madden. The colloquial rule in football, in these sorts of occasions, is that the ex-player gets a goal to haunt his former employers.
Hayes did the next best thing. After the impressive Eddie Nolan got forward from right-back and stabbed the ball across, Hayes directed it goalwards. Syers, advancing from midfield, diverted the ball under Cole to give Scunthorpe a precious lead.
Argyle had to respond, and they did so with Alessandra curling a left-footed shot beyond Slocombe but brushing the outside of the opposite post that he hit some half an hour previous.
Sheridan upped the response by bringing on Marvin Morgan, Tope Obadeyi and Andres Gurrieri, sacrificing Reid, Blanchard and Blizzard. Gurrieri was first to register interest in being the hero, driving a shot from the edge of the area which was safely smothered by Slocombe.
As Argyle pushed forward in search of a precious point, Scunthorpe capitalised on the space, and when Adelakun hit an upright, the ball span back to strike the prone Cole and bounce into the goal.
(3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard (28 Tope Obadeyi 84), 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 2 Durrell Berry, 14 Luke Young, 11 Dominic Blizzard (27 Andres Gurrieri 84), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 26 Matt Parsons; 7 Lewis Alessandra 9 Reuben Reid (10 Marvin Morgan 84). Substitutes
(not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 15 Paul Wotton, 18 Tyler Harvey, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
: Hourihane 73
(4-4-2): 1 Sam Slocombe; 18 Eddie Nolan, 5 David Mirfin, 6 Niall Canavan, 30 Marcus Williams; 14 Terry Hawkridge, 4 Sean McAllister (15 Luke Waterfall 90), 24 David Syers, 28 Gary McSheffrey (16 Hakeeb Adelakun 75); 29 Sam Winnall, 27 Paddy Madden (39 Paul Hayes 63). Substitutes
(not used): 2 Christian Ribeiro, 7 Matt Sparrow, 13 James Severn (gk), 26 James Alabi.
: Slocombe 90
: Darren Drysdale
: 8,198 (218 away)