Accrington Stanley 1
by ROB McNICHOL
ARGYLE were forced to settle for a draw after a hard-fought battle in frigid Lancashire.
In a match that resembled an attritional skirmish more than a football match at times, the Pilgrims grittily went about their business and took a first-half lead through Reuben Reid.
However, for the first time this season Argyle failed to convert a half-time lead into three points, in the end succumbing to an Accrington equaliser scored by central defender Tom Aldred.
Before the game, much of the chat was about issue of a climactic nature. In deepest Lancashire, winter had refused to release her vice-like grip, and the volume of sleet and rain in the area had taken its toll on the playing surface. As, indeed, had three games in the previous two-and-a-half weeks on the storefirst.com stadium’s pitch.
Intermittent pre-match rain led to puddles punctuating the pitch, and possibly influenced John Sheridan’s decision to leave Luke Young out of the starting line-up, given that conditions were not really suited to Young’s passing attributes. Also missing was Paul Wotton – saved for the visit to Home Park of Exeter City on Tuesday? – and so Dominic Blizzard and former Accrington man Rommy Boco took their spots in midfield.
Up front, an injury to Lewis Alessandra endured on Tuesday against Chesterfield, when the Pilgrims bested the team who at that point topped the table, meant a start for Tope Obadeyi.
Talk of the town in Accrington in recent weeks had been Lee Molyneux, a former Pilgrim who had suddenly discovered his scoring boots in recent week, including a quick-fire hat-trick as Accrington, accordingly, have found some form.
Stanley started brightly, adapting to conditions faster than their visitors, though they could not muster more than a pair of easily dealt with corners and a Molyneux free-kick from 40 yards of which the word ‘audacious’ would scarcely come close to describing. The adjective ‘wide’, though, was indisputably accurate.
Argyle reacted, though, and in particular Obadeyi began to cause issue, skating through the standing water and cutting swathes through the Stanley back-line. One such burst saw him cut inside into the area and fire off a shot from twelve yards, which defender Dean Winnard did well to block.
Soon after, Conor Hourihane engineered an opening for Reuben Reid, whose low shot was kicked away by goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli.
Just as the Pilgrims looked to be getting on top, Stanley cleared a corner and preyed on a ponderous moment by Blizzard to burst forward in numbers. Argyle were assisted by the mud, which temporarily halted progress, but it still took sound blocks by first Andres Gurrieri then Max Blanchard to deny Will Hatfield.
In front of a hardy section of the Green Army bearing the brunt of conditions on an open terrace, Accrington earned a series of corners that drew no discernible chances, but caused more than one palpitation for the men in blue.
With just after half an hour played, some tidy Argyle passing seemed to be getting nowhere, until Hourihane fizzed one into the feet of Reid. The latter’s acceleration was startling to all, but none more so than Adam Buxton, who resembled a statue as Reid powerful past him into the penalty area. A snapshot and a partial parry later, and the ball was nestling in the net courtesy of Reid for the 19th time this season.
Straight from the restart, Accrington thought they had a route straight back into the game, as forward James Gray went to ground when under pressure. Referee Trevor Kettle, though, ruled that the contact did not warrant a spot-kick, and promptly cautioned Gray for simulation.
Accrington manager James Beattie, recently linked with the hotseat at Oxford United now filled by Gary Waddock, introduced powerful forward Kayode Odejayi at the break, replacing Kai Naismith and switching to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation.
Stanley started the half looking like a team with a purpose, and after the home fans’ ire was raised when Molyneux’s penalty appeal was waved away, they really should have equalised when Peter Murphy found space on the edge of the six-yard area, but suddenly the Accrington number 2 looked to have never seen a football before, and prodded at it like a cat pawing a ball of wool.
Not only did Argyle survive the scare, they nearly doubled their advantage straight away, as from the break forward Hourihane prodded one towards Bettinelli’s bottom right hand corner. Scrambling, the home goalkeeper did well to stoop and save.
Second half chances were flowing faster than their first half counterparts. Blanchard’s strong headed effort from Hourihane’s corner was blocked on the line, before Stanley worked the ball to Hatfield for a 20-yarder that Jake Cole did well to shovel wide. From the resultant corner, Winnard hooked goalwards only for Cole to be in the way again.
A tremendous cross by Molyneux then found Odejayi in acres of space, but his headed effort smashed against the roof of the stand as opposed to the roof of the net.
Neal Trotman, often a threat at set-pieces, twice came close to extending Argyle’s advantage, with first a header then a clipped volley from Hourihane free-kicks on either side of the field.
It was Accrington, though, that found the net thanks to one of their centre-backs. For the second game in a row Aldred got onto the scoresheet, this time rising above all to head past Cole following a well-placed cross by Molyneux.
Argyle had a chance to win the game in injury time when Reid got beyond Accrington again, but rather than go for his 20th goal of the season, he chose to square, and the chance was lost.
The game, though, was not. Roll on Tuesday.
(4-4-1-1): 26 Marcus Bettinelli; 16 Nicky Hunt, 6 Dean Winnard, 5 Tom Aldred, 23 Adam Buxton; 11 Kai Naismith (24 Kayode Odejayi half-time), 4 Luke Joyce (capt), 2 Peter Murphy, 13 Lee Molyneux; 10 Will Hatfield (20 Josh Windass 69); 17 James Gray (5 Piero Mingoia 90). Substitutes
(not used): 3 Michael Liddle, 9 Danny Webber, 25 Rob Atkinson, 44 George Bowerman.
: Gray 33, Hatfield 45, Buxton 78
(3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 27 Andres Gurrieri, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 8 Rommy Boco (20 Jason Banton 87), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 26 Matt Parsons; 28 Tope Obadeyi (10 Marvin Morgan 67), 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes
(not used): 14 Luke Young, 15 Paul Wotton, 18 Tyler Harvey, 25 Ben Purrington, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
: Trevor Kettle
: 1,557 (447 away)