Reid pen 45
Exeter City 2
Sercombe 69, Richards 83
by RICK COWDERY
ARGYLE’S play-off ambitions were dealt a blow by the team they would least like to deliver that blow when Exeter produced an impressive second-half comeback to complete a Devon Expressway Derby double.
Reuben Reid became the first Pilgrim to score 20 goals in a season since Steve Castle in 1993-94 when he converted a 45th-penalty following an inexplicable handball by Exeter captain Danny Coles.
Only three other times in the last 30 seasons has an Argyle player got past the teens – or, indeed, in five cases, even into them – and that player was the same one three times: Thomas Edward Tynan.
For the second game running, though, Argyle failed to hold on to a half-time lead and allowed City to level midway through the second period through Liam Sercombe’s deflected shot.
Worse followed in the final ten minutes, when Eliot Richards tapped Tom Nichols’ pass from what looked an offside position. The possible injustice of the goal was at least in part mitigated by the fact that the visitors had made the most of the second-half running.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had recalled two Pilgrims to the starting line-up after Saturday’s 1-1 disappointing draw at Accrington. It was no coincidence, given the occasion, that both were Plymothians: Plymstock’s Paul Wotton, who was making his 486th appearance in the Green, and Southway’s Luke Young, who was making his 103rd.
If it was an astute psychological move, the stats also backed up his hunch: fewer Pilgrims have contributed to teams that have won more points this season, with Argyle winning an average of 1.75 points every time Young begins a game and 1.79 points every time Wotton starts. Of current Pilgrims, only Tope Obadeyi, Matt Parsons and Andres Gurrieri boast a healthier points-per-start average.
Young and Wotton came in to the Argyle midfield in place of Rommy Boco and Dominic Blizzard, who both took their place on the bench.
Exeter manager Paul Tisdale stayed faithful to the same side and bench that had achieved City’s home win against Fleetwood on Saturday, the first time they had prevailed at St James Park since beating the Pilgrims in the opening week of October.
A cautious beginning to the game saw the early skirmishes limited to Reuben Reid’s burst into the Exeter penalty area that preceded a shot which was shovelled away for a corner, and Nichols obliging Jake Cole to make a fairly easy save from his snap shot.
Argyle then upped the pressure, and both Young and Parsons fired off shots that required an intervention by a visiting defender to ensure goalkeeper Artur Krysiak was not called into action.
Reid’s muscular presence continued to unnerve the City defenders, and another awesome change-up of pace took him surging past Jordan Moore-Taylor to the bye-line for a cross that was all but turned into his own net by Coles.
For all their nice football, City’s attack was pretty toothless and the next time Cole was called into action was to mop up after Wotton’s defensive header had cannoned into Reid and rebounded towards the Argyle goal.
Back up the right end, Reid came within inches of giving the Pilgrims the lead when, after another powerful run, he curled a left-foot shot over Krysiak’s head but on to the angle of post and crossbar.
Reid had his joy soon afterwards, thanks to Coles’ indiscretion. It will have been interesting to hear the half-time explanation to his teams-mates of why he needed to meet Parsons’ left-wing cross with his head, rather than his proximate hand.
Whatever, Reid strode up to the spot and dispatched the gift low and hard to Krysiak’s left.
The goal came in the final minute of the first half, but there was still time for Argyle to nearly double the lead when skipper Conor Hourihane’s fierce drive was beaten out with no small degree of grateful desperation by Krysiak.
City started the brighter of the two teams after the break and nearly levelled when Nichols created space for himself and shot low, wide of Cole’s right hand.
The ball hit the post, in more or less exactly the same spot that Scunthorpe striker Hakeeb Adelakun had found two weeks previously. Unlike on that occasion, the ball bounced to safety instead of off the back of Cole’s head and into the net.
Reid was soon back on centre stage. First, a left-foot shot was beaten away by Krysiak and then a right-foot lob, after he had teed up Wotton’s pass himself, nearly caught out the Exeter custodian.
The visitors were more in the game than they had been before the break but the threat never amounted to much and, for all their lesser possession, Argyle always appeared to have the more menace. Reid, again, asked a question of Krysiak when he broke away from the halfway line and chose to shoot early.
Exeter substitute Matt Grimes tested Cole from distance before Sercombe levelled, his shot from 20 yards apparently catching an outstretched Argyle leg to carry it beyond a wrong-footed Cole.
Suddenly, the whole game was nearly turned on its head, with Exeter immediately breaking away from the restart and Richards wasting a glorious opportunity by firing wide.
The Pilgrims responded positively, with Neal Trotman powerfully heading Young’s corner past Krysiak, only for Danny Butterfield to clear the ball from the line and Reid to eventually fire the loose ball over the crossbar.
Marvin Morgan entered the fray, bringing Tope Obadeyi’s Pilgrims’ career to an end, along with Durrell Berry, for the injured Parsons. However, Exeter still looked the team more likely to and Max Blanchard’s smother tackle on Richards was a vital block before Cole saved from Sercombe.
Sheridan played his final card with the introduction of Banton but, before he could get into his stride, Richards put the visitors ahead.
It was a lead that Argyle seldom looked like reducing.
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 27 Andres Gurrieri, 14 Luke Young, 15 Paul Wotton (20 Jason Banton 79), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 26 Matt Parsons (2 Durrell Berry 73); 28 Tope Obadeyi (10 Marvin Morgan 73), 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 18 Tyler Harvey, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
Booked: Nelson 36, Wotton 70.
Exeter City (4-5-1): 1 Artur Krysiak; 2 Danny Butterfield, 4 Scot Bennett, 6 Danny Coles (capt), 3 Craig Woodman; 15 Jordan Moore-Taylor, 8 Matt Oakley, 7 Liam Sercombe, 35 Matthew Gill (29 Matt Grimes 58), 14 Eliot Richards; 20 Tom Nichols (19 John O’Flynn 90). Substitutes (not used): 5 Pat Baldwin, 11 Arron Davies, 25 Sam Parkin, 30 Christy Pym (gk), 32 David Wheeler.
Booked: Gill 40, Coles 45.
Referee: Bobby Madley.
Attendance: 13,442 (826 away).