Burton Albion 1
by Rob McNichol
For the third successive season – and for the third time in three attempts in their history – Argyle lost by the odd goal at the Pirelli Stadium.
A first-half goal by Burton Albion wide man Callum McFadzean was the numerical difference between the two sides, although each half saw it own sets of contrasts.
In their last two fixtures, Argyle had played well in the first half and faded after the break, but the reverse was true on this afternoon in Staffordshire. After a briefly bright start, Argyle found themselves up against it for the majority of the first 45 minutes, with Albion taking a deserved lead into the break.
After the interval, the Pilgrims seemed rejuvenated, taking the game to their visitors, but were unable to craft the chance that could earn them what would have been a vital point.
It had been eleven days since Argyle’s last fixture – a long time to dwell on a disappointing home defeat to rivals Exeter City. During that time, John Sheridan had swooped to sign Enoch Showunmi in the final minutes before the loan deadline closed, and the boss threw the giant forward straight into the starting line-up, joining Reuben Reid in the frontline.
On either flank, operating as wing-backs, were Ben Purrington and Durrell Berry, each recalled to the team. Purrington as a direct replacement for the injured Matt Parsons, while Berry nominally replaced Paul Wotton, with Andres Gurrieri shifting from his right-sided berth to play just off of Argyle’s burly new front duo.
The Burton line-up was littered with former Pilgrims. On the pitch, Damien McCrory and David Gray began the game for the Brewers, while on the bench sat substitutes Alex MacDonald and Ashley Hemmings, both of whom had enjoyed loan spells at Argyle in recent seasons. The pair were sat adjacent to Kevin Summerfield, a man who at last estimate had filled approximately 347 roles at Home Park, all with distinction.
Argyle’s opening five minutes looked very promising. After winning a couple of free-kicks in threatening areas, Luke Young intercepted a Burton through-ball and immediately thrust a ball diagonally to find Reid, whose shot was deflected for a corner.
The opening exchanges saw a battle commence between the differing systems on show. Burton tried to counter Argyle’s 3-5-2 formation with their more orthodox 4-4-2, bringing their full-backs into play. Gray, at right-back, played in Gary Alexander for a half-chance that Max Blanchard denied, before left-sided midfielder Jimmy Phillips, aided by McCrory behind him, crafted two chances. The first was smartly turned over by Jake Cole, the second taking a slight deflection to fizz past the Pilgrims’ keeper only to ricochet off of the post.
Alexander then found Berry a little too sharp after being threaded though; the Argyle right-back stopping the Burton number nine profiting from a canny pass by Billy Kee. From the corner, Alexander’s effort was deflected wide by an Argyle body, with consternation then being caused by the decision to award a goal-kick.
Burton’s pressure told before the half-hour, although it could be said Argyle saw to their own undoing. Neal Trotman looked to pass the ball out from defence, but Young slipped as he attempted to collect, leading Albion to attack with a numerical advantage. Argyle recovered temporarily, with Curtis Nelson stopping an initial effort, but the ball fell eventually to Callum McFadzean, who shot under Cole and into the net.
Burton, buoyed by the deserved opener, pressed for a second, and it took a faint flick by Cole to touch a McCrory free-kick onto – and over – the cross bar.
The Brewers maintained their pressure throughout the half, with another long-range McCrory effort in stoppage time being pushed away by Cole.
At the break, Sheridan replaced Trotman with Paul Wotton, and Argyle made a bright start. Reid pulled wide and beat two men before hitting a dangerous effort which was deflected wide. Skipper Conor Hourihane then linked well with Showunmi to drive into the area and force Rob Lainton into his first real action of the afternoon.
Argyle certainly were able to compete more effectively in the second period, but were still finding chances hard to come by. Sheridan introduced Marvin Morgan for Durrell Berry, tweaking the system into a 3-4-3 and creating the most physically imposing front three in Argyle history.
It was two midfielders, though, who engineered the next chance. Andres Gurrieri floated for a long time with the ball before clipping to Hourihane, who had burst into space. His side-footed volley was a tricky discipline to undertake, but he would probably have expected to do better than knock straight into Lainton’s hands.
Burton, who by now had brought on McDonald and home favourite Michael Symes, saw a half-chance go just wide when Phillips somewhat snatched at a volley from the edge of the penalty area.
While the tide certainly continued to be mainly blue, Burton threatened on the break, and the constantly busy Phillips did a superb job to carve out another edge-of-the-box chance. Cole’s save fell to Symes, who sliced wide.
Burton’s delaying tactics did not go unnoticed by referee Mark Haywood, who called for an additional five minutes to be played, but Argyle could not find a way through.
Burton Albion (4-4-2): 1 Rob Lainton; 26 David Gray, 6 Ian Sharps, 25 Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, 14 Damien McCrory; 15 Callum McFadzean (8 Robbie Weir 81), 7 Lee Bell (c), 23 Matt Palmer, 17 Jimmy Phillips; 9 Gary Alexander (28 Michael Symes 69), 29 Billy Kee (11 Alex MacDonald 56). Substitutes (not used): 2 Phil Edwards, 12 Ashley Hemmings, 16 Dean Lyness (gk), 18 Dominic Knowles.
Booked: McFadzean 58
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman (15 Paul Wotton HT), 17 Curtis Nelson; 2 Durrell Berry (10 Marvin Morgan 66), 14 Luke Young (11 Dominic Blizzard 73), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 27 Andres Gurrieri, 25 Ben Purrington; 29 Enoch Showunmi, 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 18 Tyler Harvey, 19 Nathan Thomas, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
Booked: Hourihane 60
Referee: Mark Haywood.
Attendance: 2,962 (500 away approx).