Fleetwood Town 0Argyle 4
Reid 22, Young 47, Blanchard 70, Hourihane 86
by ROB McNICHOL
TEN days after suffering their biggest defeat of this Sky Bet League 2 season, Argyle demolished high-flying Fleetwood Town in a complete reversal of fortune.
At Home Park, two Saturdays previous, following a heavy reverse at the hands of York City, gloom threatened to envelope the club. After a trip to a far-flung corner of Lancashire to take on 5th placed Fleetwood, Argyle emerged with a similar looking scoreline.
0-4. But my goodness it looked better this time.
Reuben Reid scored Argyle’s opener midway through the first half, but goals in the second period from Luke Young, Maxime Blanchard and Conor Hourihane carried Argyle to a stunning victory on the Fylde.
It was a third away win on the spin; a second in four days – and by far the most stylish victory seen by this club in many a traumatic year.
John Sheridan’s choice, it seemed, before the game, was to play either Paul Wotton or Neal Trotman in the middle of the defence. In the end it was Trotman, suspended the previous Saturday at Dagenham & Redbridge, who was given the nod, but it was not at the expense of Wotton, who made his 481st career appearance for Argyle in a holding midfield role that he has guested in many times over the last 19 years.
Jason Banton was the man to miss out overall. He left the field injured at Dagenham, and the short turnaround between games meant he could not pass muster.
Fleetwood recalled Steven Schumacher, Jamille Matt, Conor McLoughlin and Charlie Taylor following their 1-0 loss at Mansfield three days previous. They also gave a debut to Matt Hughes and welcomed new loan signing Josh Morris, arrived earlier in the day from Bristol Rovers, to their bench.
In a spirited and even opening ten minutes, the two most prominent occasions were notable only for the absence of an important component. First Hughes, on the right wing for Fleetwood, then Reid, moving down the corresponding flank for Argyle, sent in teasing crosses in the corridor of uncertainty that gives goalkeepers nightmares, but neither had a team-mate in position at the proposed denouement.
Jamille Matt, a towering presences as the home side’s lone frontman, gave early impressions that he would be a tough presence for whichever of the trio of Argyle centre-backs would have to look after him. He bested Trotman on the quarter hour and got to the bye-line, but the already-almost-too-familiar story of a lack of support meant his cut-back was easily gathered by Argyle.
A corner, earned by Fleetwood in the oddly vacant corner of the Highbury Stadium which hosts a (non-functioning) scoreboard and little else, was partially cleared several times by Argyle, but eventually fell to Gareth Evans, whose curling effort from twelve yards brilliantly turned over by Jake Cole.
Argyle’s first true effort on goal came from much further out and was far more speculative, but Hourihane’s strike from 30 yards was not all that far away. A minute or two later Reid found the target from a little closer, but Chris Maxwell was able to get his body behind the effort.
The Pilgrims were getting closer. They had a chance you dream of when some excellent work by Lewis Alessandra – concluded by a superb, incisive through-ball – put Reid clean through. In a tense nanosecond he had a choice to try to shoot past Maxwell or go round him – he chose the former and struck into the onrushing goalkeeper’s body.
Despite the glorious chance agonisingly passing Argyle by, they – and Reid - did not have long to wait before the breakthrough came. Some excellent, strong work by Durrell Berry down Argyle’s right saw him win an extended battle against Taylor and cross powerfully into the area. Reid met it, instructively, first time, and by the time Maxwell had reacted he was beaten.
The goal was Reid’s 16th of the season, and the third consecutive away game in which he had opened the scoring.
Fleetwood answered with confidence and no little gusto, with in particular Hughes looking like a serious threat. The 21-year-old, who will turn 22 on April 1, was proving no joke. One particular mesmorising run left a couple of Argyle defenders with twisted blood, and his deflected shot drawing the hearts geographically closer to many an Argyle fan’s throat. Fortunately, it was the closest the home side got before half-time, although did have to pouch a couple of speculative efforts Evans.
With a minute to go before half-time, Argyle were awarded a free-kick in an advanced position, wide on the left wing, after Hourihane was fouled. Hourihane and Matt Parsons stood over the ball, until the intervention of their manager from across the field. He demanded Luke Young take the dead-ball, and Parsons lie in wait at the edge of the penalty area.
Young’s cross was headed out by Fleetwood, to precisely where Parsons was standing. A first-time left-footed volley could not have been struck any better, and even as you are reading this the crossbar is probably still shaking. As the ball looped into the air, Trotman met it, nodding across goal, and Alessandra strained sinews he didn’t know he had to meet it. He did, but could not do so with enough purchase to push it goalwards.
Within two minutes of the restart, Argyle did have their second, and it was to their credit as they displayed a level of patience and calm to transfer the ball across he pitch and eventually find the net. The goal owed a little to fortune, as the ball took a sizable deflection before finding the net, but by the time Young took the shot that cannoned in, a plethora of Argyle players had played their part.
After showing strength and creativity, Reid conjured the ball to Alessandra, who shifted it to Young. In turn, Young found Berry, making another surging run as allowed by his slightly more advanced right wing-back position. Berry laid the ball back to Young, who turned 21 on Saturday, to fire home a belated birthday present, his fourth goal of the season.
There was a noticeable swagger to Argyle’s play. Another swift break saw Reid again boss a physical battle and lay the ball off to Hourihane. The skipper’s confidence shone through as he scythed a ball through to Alessandra, who killed the ball, beat his man and drew an excellent save from Maxwell.
Only just past the hour mark, Fleetwood had made all their susbstitutions. One of them, the experienced forward Jon Parkin, did enough to thread Antoni Sarcevic through, but Cole stood up long enough to block the eventual shot.
Young tested Maxwell again from range, before his quick thinking saw a free-kick taken quickly to Alessandra, whose looping cross almost found the far corner of the net.
From another Young dead-ball, Argyle extended their lead to a clearly unassailable level. From the slopes of Harper’s Park to the pristine surface of Highbury Stadium came a presumably pre-ordained routine. Alessandra’s offering of a short corner was a red herring to the Cod Army, and as he drew two defenders Young punched a ball directly through the created gap, and found Maxime Blanchard, stooping as he lunged forward. His glanced header found the corner of the net in front a determined and vociferous fragment of the travelling Argyle faithful.
The remainder of the game resembled a cruel feline torturing a sadly doomed mouse. Fleetwood scuttling about with a sense of desperation, Argyle knowing their fate was sealed.
With five minutes remaining Hourihane was felled by McLoughlin just over twenty yards out. What used to be known as Wotton Territory is these days thought of as Young Territory. As eyes were on Argyle’s number 14, it was instead his skipper who stepped up to curl a beautiful effort beyond the grasping Maxwell’s reach.
Comprehensive, emphatic and wholly deserved. Talk about making a long trip worth it.
(4-2-3-1): 28 Chris Maxwell; 15 Conor McLoughlin, 6 Nathan Pond, 5 Mark Roberts (capt) (24 Josh Morris 64), 20 Charlie Taylor; 35 Alex Marrow (9 Jon Parkin 52), 8 Steven Schumacher (4 Stuart Murdoch, 31); 22 Matt Hughes, 18 Antoni Sarcevic, 7 Gareth Evans; 10 Jamille Matt. Substitutes (not used): 1 Scott Davies (gk), 14 Liam Hogan, 16 Ryan Cresswell, 34 Mickael Mandrom.
: McLaughlin 85, Sarcevic 88
(3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 2 Durrell Berry, 14 Luke Young, 15 Paul Wotton (28 Tope Obadeyi 86) 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 26 Matt Parsons; 7 Lewis Alessandra (8 Rommy Boco 83), 9 Reuben Reid (10 Marvin Morgan 83) Substitutes
(not used): 18 Tyler Harvey, 25 Ben Purrington, 27 Andres Gurrieri, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
: Wotton 75
: Steve Bratt