Newport County 1
Harvey 21, Hourihane 30
by Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE’S flirtation with the Sky Bet League 2 play-offs, something of an on-off affair this season, caught fire again as first-half goals from teenager Tyler Harvey and captain Conor Hourihane gave them a first win in Newport for more than 30 years.
The Pilgrims took the lead midway through the opening period when Harvey marked only his third senior start with his second Argyle goal, 15 months after his first, a far-post header from Nathan Thomas’s cross.
They were pegged back just over six minutes later through former Pilgrim Chris Zebroski, but parity lasted barely longer than the home side’s celebration of the goal as Hourihane claimed his sixth goal of the season.
With five games to go in this see-saw season, the Pilgrims remain one of four teams with realistic aims of claiming one of the two play-off spots that appear to still be up for grabs. They host another of the quartet – Oxford United – on Saturday.
After taking just one point form their previous three matches, Argyle had gone into the re-arranged ‘almost-but-not-quite-must-win’ game with a side built to attack.
The inclusion of Thomas was the most eyebrow-raising of four changes from the side that had lost 1-0 at Burton Albion the previous Saturday, coming in for his full Argyle debut after eight substitute appearances.
Thomas, 19, took the place of Ben Purrington, lining up on the left side of a five-man midfield that contained just one player whose natural inclination is to hang back, albeit hardly in shrinking-violet style, Paul Wotton.
The evergreen Green, who had been an effective substitute at Burton, was flanked by Hourihane and another teenage call-up, Harvey, who made his first start – in central midfield – for 15 months, in place of fellow young Plymothian Luke Young.
Andres Gurrieri reverted to right wing-back, instead of Durrell Berry, to allow Wotton into the side, with the onus on creating the supply for leading scorer Reuben Reid and Marvin Morgan, who was making his first start since a back injury destroyed his season in October.
It was the first time that the pair had been in harness since the 0-0 home draw against Accrington in September, and only the 11th time in 49 matches that numbers 9 and 10 had appeared in the same Argyle starting line-up.
Newport made one change to the side that draw 1-1 at third-place Chesterfield four days earlier, with former Pilgrim Darcy Blake passing a fitness test to come into the Exiles’ defence in place of injured defender Ismail Yakubu.
Much had been made of the Newport pitch, but there was enough grass amid the confusing array of rugby and football pitch markings for a decent game, and, anyway, the tide was out.
After a good ten minutes of tentative sparring, Argyle had their first shot on target in Newport for 28 years when Gurrieri made light of heavy pitch with a delicate run that ended with a short pass to Hourihane, on the burst from midfield.
The Argyle skipper took a touch to steady himself before firing off a low drive that County ’keeper Ian McLoughlin went full stretch to parry, with Blake smuggling the ball off Morgan before the Argyle man could make plunder.
The chance gave the Pilgrims momentum, and they used it to maximum effect. Morgan chased a lost cause to feed Thomas, the two Welsh soundalikes combining well for Thomas to send over a cross to the far post.
It was flighted so perfectly that young Harvey, all his team-mates, the 1,000-strong Green Army, and most of South Wales knew exactly what was coming once Harvey was airborne. McLoughlin did not have a chance.
The lead was not enjoyed for long as Newport – free from the threat of relegation and unencumbered by the pressure of realistic promotion hopes – came straight back to level when Zebroski broke on to Ryan Jackson’s through ball to shoot low across Jake Cole and score from a far-post cannon.
Argyle responded in double-quick time, going ahead again before the first half-hour of a thoroughly engaging contest. This time, Reid was the forager and Hourihane the beneficiary: the ball was laid into the path of the captain whose earlier sighter gave him the confidence to slam the ball home from 20 yards.
The opening quarter of the second period saw the Pilgrims on the back foot as the game was played almost entirely in their half. However, a disciplined approach and pressure on the ball from Morgan and Reid back kept Cole from meaningful action.
When they did get the ball, Argyle used it well. Thomas continued to menace his marker, and both he and Reid raised the pulse with half-chances.
Newport rang the changes just after the hour, sending on forwards Rene Howe and Christian Jolley, who immediately carved out a chance for Mike Flynn that the skipper slashed over Cole’s crossbar.
With the home side on a roll, Sheridan decided Morgan had run his race and sent on Enoch Showunmi to add some beef to proceedings. Straight away, the Notts County loan man got his head to Thomas’s corner to give Hourihane a shot on goal that flew over.
The substitution reversed the momentum and Argyle started to pose questions of their own. Chief interrogator Thomas supplied another lovely cross that Reid narrowly failed to squeeze in at the near post before firing a shot of his own that feathered the outside of McLoughlin’s post.
It proved to be the last real act of Argyle’s biggest match of the season.
(4-4-2): 33 Ian McLoughlin; 18 Ryan Jackson, 20 Kevin Feely, 16 Darcy Blake, 3 Andrew Hughes; 11 Chris Zebroski, 8 Lee Minshull (23 Christian Jolley 64), 17 Michael Flynn (capt, 15 Ryan Burge 80), 4 Max Porter, 12 Robbie Willmott; 14 Shaun Jeffers (45 Rene Howe 64). Substitutes
(not used): 2 David Pipe, 13 Andy Sandell, 19 Tom Naylor, 24 Aaron Holloway.
: Keely 59.
(3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 27 Andres Gurrieri, 18 Tyler Harvey (11 Dominic Blizzard 78), 15 Paul Wotton, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 19 Nathan Thomas (2 Durrell Berry 88); 9 Reuben Reid, 10 Marvin Morgan (29 Enoch Showunmi 70). Substitutes
(not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 20 Jason Banton, 25 Ben Purrington, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
: Scott Mathieson.
: 3,381 (1,002 away).