By Rob McNichol
A GOAL by recalled midfielder Dominic Blizzard was enough to give Argyle their first win away from home this season, in the glare of the live Sky Sports cameras at Kenilworth Road.
The Pilgrims, in truth, began rather slowly, but by the time Blizzard scored the decisive goal, midway through the second half, their frigid beginning had thawed out, revealing a warm, consummate away performance.
It was doubly fitting that Blizzard should be man to decide matters. Not only a former Watford player – frowned on in these parts – but one that featured little in the Pilgrims season to this point.
Illness to Marvin Morgan meant an opening was formed in the starting line-up, and having impressed in a development fixture at Home Park in midweek, Blizzard was given the nod.
Blizzard’s inclusion, alongside Lee Cox and Anthony O’Connor in the midfield, showed Argyle’s intent to fill the middle of the park with ball-winners. Lewis Alessandra and Jason Banton would be asked to play outside them to provide width and to support Reuben Reid.
Alessandra and Banton would each be matching up against former Pilgrims at full-back for the Hatters. Alessandra’s attendant would be Scott Griffiths, maker of six starts in a loan spell at Home Park two seasons ago, while Banton was facing up to Paul Connolly, a much-loved former Pilgrims right-back with 177 appearances in the green-and-white to his name.
Luton took the initiative at the start of the game, looking to impress the numerous Sky cameras surrounding the action. A ball flicked towards the area was handled by Curtis Nelson, who found himself cautioned after just 90 seconds of the game. Luke Guttridge’s subsequent free-kick was palmed over the bar by Luke McCormick.
Five minutes later, Guttridge wriggled free just inside the box, but got little connection on his strike, allowing McCormick to gather safely.
Argyle first chance of any note came when Alessandra, in the midst of getting clattered by Connolly, released Banton, whose clipped cross had to be smartly cleared by Alex Lacey. Connolly was subsequently cautioned for his prior misdemeanour.
Thirteen minutes into the game Griffiths made his first telling contribution to the game, getting forward with purpose to feed Jake Howells outside him. Howells’ cross was met well by Luke Rooney, who shot just over the bar.
Sixteen minutes into the game, Argyle had a glorious chance to open the scoring. A long ball down the left channel by Peter Hartley was barely flicked on by Reid, and as Lacey misjudged the bounce, Alessandra stole in behind and was clean through. His shot, though, was straight at goalkeeper Mark Tyler, who held well.
Attempting to make up for his profligacy, Alessandra went on a productive run on the right hand side, swiftly evading two men, then curling wide with his left foot. At the midway point of the first half, anything good being engineered by the yellow shirts of the visitors was coming for Alessandra.
The pattern of the game was settling into Luton having the bulk of possession, but Argyle typically getting men back in such numbers to stifle their hosts. Just before the half hour mark, though, the Hatters prized the yellow door open as Guttridge fed lone frontman Cullen, who tried to flick past McCormick. The Argyle ‘keeper got his extended fingertips to the ball, making a vital touch to turn round the post.
Argyle quickly recovered custody of the football, and with their longest spell of possession managed to release Blizzard, in space on the edge of the box, after good work by Banton in particular. Blizzard’s shot was well hit, but was smothered by Tyler.
Argyle were gaining a foothold. Reid, temporarily on the right side, received the ball after a smart piece of anticipation by Kelvin Mellor, and set off on a typically swashbuckling run. After beating one man, he shot, and Tyler had to be on his mettle to save to his right.
From a failed Luton attack, the Pilgrims looked to have a break on. Cox found Banton, flying down the left, but as he cut the ball inside, it struck the referee. Luton recovered, and instigated a swift, intricate attack with ended with McCormick having to be at his best to prevent Howells from giving the Hatters the lead in the final minute of the half.
Little happened in the first fifteen minutes of the second half – save for the ref taking a tumble and eliciting a similar sort of cheer as when a glass accidentally smashes in a pub – and Sheridan took the lull as a cue to send on Alex Bray for his Argyle debut.
The loanee from Swansea wasted little time in getting into the thick of the action, but getting cautioned for clattering Lacey within two minutes of his introduction was probably not the type of impact his manager had in mind when sending him on.
He nearly made a more positive contribution shortly afterwards, looking to dart into the box while playing a one-two with Reid, but being cut off.
Seconds later Reid, with familiar bombast, grabbed the ball, bounced a defender or two off him, then squared intelligently to Blizzard, whose first time effort had Tyler beaten, but went inches wide of the post. He was just getting his range.
Bray’s curious debut took another twist, as he made his first real run with the ball down the flank. As he shaped to cross, though, he kicked the ground and pulled up in some distress. It looked for a time like it might be the end of his afternoon, but he soldiered on.
Argyle then prized open the Luton defence, with Blizzard, who had been operating in a more advanced role post-interval, getting on the scoresheet for only the second time in his Pilgrims career so far.
Cox seized on a ball on the edge of the Hatters’ 18-yard-box, and glanced to Blizzard, who evaded a couple of pairs of flailing legs, before clipping past Tyler – this time inside the post.
Bray succumbed to his injury before play restarted, while Luton sent on Alex Lawless and Ross Lafayette in quick succession in an attempt to restore parity.
It ought to have been Argyle with the next big chance, though. An Alessandra corner was flicked on at the near-post, clearly striking a Luton defender’s arm. No penalty was given, however.
Lafayette shot a speculative effort well wide from the edge of the box for the Hatters, but Argyle had their tales up. Sterling work from Reid got him to the bye-line, and his elegant, chipped cross somehow evaded both Alessandra and Blizzard as they converged in the six-yard box.
There were signs of late Luton life as the home side, winless at Kenilworth Road this season, sought to scramble a late goal to earn a precious point. It was not to be, though, and Argyle have their first away victory of the campaign.
Luton: (4-2-3-1) 1 Mark Tyler; 29 Paul Connolly, 6 Alex Lacey, 5 Steve McNulty (capt), 12 Scott Griffiths; 17 Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, 8 Andy Drury (28 Jim Stevenson 78); 15 Luke Rooney, 21 Luke Guttridge, 11 Jake Howells (7 Alex Lawless 69); 13 Mark Cullen (18 Ross Lafayette 72). Substitutes (not used): 4 Jonathan Smith, 10 Alex Wall, 16 Elliot Justham (gk), 30 Luke Wilkinson.
Booked: Connolly 7
Argyle: (4-1-4-1) 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 29 Peter Hartley, 16 Carl McHugh; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 28 Anthony O'Connor, 4 Lee Cox, 8 Jason Banton (17 Alex Bray 58; 22 Deane Smalley 70); 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 3 Ben Purrington, 6 Ollie Norburn, 14 Tyler Harvey, 19 Nathan Thomas.
Booked: Nelson 2, Blizzard 24, Bray 60
Referee: Mick Russell.
Attendance: 7,864 (527 away).