Argyle 0Wycombe 1
by Rob McNichol
Argyle lost their unbeaten record at Home Park at Wycombe Wanderers administered a dose of the Blues.
The irrefutable law of the returning player was the decisive factor, as Paul Hayes, who spent a fraction of 2013-14 on loan at Home Park, failing to score, got on the scoresheet against the team he – briefly – used to represent.
The goal came ten minutes before the half-time interval, puncturing Argyle’s apparent momentum at the time, and giving Wycombe a precious lead they seldom looked like surrendering.
John Sheridan had made four changes to the side that had played well at Morecambe, but ultimately had come up short. Jason Banton, Tyler Harvey, Ollie Norburn and Deane Smalley all were handed starting berths, drastically altering the midfield and attacking personnel from the 2-1 defeat three days previous.
At least a couple of the changes were enforced. Lewis Alessandra would have started the game, but a sickness bug that developed on match-day meant he had to sit this one out. Marvin Morgan was also missing, but for reasons that had been known for some nine months. His partner gave birth to baby Miles on Monday – congratulations to all the family. Miles to follow the Greens?
Central midfielders Dominic Blizzard and Lee Cox each dropped to the bench to allow Sheridan to field a notably more attacking line-up than at the Globe Arena.
Argyle went into the clash with the Chairboys unbeaten – penalty shoot-out apart – at HQ. Wycombe, for their part, were yet to lose a game on the road. Game on.
A cagey opening ten minutes yielded precisely zero in the way of excitement, but as the digital clock made it to double figures, Argyle summoned their first half-chance. After a promising move appeared to break down, Kelvin Mellor showed excellent stickability to put Wycombe full-back Joe Jacobson under sufficient pressure to give the ball straight to Reuben Reid. The Pilgrims’ top scorer raced into space and smashed a ball across the face of the area that a covering Wanderers defender diverted away – although how much he knew about it was up for debate.
Wycombe forced a couple of corners that came to nothing, as the game, in getting underway, rather resembled a heavily laden artic attempting a hill-start. In winter. Pulling a caravan.
Argyle, though, showed signs of releasing the handbrake and getting the 18-wheeler in motion. First Ollie Norburn’s enterprising dash looked like prying the Chairboys apart, until Banton just could not get round his man. Then Reid twice brushed aside defenders to take up dangerous positions in the right hand channel, but both attempts to pick out Deane Smalley were inaccurate.
Mellor, who as his Argyle career gets longer seems to grow into his right-back role, showed some trickery to pry open a chink of light and feed Reid, but the number nine’s shot was skewed wide.
Norburn then fed Banton who flicked an excellent first-time ball into the centre that Smalley was inches away from reaching in the six-yard area.
Argyle were starting to turn the screw. Harvey showed great patience in waiting for the right moment to release Reid. A typically barnstorming run by Reid saw him breeze beyond the two-tone blue shirts and open the space to shoot. Matt Ingram saved with his body, but the fall fell into the path of Harvey. However, the teenager could not open the scoring and shot straight at the grateful Ingram.
Wycombe raised their first significant attack – predictably – via their captain Hayes. He came close to notching a Home Park goal when he shot early to McCormick’s right. The Argyle goalkeeper, though, reacted well to tip a ball onto the near post.
Hayes, though, would get his goal with ten minutes remaining in the half. A corner from the left side by Joe Jacobson was headed down by Aaron Pierre, and Hayes nipped in front of McCormick to glance home from close range.
Wycombe had brought delaying tactics with them to Home Park to use from the first minute, but after they went in front their compunction to take their time at every opportunity. Thus, the first half dragged its way to a conclusion, with the visitors still a goal up.
At half-time, John Sheridan rang the changes, replacing Smalley and Carl McHugh with Lee Cox and Ben Purrington. Harvey joined Reid in the attack, while Mellor stepped forward into a wide right position. Anthony O’Connor, in turn, slotted in at right-back.
Argyle were roused a little – although in truth they were not at all bad in the first period. It simply seemed that the malaise from Morecambe – that is, playing well enough without looking overtly dangerous – had spilled over into this fixture.
A long range effort from Scowen kept McCormick alive at one end, before Harvey’s free-kick sailed over Ingram’s bar at the other.
There were muted Argyle appeals for a penalty when Reid fell under close attention as a crossed sailed over, but little heed was paid. There seemed a little more of a case when Harvey and Kretzschmar collided – the latter getting their slightly late – but again the claims were waved away.
Kretzschmar received some treatment after the clash, but picked himself up to soon after to clip a beautiful cross towards Matt McClure. A second goal looked imminent, but that reckoned without Curtis Nelson, who retreated superbly to make a crucial saving header.
At the other end, Banton’s cross successfully found Reid, who headed just wide.
Then came controversy. Nelson and Hayes leapt together, with Hayes catching the Argyle skipper late. Some cried ‘elbow’, but that is of little consequence, given that nothing was awarded. Nelson was grounded, but Argyle, meanwhile, broke in a threatening manner. Reid was exactly where you want him, driving at a defence with the ball at his feet, creating panic.
The distress, though, was soon eradicated from the Wycombe defence and transferred to all in green. As Reid advanced, the referee drew the ire of all Pilgrims as he halted the play. It was to allow treatment to Nelson, but it had penalised Argyle’s dangerous attack at the expense of treating the skipper.
The matter had done little to aid an already fractious affair, though it perhaps made Argyle up their level of urgency. Good work from Reid found Banton swinging in from the left, but his delicate effort was deflected over.
Wycombe saw the game out with little alarm. In fact, Scowen came the closest to adding to the tally, heading down and forcing a superb save from McCormick. The Argyle keeper grabbed the ball well as it appeared to slip away. It was something, though, that the team at large were unable to do.
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson, 29 Peter Hartley, 16 Carl McHugh (3 Ben Purrington half-time); 14 Tyler Harvey, 28 Anthony O’Connor, 6 Ollie Norburn (24 River Allen 81), 8 Jason Banton; 9 Reuben Reid, 22 Deane Smalley (4 Lee Cox half-time). Substitutes: 1 James Bittner (gk), 11 Dominic Blizzard, 19 Nathan Thomas, 25 Aaron Bentley.
Booked: Cox 54.
(4-4-2): 1 Matt Ingram; 2 Sido Jombati, 26 Alfie Mawson, 6 Aaron Pierre, 3 Joe Jacobson; 22 Max Kretzschmar (8 Stuart Lewis 90), 4 Josh Scowen, 15 Peter Murphy, 11 Sam Wood; 9 Paul Hayes (capt) (18 Danny Rowe 73), 19 Matt McClure (25 Aaron Holloway 87). Substitutes
: 10 Matt Bloomfield, 13 Barry Richardson (gk), 18 Danny Rowe, 23 Nicky Walker.
: Scowen 22, Pierre 42, Kretzschmar 79.
: Lee Collins.
: 5,657 (143 away).