Morgan 14, Thomas 77
By Rick Cowdery
IT was father’s day at Home Park as Marvin Morgan fired Argyle back to winning ways.
The tall Pilgrim, who became a first-time dad in almost farcical circumstances on Tuesday, marked the moment with his first goal of the season, in only his third start, as John Sheridan’s men ended a run of two successive defeats.
His 14th-minute strike promised much more to come from an Argyle side that, for most of the first half, looked to be hitting their best.
However, injuries to key players Reuben Reid and Peter Hartley seemed to take the wind from their sails and it was not until much later that they put the three points to bed when substitute Nathan Thomas coolly converted a breakaway goal.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had made five changes to the Argyle starting line-up following the previous Tuesday’s 1-0 home defeat by Wycombe Wanderers.
Back into a side brimming with attacking intent came forwards Lewi Alessandra, after illness, and Morgan, after fatherhood, replacing the injured Jason Banton and Deane Smalley; Ben Purrington was called up for his first start of the season in place of Carl McHugh as Sheridan varied his back five for the first time since the season’s first whistle; and Lee Cox and Dominc Blizzard were given the nod over Ollie Norburn and Tyler Harvey in essentially a three-man midfield.
Hartlepool were without striker Charlie Wyke, who was concussed in their 5-1 midweek defeat at Northampton and, under the new regulations, was obliged to give way to the more familiar, but hitherto less effective, Marlon Harewood.
Morgan showed no signs that his midweek Due Date style escapades between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Britain’s Ocean City had sapped his stamina as he teed up Reid for a shot that was beaten out by goalkeeper Scott Flinders, with a defender blocking Reid’s immediate riposte from the rebound.
Blizzard, who opened his account in a so far injury-hit season with the winner at Luton a fortnight earlier, then drew a save from Flinders with a rising shot that was always going away from the Pools’ custodian.
It is fair to say that Argyle have often failed to turn superiority into goals this season, but Reid and Morgan ensured that accusation could not be made this time by combining for the opener.
Cox had a hand in the build-up on the left-hand side of Barn Park penalty area as the ball eventually found Reid to for the final pre-goal pass to Morgan, back to goal, who span and fired the ball home low across Flinders. Cue the familiar baby-rocking celebrations.
Morgan’s exuberance, which is at top end of the Happy-O-Meter even at the worst of times, was evident for all to share, not least of all when he left Jordan Richards in his wake as he galloped down the left flank and topped that run with a pass that was a smidgen away from playing in Reid for number two.
With Alessandra also buzzing around purposefully, there was danger everywhere for the disarrayed Hartlepool defence but Morgan continued to be the man of the moment, again picking out Reid, this time with a clipped cross that the Pilgrims’ leading scorer headed just wide.
The half ended with Reid off the pitch, receiving treatment for a hip injury. Maybe it was the concern of being without their leading scorer, but the Pilgrims lost concentration in the final minute of the half and it needed a fine save from Luke McCormick to deny Jonathan Franks from levelling matters.
Worryingly, Reid failed to show for the second half, with Thomas – the only fit out-and-out forward option open to Sheridan – whistled up from the bench and Morgan switched into the centre.
On the one man’s poison is another’s meat principle, it represented a glorious opening for the perennial fans’ favourite whose previous contribution the Green cause this season had been a total of 21 minutes-worth of substitutes appearances, during which fleeting time he had nevertheless managed to be yellow-carded three times.
The Pilgrims’ injury woes continued early in the second half when former Hartlepool captain Hartley limped out of the action with a thigh problem, giving McHugh the chance to play in his favoured left centre-back position.
The sudden loss of two of their most experienced and consistent performers, together with the necessary reshaping up front, set Argyle back as Hartlepool sensed their chance.
The Pilgrims regained something of a foothold in proceedings, prompted by Thomas, whose cross produced flappy clearance from Flinders to Cox, who teed up Blizzard for a shot that was sliced wide.
Yet that was a rare flexing of the Green muscle as Hartlepool looked the side more likely to – and nearly did when Harewood combined with substitute Michael Woods to tee up veteran midfielder Tommy Miller for a shot that was only just off target.
The Pilgrims needed a settler and found it from Thomas. Blizzard’s ball allowed the teenage winger to use his undoubted pace to sprint away from his markers down the centre of the pitch towards the Devonport end, leaving the only question whether he could keep his nerve to beat Flinders.
The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’.
Thomas continued to press his claims for further game-time by not only staying out of the referee’s notebook, but also showing some neat touches, not least of all an attempted 25-yard chip over Flinders that so nearly embarrassed the Pools’ ’keeper.
The day, though, really belonged to Morgan, and one hopes that Alessandra – who shaved a post in the final minute of injury-time – will be generous enough to share his man-of-the-match champers with the big man when they wet the baby’s head.
Argyle (4-3-3): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 29 Peter Hartley (16 Carl McHugh 56), 3 Ben Purrington; 11 Dominic Blizzard, 28 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Lee Cox; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid (19 Nathan Thomas half-time), 10 Marvin Morgan (14 Tyler Harvey 87). Substitutes: 1 James Bittner (gk), 6 Ollie Norburn, 24 River Allen, 25 Aaron Bentley.
Hartlepool United (4-4-2): 1 Scott Flinders; 19 Jordan Richards, 4 Matthew Bates (capt), 26 Scott Harrison, 2 Neil Austin; 17 Ryan Brobbel (3 Darren Holden 77), 8 Brad Walker, 10 Tommy Miller, 11 Jack Compton; 7 Jonathan Franks (14 Michael Woods 64), 9 Marlon Harewood. Substitutes (not used): 5 Sam Collins, 18 Lewis Hawkins, 20 Dan Jones, 21 Michael Duckworth, 31 Freddie Woodman (gk).
Referee: James Linington.
Attendance: 6,146 (67 away).