Accrington Stanley 1
by Rob McNichol
ARGYLE went to the Storefirst Stadium - a place they had never previously lost - and produced an extraordinary away performance, playing with style, confidence and grace.
And lost 1-0.
Rarely will Argyle enjoy such dominance in a game and come away with nothing. Regrettably this was the case, as Kal Naismith's 13th minute goal proving the difference - numerically - between the teams.
In all yellow, Argyle were brighter in every department except one very crucial one. However good the stats look, however critically well-received a performance may be, the crucial element in any game of football is the number of times the ball crosses the goal-line. Accrington did so once, Argyle failed to. That is the only stat that matters.
The public address system at the Storefirst Stadium played two Prince songs before kick-off, but when it came to game time, it was all about the return of the king. John Coleman began his second stint as Accrington manager last Saturday with a 5-4 victory at Northampton and, as Argyle visited, was presiding over his first home game since his return. The reaction in this part of Lancashire was understandable joyful at the news, and Coleman received the obligatory hero's welcome when announced to the crowd prior to kick-off.
Busy in the transfer market since his return, Coleman was able to call upon Aaron Chapman, John O'Sullivan and Sean Maguire to make their home debuts for Stanley - the first named a towering goalkeeper on loan from Chesterfield making his first start for the club.
Argyle have also been in the market place this week, with Bobby Reid coming in on loan from Bristol City. Reid was one of three players propelled in to the starting line-up for the Pilgrims, along with Carl McHugh and Nathan Thomas who, on his 20th birthday, started a game for the first time this season after his impressive appearance from the bench last Saturday against Hartlepool. Thomas and McHugh had replaced Reuben Reid and Peter Hartley respectively when they withdrew with injury against the Pools, and neither of the afflicted passed muster at the Storefirst Stadium. Lee Cox was the man to make way for the inclusion of Reid.
Keen to spoil the Coleman love-in, Argyle started remarkably brightly, and within three minutes Lewis Alessandra had peeled off in the right channel to find space. His cross picked out Marvin Morgan in space, but he headed wide from eight yards.
A minute later, another Alessandra delivery narrowly evaded the late run of Dom Blizzard but fell to Thomas, who struck a wicked volley on target but saw debutant Chapman make an excellent save.
Stanley responded, with their first chance falling to Kal Naismith on ten minutes. His rasping low drive was well saved by Luke McCormick, then scrambled away by his attentive back four.
Naismith got the better of McCormick, though, three minutes later. Stanley picked their way through Argyle a little too easily, with Josh Windass picking out Naismith's run in the channel. Naismith's low shot to the near post snuck beneath McCormick, giving the home side an early lead.
The goal was a settler to the hosts. Argyle had started the contest like a confident prize fighter testing Stanley's chin. With a blow landed, though, Accrington's confidence grew, and so they began to dominate proceedings for a spell.
Argyle, though, were perhaps merely rocked a wild haymaker, because once they had recovered their stance and guard, they began to jab away once more. Referee Nigel Miller employed a rather laissez-faire approach to matters, ignoring the fact that Morgan was hauled back by the neck when looking to sneak in behind, but then turning a blind eye to a rather wild tackle by the Argyle number ten a minute or two later.
He did, though, give Argyle a free-kick when Reid progressed a long way up the pitch only to be impeded. Reid took the free-kick himself, finding Curtis Nelson in an amount of space that resembled an exclusion zone, but the Pilgrims' captain steered his header a long way over the bar. An Alessandra corner was headed onto the roof of the net by McHugh as Argyle again looked the dominant force in the game.
Thomas, sensing that the same authors of fate that granted new father Morgan a goal last week might do him a turn on the day he turned 20, had two efforts from range - the first deflected over and the second flying over the top on its own - before Reid's shot was charged down on the edge of the box.
Stanley broke free from the constant Argyle pressure to release Naismith beyond the back-line, but he lobbed high and wide of McCormick's goal.
Another Reid shot was blocked - this time by the unwitting Morgan, who took a rising ball in the midriff - before Alessandra danced around Chapman in injury time, but could only strike the side-netting.
The beginning of the second half greatly resembled the conclusion to the first. Argyle poured forward in wave after wave of offense, utterly dominating their scrambling, desperate hosts, but unable to prize them open.
Thomas had another fizzing effort saved by the feed of Chapman, while it became apparent that there is a local by-law stating that Marvin Morgan is in fact a climbing frame, not just a footballer. Stanley defenders occasionally performed uncanny impressions of rucksacks as they clambered over Morgan, with the practise seemingly encouraged by the officials.
John Sheridan brought on Deane Smalley for Anthony O'Connor as Argyle sought to convert their overwhelming territorial advantage into goals. From another Alessandra corner Smalley turned the ball goalwards, finding only the sprawling Chapman. Meanwhile, the Argyle fans behind that goal were screaming that more Marv-Climbing was being performed, to little effect.
Argyle, in a 15 minute period, earned eight corners, hoping it was just a matter of time before Stanley cracked and granted them an equaliser. On came Tyler Harvey, for Thomas, to offer a fresh energy to Argyle's increasingly futile goal search. His first act of note was to advance ten yards and try to beat Chapman from range, but it fell wide.
At the other end, an excellent save by McCormick was needed to prevent O'Sullivan from making it 2-0, after he met a cracking cross by Naismith. To say the chance came against the run of play would be akin to suggesting that the Emirates Stadium is a tad bigger than the Storefirst.
To give an idea of the bodies that Argyle were throwing forward, their best chance to that moment came from two defenders. Curtis Nelson, who had a magnificent game, strode forward from the back with five minutes to go, and played in Kelvin Mellor. The right-back glided inside his marker and looked to have done enough to beat Chapman, who got something on the ball, but not enough to turn it away from goal. One right-back denied another, though, as Nicky Hunt recovered to sweep off the line.
Reid hit a decent effort from 25 yards, that Chapman casually plucked from the air, and various other strafes ended in general panic from Stanley, culminating in relief as time and again they frustrated Argyle.
When Chapman gathered for the umpteenth time in the sixth minute of injury time, it was the final time Argyle could have got their equaliser. But it was not to be - and frustration will surely be a word that sits festers until a chance to get back on the winning track at home to Shrewsbury next Saturday.
Accrington: 1 Aaron Chapman; 16 Nicky Hunt, 5 Tom Aldred, 25 Rob Atkinson, 6 Dean Winnard; 24 Andy Proctor. 4 Luke Joyce (capt); 18 John O'Sullivan (15 Piero Mingoia 84), 8 Josh Windass (14 Marcus Carver 69), 11 Kal Naismith; 19 Sean Maguire (10 Will Hatfield 80). Substitutes: 12 Luke Simpson (gk), 7 Shay McCartan, 20 Liam Goulding, 44 George Bowerman.
Booked: O'Sullivan 64
Argyle: 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 3 Ben Purrington (4 Lee Cox 90); 17 Bobby Reid, 28 Anthony O'Connor (22 Deane Smalley 60), 11 Dominic Blizzard; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 10 Marvin Morgan, 19 Nathan Thomas (14 Tyler Harvey 78). Substitutes: 1 James Bittner (gk), 6 Ollie Norburn, 24 River Allen, 25 Aaron Bentley.
Booked: Purrington 55
Referee: Nigel Miller
Attendance: 1,511 (303 away)