by Rob McNichol
"ONE-NIL to the Ar-gy-le..." - has a rather nice ring to it, don't you think?
For the second week in a row Argyle protected a single goal lead that they picked up in the first half right to the bitter end, and in doing so reached a point they had not done in six-and-a-half years.
In February 2008 Paul Sturrock's Pilgrims won four successive games en route to finishing 10th in the Championship. These days the division is no longer as lofty, but the feeling of winning four on the bounce feels just as good. Maybe better.
Argyle were dominant in the first half against a rattled Carlisle, taking a 15th-minute lead through Lewis Alessandra, and never relinquished it. It was the seventh league win of the season - the seventh in which the Greens have kept the sheet clean, and the eighth time in eight in all competitions that the Pilgrims have scored the opening goal, going on to win every time.
Despite the addition of Andy Kellett from Bolton Wanderers on loan on Friday, John Sheridan stayed true to the eleven that started last Saturday's 1-0 victory at Tranmere. Kellett was added to the bench, with Aaron Bentley making way.
Also heading to Home Park from Bolton was Georg Iliev - but it was not for the Pilgrims. The Trotters loaned Carlisle the services of the Bulgarian late in the week, and he came straight into the line up, joining Hayden White, another Bolton loanee, who has had his spell at Carlisle extended after an impressive first month.
The game seemed set to be a contest between two in-form sides. Argyle were, in midfielder Lee Cox's words, 'buzzing' after winning three games in a week, while the Cumbrians also had their own spell of three wins, in the league, to defend. They had failed to win in their opening nine Sky Bet League 2 fixtures, but the arrival of Keith Curle had sparked them into life.
Argyle goalkeeper was making his 200th appearance for the Pilgrims, in which time he has made dozens of great saves and kept plenty of clean sheets. In the fourth minute of this game, though, he could nearly have been credited with an assist. After taking hold of a loose ball following a Carlisle free-kick, McCormick fired a ball, from his hands, all of eighty yards into the path of Reuben Reid. Reid darted into the area and laid the ball off for Lewis Alessandra, but his shot was blocked on the line.
Reid was in again in a same area after another accurate long pass - this time from Carl McHugh, caught the Cumbrians napping, but despite a neat piece of footwork from Argyle's leading goalscorer, he was just unable to pick out Kelvin Mellor's late run at the far post.
Argyle had their lead on 15 minutes, though, when Reid again teed up Alessandra perfectly - albeit with a touch of fortune. Good work by Dominic Blizzard had taken him down the left flank, and when he cut back to beat his man, he saw Reid in masses of space. A rolled ball to Reuben gave the Argyle number 9 a chance to fire at goal left footed, but he scuffed his shot. Fortunately, the ball went straight to Alessandra, who prodded home from within the six yard box. Some Cumbrian eyes may have looked to the assistant referee for a lifeline, but the flag stayed down, with Brad Potts' deep defending playing everyone onside.
Argyle looked settled to begin with, but the goal gave them further confidence, and they consequently spent most of the next phase of play in Carlisle territory. Argyle seemed to man over most of the time - and often it was Bobby Reid, who was influencing the play from all areas of the midfield.
He turned up on the left flank to take a free-kick, and his clipped ball into the box found Peter Hartley in a mystifying amount of space. However, the angle at which he met the ball meant he impart minimal contact on the ball, and a grateful Dan Hanford in the Carlisle gathered.
Argyle's dominance was demonstrable when it was noted that Carlisle's first shot of any note came in the 37th minute, and even then it was a 20-yard effort by Kyle Dempsey which Carl McHugh got enough of a block on to force it to loop gently into McCormick's hand like the captain flipping the ball back to the bowler after five dot balls.
Immediately, the Greens flew back up the other end with purpose, again releasing Alessandra in a lot of space. Two options faced him - to shoot or to square. He chose the former and found Hanford's hand. Reuben Reid certainly felt option b) was the obvious selection.
For the rest of the half, Carlisle attempted to demonstrate that they were not out of the fixture, but could only muster a dragged shot by Potts that dribbled past the post and a teasing ball by right-back White that McCormick captured well from the skiddy surface.
For their part, Argyle had a squeak to double their advantage when Alessandra pulled a ball into the side-netting, but the closing stages of the first half were largely played out at a stroll.
A sure sign that a side knows they have lost the first half on points is a double half-time substitution, and Carlisle made that move with David Symington and Paul Thirlwell making way for Matt Robson and Sean O'Hanlon. They started the half well, too, with Dempsey getting the better of Kelvin Mellor and prodding into the area, but a posse of green-and-white shirts saw the ball away.
A typical Reuben Reid run, full of physicality and bombast saw him clipped on the edge of the penalty area and a free-kick given. After Big Reid earned the kick with, so Little Reid tried to convert it with finesse. A gorgeous little clip over the wall had Hanford beaten all ends up, but it just skimmed the side netting on its way wide. There will have been a fair few in the Lyndhurst who thought they were seeing the second goal.
It was a welcome attack for Argyle, after the visitors had started the half strongly. It led to more, too, as first Anthony O'Connor then Bobby Reid played in tidy centres that deserved more than to simply be cleared by Carlisle.
United certainly were looking a different prospect in the second period, and after White got the better of Blizzard, his quick run down the right ended in a tantalising pass across the edge of the area. Potts looked set to fire in a shot, but in end it was Iliev who shot well over.
Robson in particular had offered Carlisle an extra slice of energy and he forced a pair of corners that yielded no specific chances, but saw pulses raising as Argyle scrambled to eject the ball from their area.
Sheridan brought on Deane Smalley for Reuben Reid, possibly for some fresh legs to attack the ailing Archibald-Henville, and with Smalley's first involvement he accepted a pass from Alessandra and stung the gloves of Hanford.
Alessandra forced a great save from Hanford after Bobby Reid played him in with a short free-kick, as Argyle regained the impetus following the switch.
Archibald-Henville, carrying an injury, on a caution and having been warned again by the official, looked a prime candidate to be withdrawn, but instead he nearly found the equalising goal. His header from a corner was brilliantly cleared off the line by McHugh, before Robson's return effort was blocked equally superbly by Lee Cox.
Iliev had an effort, borne from a six-yard area scramble, batted away by McCormick in injury-time, but Argyle held on manfully once again.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 28 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Lee Cox, 17 Bobby Reid, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 2 Kelvin Mellor; 9 Reuben Reid (22 Deane Smalley 73), 7 Lewis Alessandra (10 Marvin Morgan 90). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 6 Ollie Norburn, 8 Jason Banton, 13 Andy Kellett, 14 Tyler Harvey.
Booked: Smalley 90.
Carlisle United (4-4-2): 20 Dan Hanford; 26 Hayden White, 6 Troy Archibald-Henville, 12 Paul Thirlwell (capt) (23 Sean O'Hanlon half-time), 18 Patrick Brough; 19 David Symington (3 Matt Robson, half-time), 10 Gary Dicker, 22 Kyle Dempsey (27 Stephen Elliott 85), 16 Brad Potts; 17 Mark Beck, 31 Georg Iliev. Substitutes: (not used): 4 Alex Marrow, 8 Antony Sweeney, 14 Josh Gillies, 29 Tony Caig (gk).
Booked: Archibald-Henville 20, White 88.
Referee: Pat Miller.
Attendance: 6,529 (193 away).