R Reid pen 70
by Charlie Hempstead
ARGYLE were indebted to the usual suspects for their first-ever point at the Pirelli Stadium. Reuben Reid’s 70th-minute penalty - cancelling out a first-half strike from ex-Pilgrim Alex MacDonald - combined with yet another magnificent save from Luke McCormick five minutes from full-time, were enough to secure a point which for much of the afternoon looked unlikely.
Unsurprisingly, Argyle’s 18-man match squad was unchanged from the 3-0 demolition of Cheltenham last weekend. Conversely, Mike Whitlow rang the changes in his first game as Head Brewer, bringing in goalkeeper Dean Lyness, Robbie Weir, Stuart Beavon and ex-Argyle loanee Alex MacDonald, who was suspended for last week’s defeat at Stevenage. The Brewers’ line-up included another ex-Green, Damien McCrory, who became a father for the first time this week.
Despite their disrupted preparations for the match, the home side started very brightly, passing the ball quickly and accurately. Matty Palmer tested McCormick early on following Lucas Akins’ pinpoint right-wing cross, and the same two players then combined to create a chance for Beavon, but his measured shot from the edge of the box was meat and drink to McCormick.
Argyle produced a flowing move of their own in the 11th minute, culminating in Andy Kellett’s powerful angled drive, which was turned away at full stretch by Lyness, and the home side were forced into some unsightly scrambling defence moments later as the ball pinged around the goal area.
At the other end, the Pilgrims were indebted to a typically committed block by Carl McHugh as MacDonald lined up a shot, and from the ensuing counter-attack, Reuben Reid blasted a powerful drive across the face of goal, with Lewis Alessandra unable to apply the finishing touch.
The home side’s midfield anchor, Lee Bell, then did a McHugh, charging down Alessandra’s shot after Kelvin Mellor had created the opening.
Green hearts were in mouths in the 27th minute when Akins’ near-post cross was intercepted by a part of Curtis Nelson’s anatomy which everyone in the home end was convinced was his hand, but as the contact was on Mr Brakespear’s blind side, it would have been a complete guess if he had pointed to the spot.
In the 32nd minute, Burton registered the first entry in Argyle’s goals against column since September 27th, when MacDonald (it’s always the former players, isn’t it?) applied the finishing touch to another good move, although Argyle’s players were convinced that Dominic Blizzard had been fouled in the build-up.
Bobby Reid came close to levelling the scores almost straight away with a swerving effort from the edge of the box that just cleared the angle of post and crossbar, but otherwise the home side held sway, and the Pilgrims had to experience the rarity of a half-time team talk from a losing position.
The second half almost got off to a dream start, with Kellett breaking down the left in the opening minute and driving in a low cross which was deflected past the near post.
McHugh then chanced his arm from long range, but the stand behind Lyness’s goal was not high enough to stop it. In truth, even the Stretford End might not have been.
Akins continued to be a handful for the Argyle defence, and his left-footed drive from a central position once again stretched McCormick. Beavon then failed to work the keeper from a similar position. The next time Beavon had a sight of goal, McCormick got his angles absolutely right as he prevented the lead from being doubled.
The three chances in quick succession were sufficient to persuade John Sheridan that something had to change. In fact, two somethings. Enter Deane Smalley and Lee Cox, replacing McHugh and Blizzard, signalling a switch to a 4-4-2 formation, with Alessandra and Bobby Reid moving to the wide midfield positions and Smalley lining up alongside Reuben Reid.
The change almost paid instant dividends when Bobby Reid and Smalley combined to create a chance on the volley for Reuben Reid, but the target man’s radar was awry.
Cue a final change from the manager, with Jason Banton being introduced for Anthony O’Connor, a switch which saw Bobby Reid move into central midfield, with the substitute taking up a position wide on the left.
Whitlow reacted by making a change of his own, with Palmer being replaced by Adam McGurk.
Before the substitute had touched the ball, Reuben Reid was felled in the box by Phil Edwards, and despite the routine protests from the home side, the penalty was awarded and converted in the most emphatic style by the man who had won it.
A second home substitution followed, with Darragh Lenihan entering the fray in place of Lee Bell, and the substitute was quickly in the thick of the action, firing in a shot which was not far off target.
In the 79th minute, goalscorer MacDonald made way for Marcus Harness, whose huge afro ponytail put McGurk’s well and truly in the shade.
Both teams continued to seek the winner, and with four minutes left on the clock, the home side appeared to have found it. The outstanding Akins landed a perfect cross on the centre of McGurk’s forehead, just 8 yards out. It looked a guaranteed goal, but that was to reckon without the reflexes of McCormick, whose save was out of whichever drawer is above the top one.
On such moments can seasons turn.
Burton Albion (4-3-3): 1 Dean Lyness; 2 Phil Edwards, 3 Shane Cansdell-Sheriff, 6 Ian Sharps, 14 Damien McCrory; 8 Robbie Weir, 7 Lee Bell (22 Darragh Lenihan 76), 23 Matty Palmer (20 Adam McGurk 68); 10 Lucas Akins, 9 Stuart Beavon, 11 Alex MacDonald (27 Marcus Harness 79). Substitutes (Not used): 1 Jon McLaughlin, 12 Jacob Blyth, 18 Dominic Knowles, 24 Liam Slade.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh (4 Lee Cox 59), 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 28 Anthony O'Connor (8 Jason Banton 65), 17 Bobby Reid, 11 Dominic Blizzard (22 Deane Smalley 59), 13 Andy Kellett; 9 Reuben Reid (72), 7 Lewis Alessandra (82). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner, 6 Ollie Norburn, 10 Marvin Morgan, 14 Tyler Harvey.
Bookings: O’Connor 59, Cox 90, Banton 90
Referee: Charles Breakspear.