by Rob McNichol
ARGYLE picked up their first win of 2015 - at the sixth time of asking - with a single goal victory over Accrington Stanley at Home Park.
For the second time this season, the Pilgrims besieged Stanley with chances and the fixture finished 1-0 - only this time, it was the men in green who took the deserved victory.
The winning goal game from Lewis Alessandra three minutes before the break at the end of a first half in which Argyle were on top, but were unconvincing. After the interval, John Sheridan's men upped their game significantly, strafing Stanley in waves yet failing to add to their tally. Football, eh?
The victory ended a seven-game winless run for Argyle - but was a fifth straight defeat for a struggling Accrington outfit.
After a brief flirtation with a four-man defence last weekend at Hartlepool, John Sheridan once again opted to revert to a back three, and with the switch came the return to action for Peter Hartley. The burly defender has had a bad time of it with injuries of late, but after coming through a substitutes appearance last week at his old stomping ground in the north-east, he was back into the thick of first-team action.
He was joined by Olly Lee, who made a scoring cameo at Hartlepool, and Anthony O'Connor, returning to the club on a permanent basis on deadline day. Drew Talbot, who made his debut at Victoria Park, made his Home Park bow at left wing-back.
Accrington, following four straight defeats, rang more changes than the campanologists of Westminster Abbey. After shipping five goals at home Northampton last Saturday, manager John Coleman brought six new faces to the line-up, including Terry Gornell, signed on Monday for his third stint with Stanley, and Scott Davies, who became the eighth man to start a game this season for Accrington in goal.
After a staccato opening ten minutes by both sides, Argyle seemed to get to grips with the firm pitch more quickly than their visitors, and after a flowing move involving Lee, Kelvin Mellor and Reuben Reid, the latter squared neatly for his namesake Bobby Reid, who pulled his shot not far wide of the post.
Shortly afterwards, Bobby's free-kick was headed over by Hartley, as Argyle sought to break down an Accrington side who - with last weekend's 5-1 reverse firmly in their minds - seemed to have keeping it out as their main priority.
Next up to try his luck was Lee, who made a sharp run in behind Accrington and was found by a Reuben Reid flick. He tried to clip past the oncoming goalkeeper, but Davies made a smart stop to maintain the deadlock.
A slow game was being dominated by Argyle, but Davies was not exactly being tested frequently. It seemed that fate would play its usual trick in a double dose. O'Connor had been the best player on the park to that point, but he uncharacteristically left a pass back to Hartley short, and Josh Windass raced in. Fortunately for Argyle Windass chose to shoot rather than play in Piero Mingoia to his right, and the shot deflected of Hartley and spun wide.
Argyle survived the scare, and celebrated their good fortune with the opening goal. Bobby Reid's ball into Alessandra looked to have left the Argyle number seven in a cul-de-sac, but he wriggled free of the attention of Seamus Conneely and fired home past Davies from a very tight angle.
Argyle nearly added a second before the break, with Reuben Reid agonisingly close to getting on the end of Alessandra's centre, but they will have been satisfied to lead against a dogged Stanley side. In fact, it was the twelfth time in thirteen home games that the Pilgrims had led at the interval.
It was not long into the second period that Argyle looked like getting a second. Dogged work by O'Connor released Talbot, whose early left-footed cross was of the highest quality. Reuben Reid's flicked header went wide, but it was a beautiful move.
Argyle were after a killer blow, and Alessandra was proving a handful in the channel. Soon after the previous chance he got a ball across from the right which very nearly found a bursting Olly Lee, and then another Alessandra run saw him shoot over the bar himself.
After a dart around Rob Atkinson which forced the Stanley defender to haul him back - a transgression for which Atkinson went into the book - Alessandra then slotted a through-ball in to Lee, whose square pass seemed to be perfect for Curtis Nelson to tap home. A fantastic saving tackle was all that prevented the skipper doubling Argyle's advantage.
Despite the promising start to the second half, Argyle were still only one goal to the good, and a reminder of the slender lead came with Windass making a run and shot that whistled very close to the frame of Luke McCormick's goal.
Argyle's response was a quick move where O'Connor's ball over the top was nattily knocked down by Reuben Reid for Lee to volley first time, not all that far wide.
By 64 minute mark the increasingly desperate Stanley had made all three permitted subs, but they were still spending much of their time in their own half - the latest incursion into Accrington territory came from a marauding Reuben Reid, who beat two defenders and held off a third before forcing Davies into an excellent near post save.
From the corner, Hartley headed from four yards into the body of stationary defender, and the ball looped over the bar.
It felt like a chance a minute from Argyle, with Reuben then having a trio of efforts on goal. The first was an ambitious chest and volley that sailed over, the second a one-on-one with Davies in which the Stanley keeper prevailed, saving with his feet on the edge of the area.
The third came after Argyle came under a rare bout of pressure from Accrington. An interception by Lee Cox, recently introduced for Olly Lee, found its way to Bobby Reid, and he took flight. Carrying the ball forty yards, he switched to Reuben Reid. The pair interchanged once more, before the latter curled a shot not all that far wide.
The lengthy spells of Argyle pressure and multiple chances led to an odd sensation. On the one hand, it was pleasing to watch the Pilgrims in full swing, playing attractive and productive football. On the other, it was in the back of everyone's mind that the scoreline was still just 1-0.
Carl McHugh's header from a corner - earned after another self-made Reuben Reid chance - was saved by Davies before Accrington gave Argyle a brief scare. A pull-back by substitute Kal Naismith was brilliantly cut out by Hartley.
As the game drew to a conclusion, you almost see the nerves spread from the back of the Grandstand and swing round to the Lyndhurst stand, taking in the pitch as it went. Everyone - players, fans and the person writing this report with shaky fingers - felt distinctly jittery as Accrington have late chances to level. The best fell to Windass, who fluffed his lines when through on McCormick.
The finale may have shot our nerves, but how good to see an Argyle side playing with a bit of verve once again. Phew.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 21 Olly Lee (4 Lee Cox 70), 17 Bobby Reid, 19 Anthony O'Connor, 25 Drew Talbot; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid (28 Ryan Brunt 89). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 3 Ben Purrington, 6 Ollie Norburn, 20 Tom Flanagan.
Booked: Lee 69.
Accrington Stanley (4-2-3-1): 30 Scott Davies; 16 Nicky Hunt, 28 Seamus Conneely (3 Michael Liddle half-time), 25 Rob Atkinson; 23 Anthony Barry, 4 Luke Joyce (capt); 15 Piero Mingoia (11 Kal Naismith 60), 7 Shay McCartan (19 Sean McGuire 64), 8 Josh Windass; 10 Terry Gornell. Substitutes (not used): 1 Matt Macey (gk), 2 Adam Buxton, 21 Gerardo Bruna, 24 Andrew Proctor.
Booked: Atkinson 52, Maguire 90.
Referee: Brendan Malone.
Attendance: 6,005 (56 away).