Wycombe Wanderers 0
Alessandra 19, Hartley 29
by Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE went from the ridiculous to the sublime in terms of their away form, triumphing over Sky Bet League 2’s second-placed side - that had previously lost only three games all season - just ten days after being humbled by rock-bottom Hartlepool.
Two goals in ten first-half minutes, with Lewi Alessandra netting his tenth of the season and Peter Hartley his fifth, ensured that the Pilgrims’ promotion push is well and truly back on track after a miserable Christmas and an unhappy New Year.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had made just one change to the side that had clambered back on to the horse after a seven-game winless streak with a 1-0 home victory over Accrington three days earlier.
That came at left wing-back, where Tareiq Holmes-Dennis was handed a debut after completing his loan move from Charlton Athletic earlier in the day. Drew Talbot, who had filled that position against Stanley on his home debut, switched to the equivalent role on the right, relegating Kelvin Mellor to the substitutes’ bench for the first time this season.
Among those alongside Mellor was defender Tom Flanagan, whose loan from Milton Keynes expired after the game.
Wycombe, going for a 13th straight league game unbeaten, unsurprisingly stayed with the same starting 11 and substitutes that had defeated Argyle’s next Home Park opponents, Cambridge United, on the road at the weekend.
Games involving Wycombe this season have not exactly been chockfull of goals. Their nine matches previous to Tuesday night had realised nine goals in total, with the Chairboys netting two-thirds of those - enough for three wins and six draws, thanks to six clean sheets.
So, with Argyle no mean performers in the defensive stakes, and Hartley and Anthony O’Connor back in harness, no-one was predicting a goalfest.
However, any expectations that we might be in for a stodgy old evening were soon dispelled as both sides went about their business with very little caution and plenty of verve.
Saturday’s match-winner Alessandra was on the end of an early Pilgrims’ breakthrough but snatched a left-foot shot wide, and Reuben Reid nearly bustled his way through on to namesake Bobby’s quick and perceptive lofted pass.
The home side, bustling with a business that comes from confidence, responded with a shot from Sam Wood that was closer than anyone in a yellow shirt would have liked, but not close enough.
After the initial sparring, Argyle landed a discombobulating blow after a brilliant counter attack. Talbot was both thief and architect, disrupting Wycombe’s short corner routine, breaking at pace and feeding Alessandra in the right channel.
Having shown his marker all his studs, Alessandra had two options: a pass to the supporting and parallel Olly Lee, or a shot against Matt Ingram at his near post. Buoyed by his Saturday success, he chose the higher-risk latter route and made no mistake.
There is something about an Argyle side with the wind in their sails and so it was no real surprise when they extended their advantage ten minutes later.
It appeared a case of what might have been after Wycombe’s vaunted custodian Ingram reacted well to deflect Alessandra’s drive towards the base of his right-hand post away for a corner.
However, Ingram then blotted his copybook by failing to deal with Bobby Reid’s admittedly peachy inswinging flag-kick, and Hartley was at the back stick to plant the ball into the net with his trusty left peg.
Wycombe, who had given up two goals at Adams Park only twice before this season, sought an immediate way back into the contest, but Wood found Luke McCormick in as determined mood as his outfield team-mates as he stretched to brilliantly tip over a header from a right-wing cross.
The Pilgrims’ game-plan contained at least an element of getting the ball forwards as quickly as possible against a defence that had no qualms about pushing high up the field. It worked.
Lee was the nearly the next to profit from the tactic, hitting Ingram’s post with a low drive after he was played in on the left.
Lee hit the woodwork again in the open stages of the second half, too. Slipped in perfectly by Alessandra, he made light of the tight angle with a shot that beat Ingram but crashed down off the crossbar with Reuben Reid unable to head the high rebound into a yawning goal.
Wycombe were not going to go down without a fight and Argyle were forced to maintain concentration and discipline as they played without the ball for periods. Wycombe’s patience in possession resulted in a shot from Hogan Ephraim that McCormick saved, with Hartley hacking away as the ball dribbled towards goal.
Argyle still looked to counter attack and Alessandra benefited from a questionable offside decision to run in on goal only to be denied by a fine covering tackle from Aaron Pierre. The resulting corner was another fine set-piece from Bobby Reid which Nelson tapped goalwards at the far post with Ingram kicking the ball off the goal-line.
The Pilgrims kept the home side keen by conceding a series of free-kicks around the edge of their penalty area which required courage and solidity.
However, gone was the fragile nervousness which Hartlepool had exploited at Victoria Park; in its place, a determined display as imperious as some of their exploits in the season, when they boasted the best defence in England.
Wycombe Wanderers (4-3-3): 1 Matt Ingram; 2 Sido Jombarti, 6 Aaron Pierre, 26 Alfie Mawson, 3 Joe Jacobson; 8 Marcus Bean (15 Peter Murphy 80), 10 Matt Bloomfield, 11 Sam Wood; 23 Fred Onyedinma (27 Courtney Senior 65), 25 Aaron Amadi-Holloway (19 Matt McClure 81), 31 Hogan Ephraim. Substitutes (not used): 12 Steven Craig, 13 Barry Richardson (gk), 16 Tommy Fletcher, 18 Daniel Rowe.
Booked: Mawson 43, Wood 44.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 25 Drew Talbot, 17 Bobby Reid (6 Ollie Norburn 90), 19 Anthony O’Connor, 21 Olly Lee (4 Lee Cox 75), 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid (28 Ryan Brunt 87). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 2 Kelvin Mellor, 3 Ben Purrington, 20 Tom Flanagan.
Booked: McHugh 51, B Reid 60, Brunt 90.
Referee: Mark Brown.
Attendance: 3,078 (522 away).