Brunt 81, Alessandra 84
by Rob McNichol
WHEN one is stuck for a footballing metaphor, it is always good practise to turn to a philosopher or learned scholar for words of wisdom.
So, in the words of 80s girl group Bananarama - it ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it. That's what gets results.
For long periods of Argyle's home fixture with Cambridge, things were far from pretty. United did a grand job of keeping the ball to themselves and keeping the home crowd in check. A goalless first half in which they controlled turned into a dire second half with neither side looking fluent.
However, late goals from substitute Ryan Brunt and the in-form Lewis Alessandra saw off a fading Cambridge, who had run themselves into the ground. The Pilgrims' persistence and work ethic did them proud, and it was a third win in a week for Argyle.
As one might expect, John Sheridan retained faith with the same starting eleven that so expertly saw off high-flying Wycombe 2-0 in midweek. The only change to the match-day squad was the inclusion of Dom Blizzard on the Argyle, replacing Tom Flanagan, who has returned to Milton Keynes following the expiry of his loan spell.
It was nearly a perfect start to carry on the positive week that had begun with a win against Accrington seven days prior. Bobby Reid found some space within twenty seconds and shot from twenty yards, almost catching goalkeeper Chris Dunn off-guard as he quickly dashed to his right to save.
Cambridge had drawn 2-2 with Exeter City on Tuesday night - surrendering a 2-0 lead in the process - and had stayed in Devon since then, rather than travel back east. The lack of travelling may well have kept United fresh as, despite Bobby's early chance, the visitors settled the better in the opening stages.
First Ryan Donaldson's shot was blocked, then a Cambridge free-kick from 25 yards out was struck against the post by Sully Kaikai. A third chance - Jordan Slew bearing down one-on-one with Luke McCormick - looked the most straightforward opportunity of all, but the Argyle keeper made an excellent stop to keep out the newly acquired forward.
Argyle's liveliest outlet looked to be Drew Talbot, who first of burst into the area and hit a shot across the face of the goal that was not far wide, before whipping over a sumptuous cross that no-one opted to attack. Cambridge then only half-cleared a quality delivery by Lewis Alessandra, allowing Olly Lee to try an improvised overhead kick that Dunn had to push over the bar.
Cambridge forward Tom Elliott, who caused a good many problems while on the pitch, was forced off midway through the first half, being replaced by Johnny Hunt. In the short time between Elliott limping off and Hunt coming on Argyle applied some fair pressure, winning a number of corners and forcing United into important blocks after shots from Lee and Anthony O'Connor.
Lee went close again shortly afterwards, curling wide from twenty yards as Argyle looked to turn the screw.
Cambridge, though, adapted to their change well, and proceeded to attempt to pass Argyle to death. Long periods endured where blue shirts coolly knocked the ball around, though rarely advancing with any significance.
That is, until Slew zipped into a channel, hopped away from Peter Hartley and looked set to open the scoring. As McCormick bore down on him, though, he got his angles wrong and curled over the bar when the goal looked the more likely occurrence.
At the other end, Argyle gathered themselves together enough for Alessandra to hit a powerful low drive that was another in a string of saves made by Dunn that he would be expected to stop, but still deserves credit for getting to.
Half-time came with the scoreline goalless, and Cambridge likely being the happier of the two sides. The visitors had managed to impose their tempo on proceedings, and were certainly playing with a high level of confidence and poise.
After the restart came a virtual stalemate. Cambridge had set the slow tempo that suited them, and with Argyle's haste to introduce more urgency to the game came a profligacy in terms of ball possession.
John Sheridan introduced Ryan Brunt for Reuben to attempt to freshen up Argyle's forward line, while Cambridge brought on Jordan Chiedozie for the lively but tiring Kaikai.
As the clock ticked past 70 minutes, Argyle managed a pair of chances that enlivened things a little. Olly Lee's fierce drive struck Alessandra unintentionally when looking like doing some damage, before one of Argyle's better moves saw Bobby Reid drag a shot wide from the edge of the area.
Reid again was the man in position as Argyle completed another decent move, but his left-footed effort lacked power and perhaps betrayed a lack of confidence, too.
Or did it?
Bobby had, in truth, not had the best of afternoons, but his endeavour never waned, and he was rewarded for his spirit when Argyle took the lead with nine minutes remaining. The midfielder turned his man, and with the referee playing a very sound advantage, Reid hit a swift effort from twenty yards. Dunn saved unconvincingly, and Brunt was on hand to fire into the gaping net.
The cheers and celebrations contained joy and relief in equal measure, and the helping of each were doubled shortly afterwards when A Peter Hartley cross found its way to Alessandra at the far post. As is his hallmark, the Argyle number seven kept a cool head, cut inside and shot past Dunn and a posse of defenders trying to recover the situation. It was Alessandra's eleventh goal of the season - and his third in eight days.
For the second time this week - and for the second time in this county - Cambridge had conceded two late goals, and this time they were killer blows. Argyle saw the game out comfortably, with Bobby Reid almost adding a spectacular third in the last minute.
Three wins in a week, with three clean sheets. That is certainly good form to have.
So, who have we got next week?
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 25 Drew Talbot, 17 Bobby Reid, 19 Anthony O’Connor, 21 Olly Lee (4 Lee Cox 80), 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis (3 Ben Purrington 88); 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid (28 Ryan Brunt 67). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 2 Kelvin Mellor, 6 Ollie Norburn, 11 Dom Blizzard, .
Cambridge United (4-4-2): 1 Chris Dunn; 19 Dominic Ball, 18 Michael Nelson, 4 Josh Coulson, 3 Greg Taylor; 7 Ryan Donaldson, 8 Tom Champion (capt), 15 Robbie Simpson, 31 Sully Kaikai (40 Jordan Chiedozie 68); 9 Jordan Slew (28 James Akintunde 82), 10 Tom Elliott (14 Johnny Hunt 27). Substitutes (not used): 2 Richard Tait, 6 Ian Miller, 13 Will Norris (gk), 32 Ryan Bird.
Booked: Donaldson 90
Referee: Iain Williamson.
Attendance: 6,413 (196 away).