O'Connor 28, Alessandra 86
by Rob McNichol
A MAN from Cork provided a corker of a goal to set Argyle on their way to another home win and a crucial three points against in-form Northampton.
Anthony O'Connor's first career goal, scored midway through a tight first half, gave Argyle the lead which they hung onto - you might say clung onto - until the closing moments, when Lewis Alessandra made it two and sealed the deal.
After going in front, Argyle found themselves under some pressure, especially in the second half, but for all of Northampton's territorial and possession advantage, they rarely looked like getting on the scoresheet.
We are sure other similar companies are available, but 118 118, it is fair to say, are the most visible of those telephone companies that replaced directory enquiries some years ago. "Got Your Number!" they are fond of saying.
There is an argument that Argyle have had the Cobblers number of late. The Greens had won the last three meetings between the side, and had prevailed in five of the previous seven. Northampton had won just one in that time.
The number 118 has a bit of significance to Northampton, though. 118 years ago this week, the club was formed, and their form figures, arriving at Home Park, read 1-1-8. One defeat, one draw and eight wins in their last ten. A formidable task, then, for Argyle to face.
A number of note springs to mind from an Argyle perspective, though. If scoresheets printed the number, rather than name, of players that scored, our game against Exeter City would read '999'.
While the recall of Reuben Reid after a foot injury should not be looked on as an emergency, the fact that since Argyle had not scored since the talismanic number nine's hat-trick at St James Park had some warning lights flashing, if not the blues and twos.
Kelvin Mellor, last seen getting a whack in the face during a cameo up front against Bury seven days earlier, also returned to the side, replacing Dom Blizzard, who got a ding in the face of his own in midweek at Stevenage. Mellor returned to his familiar right wing-back role, allowing the versatile Drew Talbot to play in a midfield trio alongside Bobby Reid and Anthony O'Connor.
For Northampton, the confirmed absence of their own top goalscorer Marc Richards with an achilles injury was a major blow, but there were able to welcome James Gray straight into the starting eleven, having arrived from Accrington the previous day, on loan.
After a quiet opening, the first notable incident of the afternoon was a rare one. A seemingly innocuous ball over the top was coasting easily to away goalkeeper Matt Duke, who inexplicably caught it a couple of yards outside of his area. A free-kick was given - Tareiq Holmes-Dennis would eventually slam it into the wall - but no card was forthcoming to Duke. It was clear from the disgruntlement in the stands that many expected a red card; although that would have been harsh - no Argyle player was close to Duke, and there was no clear goalscoring opportunity to speak of - it did seem very puzzling that he should escape even a caution. One wonders if there was a temptation for any player to pick the ball up in the centre circle in open play, and dare referee Stephen Martin to get his book out.
As you might expect for a team in Northampton's vein of form, they soon settled and took it to Argyle, with teenager Ivan Toney looking the sharpest. His looping header got Luke McCormick onto the back foot in Town's first real chance, though they had a series of short corners and throw-ins in which they looked threatening without actually producing a chance.
Argyle worked their way back into the game, with their best moments typically coming from the endeavour of Bobby Reid, but Northampton saw a decent chance go begging when Darren Carter squeezed into a good and shot goalwards, the ball dribbling wide and just evaded the outstretched leg of Gray, grasping for a crucial final touch.
The Greens were looking lively, though, and looked certain to take the lead when Ryan Cresswell's misjudgment of a long ball saw Lewis Alessandra clear on goal with just Duke to beat - and the latter was some fifteen yards off his line. Alessandra - who had scored in all three previous games against the Cobblers for Argyle, tried to lift the ball over the stranded goalkeeper, but could only clip it into his hands.
His blushes were soon spared, though, when Argyle took the lead just before the half-hour mark. A prolonged spell of Argyle pressure inside the Northampton box threatened to end when Bobby Reid's hot was blocked, but the ball ricocheted back to him. A lay-off to the edge of the box followed, and O'Connor lashed home for his first career goal.
A figure, mobbed by his team-mates, dashed towards the Lyndhurst stand. Was it a bird? Was it a plane? No, it was Anthony O'Connor, racing to celebrate the goal by displaying his Superman shirt beneath his green and white stripes. He might well be a hero for grabbing the opening goal, but the yellow card he received - rightly, in fairness - seemed likely to restrict him a little for the rest of the game a little.
Argyle saw the game through to half-time with little alarm, with only fleeting glimpses of the ability that Toney and Ricky Holmes clearly possess.
After the break, Carter made McCormick work with a shot from 20 yards, but it was a comfortable stop for the Argyle 'keeper.
It was not a comfortable afternoon for referee Mr Martin, however. He opted not to caution Holmes for a late tackle on Bobby Reid, yet seconds later booked Peter Hartley for a minimal foul on Holmes himself, then added Holmes-Dennis' name to the notebook within a minute. Argyle were unhappy with both decisions, and yet in the midst of all this Town felt they should have had a penalty. Toney then clonked O'Connor in mid-air - not nasty, but cynical - and saw no card, either.
Northampton brought on John-Joe O'Toole and Billy Bodin for Gray and Lawson D'Ath as Chris Wilder shuffled his attacking options. It was the away side doing all the attacking, but a soft shot from full-back Brendon Moloney that McCormick easily pouched was the best of their efforts.
Reuben Reid was attempting to be his usual destructive presence in the Northampton half, but he could only muster a deflected grubber into Duke's hands as Argyle found it difficult to find their rhytym in opposition territory.
A direct free-kick by Evan Horwood floated onto McCormick's net as the pattern continued of Northampton creating half-chances, and a general act of fractiousness hanging over proceedings.
Bodin had a shot that deflected off of Carl McHugh and over the bar, before John Sheridan took the Irishman off and replaced him with Blizzard. O'Connor dropped into the central defensive trio to allow for the change.
A Northampton player finally went into the book when Jason Taylor scythed down Reuben Reid, but advantage was played, with Argyle pushing forward. The attack stalled, though, and in the end Holmes-Dennis crossed into the arms of Duke, with no-one in support.
After a second half under the cosh, Argyle settled all the nerves with a late goal from Alessandra, fulfilling his 'goals against Northampton' quota. Talbot did an excellent job of holding off attentive defenders and drawing them away from Alessandra, who remained in acres of space. He received the ball, danced around the desperate defenders and goalkeeper, and coolly rolled the ball home.
So then - play-off still on. Our number has not been called yet...
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh (11 Dom Blizzard 78), 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 27 Drew Talbot, 17 Bobby Reid, 19 Anthony O'Connor, 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 7 Lewis Alessandra (8 Jason Banton 88), 9 Reuben Reid (28 Ryan Brunt 86). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 3 Ben Purrington, 4 Lee Cox, 14 Tyler Harvey.
Booked: O'Connor 29, Hartley 57, Holmes-Dennis 58.
Northampton Town (4-2-3-1): 1 Matt Duke; 2 Brendon Moloney, 36 Ryan Cresswell, 6 Lee Collins (capt), 3 Evan Horwood; 4 Darren Carter, 21 Jason Taylor; 19 Lawson D'Ath (7 Billy Bodin 61), 24 Ivan Toney, 26 Ricky Holmes; 14 James Gray (10 John-Joe O'Toole 62). Substitutes (not used): 16 Zander Diamond, 33 Tom Newey, 34 Danny Clifton, 42 Shwan Jalal (gk).
Booked: Taylor 82.
Attendance: 6,501 (320 away)
Referee: Stephen Martin.