R Reid 34, 60, Ansah 86
by Rob McNichol
ARGYLE ended their recent malaise with a dominant and confident 3-0 victory at Cheltenham Town.
A brace from Reuben Reid - his 18th and 19th goals of a fruitful season - were enough to see off the struggling Robins, who fell to the foot of the Sky Bet League 2 table, but a late goal by debutant Zak Ansah capped a thoroughly satisfying afternoon for Argyle.
Argyle played with a confidence and fluidity that has been noticeably lacking in recent weeks, and it was particularly pleasing to see a dominant display augmented by three goals.
An injury to Kelvin Mellor led to an enforced switch for Anthony O'Connor, who was asked - not for the first time this season - to switch to a right wing-back role. Olly Lee also missed out, dropping to the bench, with Jason Banton and Dominic Blizzard filling the two spaces in midfield.
Cheltenham, with only one win in ten and the side most rapidly falling down the table, made four changes to their starting line-up, and switched to play a 3-5-2 system to match their visitors. The only former Pilgrim in the Robins' squad, Durrell Berry, was one of those to drop to the bench.
It was a lively enough start by Argyle, with a subtle change to the midfield based on the personnel. Banton was asked to play a roving role behind Reuben Reid and Lewis Alessandra, with Blizzard and Bobby Reid a little deeper. It was the latter through which all of the Pilgrims' neat early moves went through. Looking at home pulling strings, Bobby sent over a free-kick that Curtis Nelson headed goalwards, before hitting a very powerful effort from all of 25 yards that home goalkeeper Trevor Carson did well to hold.
Banton then did exactly what was asked of him by drifting left, picking up a loose ball and skipping past two men, although his long-range effort merely dribbled into Carson's possession.
After Argyle forced three consecutive corners, but failed to trouble Carson, Cheltenham had their first moment to set Pilgrim hearts a-fluttering. A beautiful ball in by Lee Vaughan led to a scene in the six-yard area more akin to pigs rooting for truffles than men trying to get a shot away or clear a football, but eventually Argyle blocked a weak Shaun Harrad attempt and smuggled the ball to safety.
After Blizzard broke up a Cheltenham attack, Argyle looked to break with Banton, but as the midfielder burst forward, nothing was on. There is a fair possibility that his reluctance to drive through a non-existent gap, instead passing square to O'Connor and thus slowing down the attack, might have frustrated a few. To Argyle's credit, they then kept the ball safe for another ten passes or so, before it reached Carl McHugh, inside his own half.
The Irishman looked up, and saw little in the way of options, so decided to wander forward himself. His progress somewhat resembled an American football quarterback, looking around for a wide receiver, then decided to sneak for a first down on his own. McHugh had his eyes on more than just an advancement up the field, though. He drove through a gap and, as players tried to surround him, he was able to unload to the now-unmarked Reuben Reid. Argyle top scorer took one touch to set and another to brush it past Carson. Argyle had their precious, and deserved, lead.
Cheltenham tried to answer with another scramble in which Harrad was at the centre, but McCormick gathered. Town then looked their most dangerous thus far when the huge Mathieu Manset got on the end of a flick-on and headed for goal, but he got his angles wrong and pulled his shot plenty wide.
Russell Milton introduced Eliot Richards at half-time in place of Matt Sparrow, probably in recognition of the fact Argyle's midfield trio having won the battle for the centre of pitch, but it was the Pilgrims who went close to doubling their lead within five minutes of the restart. Alessandra had been pulled back by Cheltenham skipper Matt Taylor as he skipped away, and from the resultant free-kick Bobby Reid found Alessandra before Town had organised themselves. Lewi's early effort drew a superb save from Carson.
Reuben Reid had another chance - a sliced left-footed effort when under pressure, after good work by Banton - as Argyle looked to give themselves that two-goal cushion that any team with a single goal advantage craves.
Tareiq Holmes-Dennis was next to look dangerous, scything through Cheltenham and having his shot blocked out for a corner. There were shades of another left sided player who sported the number 13 as he glided through scrambling home defenders.
It was a real Argyle purple patch. Peter Hartley headed over from Bobby Reid's free-kick and Holmes-Dennis had a dangerous cross stabbed away before Argyle finally did get their second goal. A Holmes-Dennis cross-field pass found Reuben Reid who got the ball down and cut inside before hitting a deflected, looping shot over Carson and into the net in front of 1,400 ecstatic members of the Green Army. It was a goal laced with a little good fortune, but given Argyle's recent luck in front of goal, it was gratefully received.
The game got a little feisty; Cheltenham's Hanks was booked for late one on Hartley, before Vaughan took out an advancing Alessandra and also went into the book. Alessandra, too, received a caution after his angry reaction.
Town's best chance to get back in it came from the shin of an Argyle player. A rare McHugh miscue led to McCormick making a bright, low save to his right, with fifteen minutes remaining. At this time, John Sheridan brought on Zak Ansah for his league debut, with Ryan Brunt following a minute later. They replaced Banton and Reuben Reid, and within minutes Ansah introduced himself to his new club with two fierce efforts that stung the palms of Carson.
Ansah topped off an impressive cameo with a glancing header, finessed past the stricken Carson following a perfect Anthony O'Connor cross.
As Cheltenham capitulated, Ansah wove his way through once more and nearly made it four in injury time. Three, though, was plenty.
Cheltenham Town (3-5-2): 1 Trevor Carson; 6 Pablo Mills, 4 Matt Taylor (capt), 15 Jack Deaman; 2 Lee Vaughan, 16 Joe Hanks, 8 Matt Richards, 24 Matt Sparrow (18 Eliot Richards half-time), 3 Craig Braham-Barrett (19 Omari Sterling-James 84); 29 Shaun Harrad (28 Shaquille McDonald 71), 39 Mathieu Manset. Substitutes (not used): 7 Kane Ferdinand, 20 Jordan Wynter, 25 Durrell Berry, 20 Harry Reynolds (gk)
Bookings: Taylor 48, Hanks 66, Vaughan 70.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 19 Anthony O'Connor, 17 Bobby Reid, 8 Jason Banton (27 Zak Ansah 75), 11 Dominic Blizzard, 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 7 Lewis Alessandra (21 Olly Lee 88), 9 Reuben Reid (28 Ryan Brunt 76). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 6 Ollie Norburn, 14 Tyler Harvey, 25 Aaron Bentley.
Booking: B Reid 36, Alessandra 70, Brunt 83.
Referee: Keith Hill.
Attendance: 3,831 (1,422 away).