Burton Albion 1
by Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE discovered just why Burton Albion will win promotion from Sky Bet League 2 this season as the division’s leaders smuggled a point away from a tight game at Home Park.
However, thanks to a poetically just equaliser from Carl McHugh – his first league goal of the campaign – four minutes from time, whether the Pilgrims will follow them up still remains an anxious possibility.
As well as being inarguably decent footsoldiers, Burton on this occasion followed the Napoleonic requirement of generals – their first-half goal, from debutant Kevin Stewart, was aided by a massive deflection off a Pilgrim limb. Which just happened to belong to McHugh.
Argyle will at least know that their three remaining home fixtures – against Mansfield, Wimbledon and Tranmere – should provide a lesser test than that provided by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s well-oiled Brewers.
Since, in all likelihood, they will need to win all three to claim a place in the post-season play-offs, that may be no bad thing.
Argyle manager John Sheridan gave a Football League debut to new loan signing Gethin Jones, whose only previous taste of senior football had been one minute of Europa League action earlier this season with parent club Everton.
The Welsh Under-21 captain slotted in at right wing-back, replacing the injured Anthony O’Connor in the only change to the side that had begun the previous Saturday’s 3-0 demolition of Cheltenham.
The scorer of the third goal at Whaddon Road, Charlton striker Zak Ansah – the other Pilgrims’ incomer in the final week of the March loan window – again started on the substitutes’ bench, alongside the recovered Kelvin Mellor and Ben Purrington.
The leaders’ line-up showed two attacking changes from the side that had drawn 1-1 against Stevenage on a gluepot of a pitch at the Pirelli Stadium, with loan players Stewart, of Liverpool, and Denny Johnstone, of Birmingham, replacing Stuart Beavon and Dutchman Abdenasser El Khayati.
Yong Jones did not take too long to announce himself to the Green Army, linking sweetly with Lewis Alessandra on the right flank before cutting into the penalty area and obliging Burton goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin into making a rushed save at the foot of his near post.
Burton’s response was the stuff of champions’ elect and needed disciplined work from the division’s best defence to prevent them taking the lead.
First, Curtis Nelson executed a perfectly timed sliding challenge from behind to deny Matt Palmer from capitalising on a lovely wrong-footing pass by former Pilgrim Damien McCrory.
That led to a corner by Lucas Akins which central defender Shane Candsell-Sherriff met with a full-blooded header that beat Luke McCormick for pace. Fortunately for McCormick, and everyone Green, the last line of defence, the diminutive Bobby Reid, performed sterling sentry duty on the far post and headed the ball to safety.
Burton had a double let-off when birthday boy Peter Hartley launched a ball from deep for Rueben Reid to run on to. The Pilgrims’ leading scorer beat his markers but was beaten to the by McLaughlin, who clearly handled the dropping ball outside his area. His misdemeanour, though, was not apparent to the officials.
The luck remained with the visitors as they took the lead a few minutes later. Stewart’s shot from 30 yards was probably destined for goal only in his own mind before it smacked into McHugh’s outstretched leg and looped over McCormick. Even then, the ball needed the assistance of a post before it crossed the goal-line.
Argyle responded positively. Jason Banton, making his first Home Park start since mid-September, poached the ball from Burton captain John Mousinho, who then hauled him down. The head Brewer was twice fortunate in that he received only a yellow card and Banton clipped the resulting free-kick narrowly wide.
Bobby Reid was back on set-piece duty as Argyle made a purposeful start to the second half. Lewi Alessandra’s persistence won a free-kick on the right bye-line just outside the penalty area which was dinked in to his namesake Reuben in what looked like a well-rehearsed move but the shot smacked off McLaughlin’s left-hand post.
That was a rare moment that ball found its way into either penalty area as Burton settled down to frustrate the home side. They succeeded and, judging from noises off, the frustrations spread all through Home Park.
Ansah and Olly Lee came on from the substitutes’ bench midway through the half, for Alessandra and Banton, to aid the Pilgrims’ search for an equaliser. They were followed soon after by Ryan Brunt, for Reuben Reid.
Their efforts, and those of their team-mates, finally paid dividends when Bobby Reid, who had not enjoyed the most productive afternoon of his career, sent over a corner that McHugh – victim at the same end for Burton’s opener – powered home with his head.
The leveller set up one of those Home Park finishes, part barnstorming, part nerve-shredding, the like of which recently we have not seen too many.
Six to go. Hang on.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 20 Gethin Jones, 17 Bobby Reid, 8 Jason Banton (21 Olly Lee 66), 11 Dominic Blizzard, 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 7 Lewis Alessandra (27 Zak Ansah 66), 9 Reuben Reid (28 Ryan Brunt 74). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 2 Kelvin Mellor, 3 Ben Purrington, 14 Tyler Harvey.
Burton Albion (4-5-1): Jon McLaughlin; 2 Phil Edwards, 4 John Mousinho, 3 Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, 14 Damien McCrory; 10 Lucas Akins, 15 Tom Naylor, 23 Matt Palmer (5 George Taft 79), 11 Kevin Stewart, 20 Adam McGurk (21 Abdenasser El Khayati; 36 Denny Johnstone (9 Stuart Beavon 61). Substitutes (not used): 18 Dominic Knowles, 24 Liam Slade, 27 Marcus Harness, 33 Scott Shearer (gk).
Booked: Mousinho 35, Akins 54, Beavon 84.
Referee: Darren Sheldrake.
Attendance: 8,649 (234 away).