Coventry City 2
Madine 61, Nouble 85
by Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE’S annual brief flirtation with the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy ended in the heart of England as second-half goals from Gary Madine and substitute Frank Nouble proved decisive in a slow-burning, but eventually quite compelling, cup-tie.
Having already turfed one League 1 team out of the competition to reach the last 16, the Pilgrims gave it everything in an attempt to send Coventry the way of Swindon – and often looked the better side – but were unable to make progress in a competition that has never been kind to them.
Madine nodded home a corner – a little too easily maybe – just after the hour and Nouble fired home with five minutes to go to put the home side into the Southern Area semi-finals and three games away from the trip to Wembley that Argyle manager John Sheridan had coveted and targeted.
Anthony O’Connor, Dominic Blizzard and Lewis Alessandra had been recalled to the Argyle starting line-up following the previous weekend’s FA Cup victory over AFC Fylde, with Ollie Norburn and Marvin Morgan returning to the substitutes’ bench and Kelvin Mellor missing his first game of the season because of a thigh injury.
O’Connor was a like-for-like replacement for Mellor at right wing-back while Alessandra started in the hole role recently occupied by Bristol Rovers loan player Bobby Reid, who was not given permission by the Robins to play. That allowed Deane Smalley to come in for a rare start up front alongside Reuben Reid, the player he had been pencilled in to replace Against Fylde before waking up on the morning of the match with a stiff neck.
On a surface that looked like it had already been well used by City’s future sharers of the cavernous Ricoh, London Wasps, first-half chances were scarce as Argyle more than held their own against their senior hosts.
The best of these hens’ teeth came midway through the first 45 minutes when Reid, fed by Alessandra, cut in off the left, bustled past a couple of markers, and pinged off a shot that home goalkeeper Ryan Allsop did well to turn aside.
The opening five minutes of the second half provided Argyle with more concerns than the entire first period. Some serious City incursions down the right culminated with the ball reaching John Fleck at the far post, where the winger fired off a shot that O’Connor got just enough of a block on to divert the ball on to McCormick’s right-hand post.
The Pilgrims’ riposte was led by Alessandra, who broke away down the left and sent over a teasing low ball that fell kindly for the home team and frustratingly short of Reid.
It heralded a sustained spell of pressure by Argyle, to the audible annoyance of the home faithful, with Alessandra much to the fore and seeing a shot blocked after good work by Smalley and Lee Cox.
It was therefore against the run of play that Coventry took the lead, and the manner of it will have stung Sky Bet League 2’s meanest defence that, up to that moment, had looked relatively unperturbed, Madine heading straight home from Coventry captain Jim O’Brien’s admittedly delicious corner.
Without wasting much more time, Sheridan sent on Morgan for Carl McHugh, a forward for a defender, and switched to 4-4-2 although, with Smalley and Alessandra out wide, it was not far short of 4-2-4 at times.
It put Argyle right on the front foot and they kept Coventry penned in their own half for most of the rest of the game. Smalley came close to a leveller when he headed O’Connor’s cross goalwards only to be thwarted by Allsop’s flying save, with Reid inches away from being able to snaffle up the rebound.
The Pilgrims kept up the pressure, sending on Nathan Thomas to help, and ran Coventry ragged at times. In one such promising raid, Smalley won a free-kick on the right, which the Pilgrims worked well but Curtis Nelson’s shot was blocked.
The ball broke to Nouble and, with so many Pilgrims committed forward and despite the best recovery efforts of Nelson, he ran the ball all the way into the Argyle penalty area before firing past McCormick.
Que sera sera.
Coventry City (4-4-2): 23 Ryan Allsop; 18 Aaron Phillips, 4 Andy Webster, 2 Jordan Wills, 26 Ryan Haynes; 11 Jim O’Brien (capt), 27 Jack Finch, 16 Adam Barton, 7 John Fleck; 8 Gary Madine (6 Conor Thomas 77), 36 James Maddison (19 Frank Nouble. 60). Substitutes (not used): 9 Josh McQuoid, 10 Danny Swanson, 33 Reice Charles-Cook (gk).
Booked: Maddison 26, Barton 84, Webster 90.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh (10 Marvin Morgan 68), 29 Peter Hartley; 28 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Lee Cox, 7 Lewis Alessandra, 11 Dominic Blizzard (6 Ollie Norburn 86), 13 Andy Kellett; 9 Reuben Reid (19 Nathan Thomas. 80), 22 Deane Smalley. Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner, 14 Tyler Harvey.
Referee: James Adcock.
Attendance: 7,121 (769 away).