Hartley 28, Morgan 69
AFC Fylde 0
By Rick Cowdery
ON the basis that getting into the second round of the FA Cup was the main objective – and bearing in mind what happened to their neighbours the previous day – Argyle can be entirely satisfied with their day’s work.
Their Northern Conference visitors, ranked 44 places below them in the football league pyramid, gave them a game, to be sure, and more than a few heart-in-mouth moments but, in truth, an upset never truly looked on the cards.
Headed goals from Peter Hartley, in the first half, and Marvin Morgan, in the second, did the trick for the Pilgrims, whose renowned defensive qualities were called upon possibly more than they might have expected when the first-round draw was made.
No-one’s talents in that department were more in evident than those of their goalkeeper Luke McCormick, who made three saves which, if not quite as brilliant as some of his earlier efforts this season, still fell into the heartbreaking category.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had made four changes to his starting line-up, although he stayed faithful to the shape and the back-line which had provided the foundation for a seven-game unbeaten run.
Irregular midfielders Lee Cox, Ollie Norburn and Tyler Harvey, and forward Morgan have all shown admirable qualities when called upon this season, so it was not the greatest leap of faith for the manager to recall them at the expense of Bobby Reid – who parent club Bristol City did not want cup-tied – Dominic Blizzard, Anthony O’Connor and Lewi Alessandra.
There may well have been more changes, too, had not Jason Banton been feeling the effects of leg injury sustained in the previous week’s 1-1 draw at Burton Albion, or had Deane Smalley not been affected again by his semi-permanently niggling back.
Fylde’s initial everyone-behind-the-ball defending was frustrating for the Pilgrims’ players and the Green Army alike, and continually brought Argyle’s three centre-backs into play as distributors of the Nike’s mango FA Cup ball.
With the pace being dictated by the visitors, too, it was not only the visitors’ fluorescent tangerine shirts that were giving Argyle a headache, and the watchword was ‘patience’. Gradually, though, the Pilgrims began to assert themselves against these alien tactics and tempo and find gaps.
They were nearly handed the lead by Fylde goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe, whose attempt to distribute the ball to a team-mate merely succeeded in presenting it to Reuben Reid but Argyle’s leading scoerer could not capitalise on the unexpected gift.
It took nearly half an hour for the Pilgrims to break through the day-glo orange blanket, which they did from their first corner of the game. Norburn’s delivery from the right made stately progress all the way to the far post, where Hartley rose unhindered the few inches he needed to and nodded the ball home from a couple of feet.
Buoyed by the centre-back’s third goal of the season, Argyle sought to put the game to bed, and they came close through the same player when his long-range shot was inadvertently deflected by Morgan.
Going behind drew Fylde out of themselves and what followed before the interval made you wonder why they had started so negatively. Their game-plan B of releasing the front men at pace with missiles from deep twice opened up the Pilgrims like a can of Cornish pilchards.
First, Richie Allen outpaced the backpedalling Argyle middle and outcoming McCormick but snatched his shot wide, before Michael Barnes made similar inroads only to find, like so many League 2 strikers over the past two seasons have, McCormick perfectly positioned to block his shot.
Argyle began the second half with O’Connor on for Kelvin Mellor; Fylde began it with an increased sense of purpose, and the Pilgrims struggled to get a decent handle on proceedings.
Morgan injected some badly needed pace with a run that saw him upended on the edge of the penalty area for a free-kick from which Harvey stung Hinchliffe’s hands.
It was a rare moment of Argyle supremacy in a half being dictated by their visitors, who again had home hearts aflutter, if only for a second, when Richie Allen flashed an ambitious long-range shot wide in front of an anxious Devonport end.
Sheridan swapped Reid for Alessandra and, immediately, the pace picked up. Morgan played in Andy Kellett, who then swapped passes with the Pilgrims’ substitute to open up the Fylde back line; then Alessandra and Kellett again linked sweetly. On both occasions, the end product did not match the approach play.
With three-quarters of the game gone, the cup-tie took on the shape of…well, of a cup-tie. Fylde substitute Danny Lloyd broke through within seconds of coming on but was snuffed out by Curtis Nelson’s sliding block.
Argyle’s riposte was deadly. Another Norburn corner was won by Carl McHugh and helped into the net from well inside the six-yard box by Morgan.
The Pilgrims sent on Nathan Thomas for 20 minutes but, like Weebles on acid, Fylde refused to lie down, and Michael Potts and Lloyd, again, both caused alarm with shots.
As Argyle settled on their fall-back option of relying on the steadiest defence in the Football League, Barnes added to the consternation with a purposeful meandering run that ended with a shot that McCormick saved well at pretty much point-blank range.
However, as golfers are fond of telling everyone, it is not how you get there that counts, as long as the score is okay and Argyle’s parsimonious defence ensured they are in Monday night’s draw, ball number 33, again.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor (28 Anthony O'Connor half-time), 4 Lee Cox, 14 Tyler Harvey (19 Nathan Thomas 72), 6 Ollie Norburn, 13 Andy Kellett; 10 Marvin Morgan, 9 Reuben Reid (7 Lewis Alessandra 61). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 22 River Allen, 25 Aaron Bentley.
AFC Fylde (4-4-2): 1 Ben Hinchliffe; 2 Luke Denson, 4 Josh Langley, 5 Tom Hannigan (capt), 3 Adam Sumner; 10 Michael Barnes, 7 Liam Tomsett (15 Joe Booth 77), 8 Danny Rowe (14 Michael Potts 58), 6 Caspar Hughes; 9 Jamie Allen (12 Danny Lloyd 66), 11 Richie Allen. Substitutes (not used):13 Craig Dootson (gk), 16 Tom Eckersley, 17 Dion Charles.
Referee: James Linington.
Attendance: 5,153 (104 away).