Wylde 40, Carey 49
by Rob McNichol
IT has been 84 days since play-off despair at Adams Park - but an Adams spark set alight the blue-touch paper on the new football season for Plymouth Argyle.
Two summer recruits of - Gregg Wylde and Graham Carey - scored goals of significant quality in a 2-0 away victory that saw Argyle win three points in an opening fixture for the first time in five years, and give new boss Derek Adams a winning start to his tenure as manager.
Wylde's first-half volley gave Argyle a lead at the interval having survived an early onslaught from the home side, and Carey's long-range drive early in the second period gave Argyle license to strut their stuff while in front.
Adams gave debuts to four players - Hiram Boateng and Graham Carey in midfield, Gregg Wylde and Jake Jervis in advanced wide areas - as well as handing a start to returning left-back Gary Sawyer. Newest recruit Craig Tanner had to settle for a place on the bench again his former side, along with fellow summer signing Josh Simpson.
At many times during the summer it had seemed doubtful that we would see Reuben Reid's name on the first teamsheet of the season, but the number 9 shirt did indeed feature in the line-up, to the delight of the worldwide Green Army.
A notable difference to last season was the flat back four employed as a preference by Adams over the familiar pattern of three centre-backs before the summer started. All three men featured, though, with Carl McHugh taking a step out of the back line to partner Boateng in the middle of the park, with Curtis Nelson and Peter Hartley remaining in central defence in front of Luke McCormick. Kelvin Mellor, at right back, rounded off the eleven that Adams determined best to kick the season off in the right fashion.
In truth, in was the home side who set the early gallop. The Dons won four corners inside the first five minutes, and threw a number of balls into the Argyle area in the opening stages, but the Pilgrims saw out the first signs of danger, although a shot from the edge of the area by Andy Barcham was not far over the bar.
It began to look as though Argyle's best chances were going to come on the counter-attack with an array of pacey attacking options available, and this proved the case when, on 19 minutes, Argyle almost took the lead. Boateng, Reid and Jervis all battled well physically to get hold of the ball, before Carey picked out Wylde. The Scotsman shot powerfully from just inside the area, forcing a good save from James Shea in the Dons goal.
Wimbledon's physical style and attacking 3-4-3 set up caused Argyle problems throughout the first half, with the nippy Barcham causing issues whenever he could pick up the pieces on the left wing. However, Argyle had an equivalent opposite number, and it seemed inevitable that anything effective produced by the visitors would be via Gregg Wylde.
The Argyle number 11 set off on a number of mazy, crossfield runs that Wimbledon scrambled to stop, but it was from one touch that he ignited this game.
Argyle had a promising build-up halted, but had a spot of fortune when a pair of Dons collided, leaving Carey to pick up the loose ball. A direct run by the Irishman had Wimbledon backpedalling and allowed some room for Jervis on the right flank. His long, lofted cross fell perfectly for Wylde, coming in from the left, but he still had a lot to do.
He did it. A peach of a left foot volley was too much for Shea, who got at least one hand to the ball, but was able only to push the new Mitre Hyperseam ball into the roof of his net. It was sunshine football to match a glorious afternoon in our nation's capital.
Argyle looked to repeat the flowing football moments later, when Wylde's sublime first touch and one-two with Carey set the Pilgrims away again. Reid switched play to Jervis, who cut inside and whistled on not far over with his left foot.
The half-time whistle was met with cheers from the Green Army, buoyed by the recent goal, and possibly by a bit of incredulity from the home faithful, who probably felt that their side had largely dominated the game. The half felt like a match of a heavyweight v cruiserweight; the heavyweight Dons trying to dominate with punching power, but the lively, dancing, cruiserweight Pilgrims creating enough movement to use their dexterity to get in a crucial, well-timed punch.
Before Wimbledon had a chance to get their guard up at the start of round two, Argyle landed a lilac glove exactly where it counted. Reid won a free-kick about forty yards from goal, and Carey looked to clip a ball over the Dons' defence. It looked to be too long, but Nelson refused to give up hope, and kept the ball in play. The skipper remained composed, and sensibly played the ball to Boateng. The on-loan midfielder helped the ball along to Carey, who let fly from 25 yards.
The shot was heavily deflected, for sure, but Carey's strike was as pure as the unbridled joy felt by the Green Army when the ball crashed into the back of the net. Derek Adams had barely been in his job a fortnight by the time Wylde and Carey became Pilgrims, but it had taken fewer than 50 minutes for the pair to give Argyle a healthy-looking lead.
The second goal was the catalyst for a wonderful period of play for Adams' side. Argyle were first to everything and played attractive attacking football that yielded chances seemingly at will. Reid made Shea work hard before Jervis flashed one across the face of goal, then the pair had another each, with Jervis' latter effort the best of them all, and totally self-made, after he charged down a clearance, then burst forward and hit a shot which Shea booted clear.
The bombardment died down, but the game settled into an equally satisfying pattern, as Wimbledon threw on Sean Rigg and tried to force their tempo again, but to little effect, and time began to ebb away.
Akinfewna had half a chance, looping a head over McCormick from an acute angle, but McHugh headed away from danger. It was the last action for Wimbledon's self-styled beast, as he was replaced by Adebayo Azeez, who had scored when the sides met previously at Home Park. Argyle made subs of their own, bringing on Ben Purrington and Tanner for Wylde and Reid.
Had Dannie Bulman not got quite so much air on a shot from the edge of the box with ten minutes to go, we may have been forced to sit through a nervy end to the game. Fortunately enough, his radar was slightly off, and despite some late Wimbledon flurries, Argyle saw the game out comfortably.
Football's back - and in the best way possible. Here's to a fun nine months.
Wimbledon (3-4-3): 20 James Shea; 2 Barry Fuller (capt), 6 Paul Robinson, 22 Karleigh Osborne; 7 George Francomb, 4 Dannie Bulman (12 Jon Meades 82), 8 Jake Reeves, 17 Andy Barcham; 33 Lyle Taylor (11 Sean Rigg 67), 10 Adebayo Akinfenwa (14 Abebayo Azeez 73), 9 Tom Elliott. Substitutes (not used): 3 Callum Kennedy, 5 Will Nightingale, 19 David Fitzpatrick, 24 Joe McDonnell (gk).
Booked: Fuller 90
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Carl McHugh, 20 Hiram Boateng; 14 Jake Jervis, 10 Graham Carey (17 Ryan Brunt 87), 11 Gregg Wylde (16 Ben Purrington 75); 9 Reuben Reid (27 Craig Tanner 76). Substitutes (not used): 7 Lee Cox, 8 Josh Simpson, 19 Aaron Bentley, 21 James Bittner (gk).
Referee: Ben Toner.
Attendance: 4,805 (932 away).