Jervis 43, 65, Reid 53, Carey 56
Carlisle United 1
By Rick Cowdery
AS has been pointed out before this week, Carlisle is a lot nearer Ross County than Plymouth, so there was something poetic that three former Staggies were to the fore of Argyle’s ultimately emphatic opening home victory of the 2015-16 campaign.
Their first goal, which came just before half-time when Argyle were decidedly second best in the game, was scored by Jake Jervis on his return to the Pilgrims’ side, as was the fourth just 23 minutes later, and Graham Carey netted the third as well as setting up one of Jervis’s goals and Reuben Reid’s game-relaxing second.
Credit, too, to their former manager at Dingwall’s Victoria Park. The margin of victory was helped in no small part by Derek Adams’ tactical change at half-time which swung the balance of a contest that the visitors had shaded up until that point well and truly towards the Pilgrims. “Scottish Mourinho” seems almost insulting, given the Special One’s current failings at the Bridge.
Adams had produced a rabbit from his managerial hat before the game, when he handed in the Pilgrims’ team sheet containing Jervis’s name.
The 23-year-old suffered a groin injury in the previous week’s Capital One Cup game against Gillingham, missed the subsequent League match against Portsmouth, and appeared to have been ruled out of a comeback against Carlisle by the manager on the eve of the game.
However, there he was, large as life, when the two teams kicked off, with young Reading loan player Craig Tanner returning to the substitutes’ bench after a couple of promising appearances and one very special goal.
Carlisle arrived at Home Park undefeated after a 1-1 draw at Mansfield and a 4-4 stalemate at home to Cambridge United in the League, and a 3-1 extra-time home defeat of ten-man League 1 Chesterfield in the Capital One Cup.
They included a front pairing of Jabo Ibehre, whose four goals in the two draws saw him come into the game as League 2’s joint-leading scorer, and Charlie Wyke, a sometime target of Adams’ predecessor John Sheridan.
The opening quarter produced little to excite or concern. The greatest impact was made by Carlisle midfielder Luke Joyce’s knee when it smashed into Gary Sawyer’s face, accidentally, after the Argyle defender had gone to ground to execute a tackle. After some relatively long attention from physio Paul Atkinson and club doctor Paul Giles, Sawyer groggily continued.
Despite some typical promptings from Carey, Argyle were unable to find anything to match Gregg Wylde’s break down the left in the opening minute which ended with the two-goal Scot smashing a shot over the goal from a tight angle.
Carlisle compounded the growing frustrations of the players and Green Army alike when Ibehre escaped his marker in the centre of the penalty area and headed a deep cross from the influential Joyce past Luke McCormick in the Argyle goal, but the ball struck the post and fell safe.
Carey, who had already tried his luck from long range with a shot that went wide, then had another go but, although the radar had been tuned, was unable to curl the effort around United goalkeeper Mark Gillespie.
The Irishman had a third attempt before half-time when a patient build-up ended with Jervis teeing him up for a strike that Gillespie comfortably grasped, but the better chances were being created by the visitors. First, Peter Hartley blocked a close-range shot from Kennedy after Angelo Balanta’s driven cross; then Joyce whistled a drive past McCormick’s left-hand post with the Argyle custodian struggling to make the necessary ground.
The Pilgrims relieved the pressure in the best possible manner. Jervis, who had switched flanks with Wylde, stole the ball on the left touchline and made great strides inside and towards the penalty area. As the United defenders obligingly backed off, he unleashed a dipping, swerving shot that flew past Gillespie into the top corner of the Barn Park goal.
Of the five goals scored by the Pilgrims up to that point this season, the nearest to a tap-in had been Wylde’s left-foot volley against Portsmouth from about 15 yards.
The Argyle defence trod a tightrope as they waited for the break. Successive long throws from Tom Miller caused palpitations, and Balanta should have done better from the second one than slash at the ball and send it looping over the crossbar.
Adams switched his formation at interval to match Carlisle’s shape, with Josh Simpson replacing Wylde in midfield and McHugh dropping back to reform last season’s familiar three-man central defence: Curtis Nelson to the right, Hartley to the left and – stuck in the middle – McHugh.
It took a wee while to adapt to the new demands before Argyle gave themselves breathing space. They won a corner after Carey, sweetly played in by Jervis, had his shot blocked at the last by Danny Grainger. Carey took the flag-kick, a vicious whip across the goal which McHugh flicked on at the near post, leaving Reid to nudge the ball over the line with his thigh. At last, we had our tap-in.
Argyle relaxed and soon had their third. Carey robbed Grainger as Carlisle tried to bring the ball out of defence and, such is the Irishman’s calm control of the ball, his second goal since his summer move from north of Hadrian’s Wall was never in doubt: a few strides and perfect placement past Gillespie.
The fourth followed soon afterwards to complete a sequence of four goals in 22 minutes, and three in 12, when man-of-the-match Carey went pick-pocketing again before slipping Jervis in on the right edge of the penalty area for another fine low finish.
The game was long since up for Carlisle, who had to play out half an hour with only the thought of the second half of their 778-mile round-trip to comfort them.
They gamely stuck to their task but were denied even the thinnest of consolations when McCormick cleared Michael Raynes’ near-post header off his goal-line with his knees before Kennedy fired over from close in when he should have scored.
How far away home must have seemed at that moment, and it did not get appreciably nearer when substitute Joe Thompson headed home Grainger’s cross for the thinnest of consolations.
Argyle (4-3-3): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Carl McHugh, 10 Graham Carey, 20 Hiram Boateng (17 Ryan Brunt 72); 14 Jake Jervis (27 Craig Tanner 78), 9 Reuben Reid, 11 Gregg Wylde (8 Josh Simpson half-time). Substitutes (not used): 7 Lee Cox, 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 21 James Bittner (gk).
Booked: McCormick 90.
Carlisle United (3-5-2): 1 Mark Gillespie; 2 Tom Miller, 5 Michael Raynes, 3 Danny Grainger (capt); 19 Angelo Balanta (10 Bastien Hery 76), 7 Jason Kennedy, 4 Luke Joyce, 16 Gary Dicker, 18 Kevin Osei (23 Joe Thompson 61); 9 Charlie Wyke (25 Derek Asamoah 76), 14 Jabo Ibehre. Substitutes (not used): 13 Dan Hanford (gk), 20 Troy Archibald-Henville, 21 Steven Rigg, 44 Alex McQueen.
Referee: Oliver Langford.
Attendance: 6,071 (169 away).