Bristol Rovers 1
Harrison pen 90
by Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE drew for the first time this season, frustratingly passing on the chance to head the embryonic Sky Bet League 2 table as a Westcountry derby of few goalscoring opportunities ended in high drama.
The Pilgrims found their neighbours stubborn opponents and could not break them down until five minutes from time, when Jake Jervis netted his sixth goal of the campaign.
The strike did send Argyle top of the in-play table but they were prevented from staying there for more than five minutes following a last-minute penalty from Rovers' Ellis Harrison, who had been fouled by McCormick.
McCormick then redeemed himself with a magnificent point-blank save deep into injury-time after Harrison powered a header goalwards from point-blank range.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had made one change to the Argyle starting line-up that had paved the way for the 2-1 redemption victory at Wycombe seven days earlier, the same switch that he had made at half-time at Adams Park – Craig Tanner for Gregg Wylde on the left-hand of the attack.
Rovers came to Home Park on the back of three defeats – the last two of them 1-0 home reversals – and as a result they made three changes, including the re-introduction to their vanguard of former Pilgrim Jermaine Easter.
They also recalled former Home Park academic Jake Gosling, whose goal against the Pilgrims for Dorchester – while on loan from Exeter City – was responsible for a 2012 FA Cup giantkilling. More lately, Gosling has become Gibraltar’s all-time leading international goalscorer. With two goals.
In what used to be called shirt-sleeve weather, a five-figure crowd that included ex-Argyle gaffer Neil Warnock and Exeter vice-chairman Julian Tagg, saw the Pilgrims dominate early proceedings without repeating their scoring start at Adams Park.
Indeed, for all their scant possession and digging in, it was Rovers who fashioned the clearest two openings of the first quarter. The Gibraltarian record-holder sent over a sweet cross that Matty Taylor met with a full head but could not direct on target, before James Clarke’s cross from the right bye-line nearly snuck flukily under Luke McCormick’s crossbar.
The Pilgrims were playing well, passing quickly and finding the midfield space from which to launch waves of attack but could not get as close to Lee Nicholls’ goal.
Hiram Boateng, a big figure in the engine-room again, came as near as anyone to breaking the deadlock when, following a run that took out three opponents, he curled a shot that would not quite come in.
As the half progressed, Rovers upped their ambition and they ended the opening 45 minutes in the ascendancy, illustrated by Taylor’s shot in stoppage-time that brought a good save from McCormick.
The second half stopped as soon as it started, with Carl McHugh substituted after a lengthy spell of treatment after clashing with Stuart Sinclair. Adding insult to injury, he received his fourth yellow card of the season for the tackle that saw him replaced by Lee Cox.
When Argyle, now attacking the Devonport end, eventually built up a head of steam, they were denied from taking the lead by a splendid instinctive save from Nicholls after Jake Jervis shovelled Boateng’s teasing driven cross goalwards.
Gary Sawyer picked up his fourth booking of the campaign before Wylde and Tanner swapped places again and Wylde was soon to the fore, his pink boots glinting in the autumn sun.
The Pilgrims sprung Rovers’ disciplined back line with Reuben Reid being slipped in but Argyle’s leading scorer for the past two seasons could not find the perfect moment to shoot and what looked like decent opportunity fizzled out with Wylde shooting tamely wide.
Wylde resumed his supply detail, sending in a low cutter across the face of the goal which was prevented from reaching Jervis only by Nicholls’ fingertips.
As their rivals at the top of League 2 swapped top spot, the Pilgrims sought the goal that would return them there after their ten minutes at the summit seven days earlier.
Rovers, though, were having none of it and stuck to their task manfully, if unaesthetically.
Ex-Gas man Ryan Brunt was introduced from the bench to try to find a late winner against the side which released him at the beginning of the year and might have had a penalty when sent sprawling a few minutes later.
Like most of the afternoon, the expectation was dashed by the negative.
Then Wylde tried one more run down the left, one more cross flashing square along the six-yard box.
This time, it reached Jervis; this time, although Nicholls, managed to get his body in the way, Jervis’s shot had enough on it to bounce off him and into the net.
Still the drama was not over. Rovers immediately broke and substitute Harrison skipped round McCormick, drawing the foul and winning a penalty.
McCormick required lengthy attention and Harrison scored the spot-kick against him shortly after eight minutes of injury-time was announced.
The Argyle custodian made amends in spectacular style with a save from Harrison’s header that showed precisely why it is not just the Green Army that rates him the best goalkeeper in the division.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Carl McHugh (7 Lee Cox 50), 20 Hiram Boateng; 14 Jake Jervis, 10 Graham Carey, 27 Craig Tanner (11 Gregg Wylde 63); 9 Reuben Reid (17 Ryan Brunt 81). Substitutes (not used): 8 Josh Simpson, 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 30 Cory Harvey (gk).
Booked: McHugh 49, Sawyer 60, Nelson 76, McCormick 90, Cox 90.
Bristol Rovers (4-2-3-1): 31 Lee Nicholls; 15 James Clarke, 4 Tom Lockyer, 6 Tom Parkes, 3 Lee Brown; 14 Chris Lines, 24 Stuart Sinclair; 23 Billy Bodin, 17 Jermaine Easter (20 Jamie Lucas 87), 11 Jake Gosling (21 Cristian Montano 66); 10 Matty Taylor (9 Ellis Harrison 69). Substitutes (not used): 1 Steve Mildenhall (gk), 5 Mark McChrystal, 7 Lee Mansell, 8 Ollie Clarke.
Booked: Harrison 76.
Referee: Chris Sarginson.
Attendance: 10,633 (1,587 away).