Reid 43, Boateng 89
by Rob McNichol
ANOTHER game, another 2-1 win at Home Park - but this was a game quite unlike Argyle's earlier success at home this week.
After the stodgy display - but ultimate comeback success - against Barnet on Tuesday night yielded a 2-1 victory, as this game produced the same. But the performances were night and day.
Argyle toyed with a Crawley sided so desperately outclassed it sometimes hurt for the vast majority of the game, but having led at half-time via a Reuben Reid goal, Argyle were hit by a Crawley sucker punch with five minutes remaining.
Roarie Deacon's equaliser sucked the air out of Home Park and threatened to spoil an otherwise perfect day, but Hiram Boateng's first goal for Argyle in the last minute of normal time secured the three points to put Argyle on top of the division.
The first surprise of the afternoon came at 2pm, when Carl McHugh was named in the Pilgrims' starting 11, returning from his hamstring injury earlier than scheduled. He came into the side at the expense of Josh Simpson, who missed out on the opportunity of starting against his most recent former employers.
A similar scenario for a central midfielder was occurring on a bench not too far away from Argyle's; as the game began, former Pilgrims' skipper Simon Walton was a substitute for Crawley.
His ostensible replacement, on the pitch, brought to mind a curious anomaly; Ross Jenkins, briefly on loan to Argyle from Watford during the 2012-13 season, only played twice for Argyle, in away games at Morecambe and Wycombe, so never graced Home Park in the green and white.
It would be fair to say all eyes were on Jake Jervis, given his winner earlier in the week in the 2-1 win over Barnet - and his six other goals this season - and it was he who was involved in the first real incident of the match. It was not the smoothest of paths that he took into the area, but once he had got the ball at his feet inside the box, he went to ground. It rather looked like the already prone Mitch Hancox, on his Reds' debut, hauled Jervis down to join him on the deck. Nothing was given.
Argyle were having some early joys down the channels, and it was Gregg Wylde who next burst deep into Crawley territory. His rolled ball across the six-yard box looked inviting, but no Argyle player was present to gamble and tap the ball home.
On 13 minutes, Gary Sawyer was cautioned for tripping Lewis Young, and this fifth yellow of the campaign will rule Gary out of Tuesday's game with Exeter City in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
Graham Carey is not a player one would describe as lacking in confidence, but he went beyond even his usual remit when receiving a ball wide on the left and volleying a crossfield pass by McHugh towards goal. The ball went just wide of the far post, with a pair of Argyle players straining to finish the move off. Had they done, it would have been an outrageous and memorable opening goal.
Argyle were utterly dominant from the start, and playing some beautiful possession football, but chances were not flowing quite in turn. Crawley keeper Freddie Woodman spent plenty of time on alert as the ball cannoned around his area, but very little time getting his hands dirty, figuratively or literally.
Crawley were complicit in this dominance, gifting Argyle the ball on numerous occasions, but the Pilgrims could never quite get on the same wavelength to piece together a move that cemented their control of the game. The next true chance with Jervis popping up on the left, cutting inside and floating a glorious back-post cross. It was a little high for Reuben Reid, but had Kelvin Mellor gambled a mite earlier, he may have been the unlikely source of the opener.
With eight minutes to go to the break, Carey's left-wing corner was met with a glancing McHugh header that Woodman did well to kick clear. Wylde hooked the ball back in, just an inch or two too high for Reid to nod in simply. The same combo came together again a few minutes later when Reid got Wylde's cross on target with his head, but it was straight at Woodman, who gathered.
Argyle got there in the end - just a couple of minutes before the interval. Having kept the ball for what felt like minutes on end, just waiting for the right opportunity to arise, finally a green shirt spotted an opening, and that was that. Naturally, it was Carey, who is held in such regard around this place now that a fair percentage of the crowd would probably believe you if you suggest that Carey moved a defender by telekinesis before sliding a ball through the gap he had engineered. Reid, who was looking as sharp as he has been this season, easily got beyond Josh Yorwerth, held him off, and slotted past Freddie Woodman.
Before the chance for the referee to signal for the half-time break - and so that Crawley could have 15 minutes to take in what had happened to this point - McHugh was a trifle late in challenging Jimmy Smith, and also entered the book, meaning he would join Sawyer in the stands for the visit of the Grecians.
Crawley had their first chance of note in the wake of Argyle's opener, as Rhys Murphy turned in the area and shot, but Luke McCormick gathered easily, having put his cigar down gently.
And thus ended as one sided a first half that you are likely to ever see. Had that been an attack v defence training routine, the coach in charge would have been delighted with how smoothly the session ran.
Crawley, perhaps a little surprisingly, made no changes at half-time, maybe on the basis that they could not possibly be that bad again. Inside 30 seconds, Jenkins had a shot from 20 yards easily saved by McCormick, but it did set out a marker that they might play with a little more intent.
There certainly improvement, but Argyle were still well on top. More corners and free-kicks whizzed around Woodman's area, and his hands were stung by a long-ranger from Wylde.
There was a danger, though, of the dominance leading to Argyle getting a bit casual, and so it proved when a couple of slack moments let Crawley in for an attack. It was hardly slick; indeed, Smith's touch on the edge of the area was poor, but it fell to the Reds' top goalscorer, Gwion Edwards, in a good position. His shot was well over, but it ought to have served as a warning that there were two teams on the pitch, and the gap between them was just one goal.
Crawley brought on Walton for Jenkins in a switch of Argyle alumni, before Derek Adams reached into Crawley's past to introduce Simpson to the fray. He replaced Jervis, and Carey switched to the right flank, facilitating a subtle shift in centre of Argyle's midfield to put the emphasis on getting the ball - then keeping it.
For the most part, it worked, but the tempo of the game had all but ground to a halt. Whenever Argyle had the ball it looked comfortable, but they could not rouse themselves into creating chances to add to their lead.
And they paid for it.
With five minutes remaining, Walton lofted a free-kick into the area, which Yorwerth headed goalwards. McCormick's save was astonishing - or would have been had we not got used to it by now - but it only tipped the ball onto the post, leaving the ball available for Deacon to bundle home.
As much as a goal can, this physically hurt. Argyle had been so dominant, and Crawley so abject, that this seemed unutterably cruel. However, perhaps Argyle had only themselves to blame for not picking Crawley off sooner.
Stung by the equaliser, the Argyle engine surged into life. As is so often the case, Carey was the catalyst, and when fouled 30 or so yards out, one suspected fireworks. Unchallenged over the dead-ball, he shot for goal - Woodman shoveled the ball out, but only into the path of Boateng, who had anticipated first, and best. He could barely miss when slamming home from four yards.
Argyle will play their 5000th game in the club's history on Tuesday night as league leaders and against Exeter City. Could things be any more perfect?
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 (8 Josh Simpson 72), 10 Graham Carey, 11 Gregg Wylde (17 Ryan Brunt 84); 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 26 Oscar Threlkeld, 27 Craig Tanner, 30 Cory Harvey (gk).
Booked: Sawyer 13, Mellor 20, McHugh 45.
Crawley (4-4-2): 1 Freddie Woodman; 23 Liam Donnelly, 25 Josh Yorwerth, 6 Sonny Bradley (capt), 24 Mitch Hancox; 14 Lewis Young (20 Roarie Deacon 60), 22 Ross Jenkins (4 Simon Walton 69), 8 Jimmy Smith, 7 Gwion Edwards; 39 Rhys Murphy (15 Shamir Fenelon 81), 18 Matt Harrold. Substitutes (not used): 9 Lee Barnard, 10 Luke Rooney, 12 Callum Preston (gk), 17 Bobson Bawling.
Booked: Jenkins 54, Edwards 72, Hancox 74.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
Attendance: 7,173 (92 away).