Accrington Stanley 0
by Rick Cowdery
A GOAL by Reuben Reid worthy of winning a match of much greater import than the battle between Sky Bet League 2’s in-form teams kept Argyle three points clear at the top of the division.
The Pilgrims needed an unbeatable combination of Reid’s skill; dogged determination in the face of talented and organised opposition; and sheer, naked good luck to record a fourth successive league victory.
Reid’s expert long-range tracer volley midway through the second half settled a match in which Stanley hit the woodwork twice and gave Argyle goalkeeper Luke McCormick such a busy afternoon that he was named man of the match by sponsors the Green Taverners.
The two clubs came into the game each on the back of fine form this season and a decent away win the week before, on the basis of which both managers decided any changes would be inappropriate.
Derek Adams selected the same 18 Pilgrims in the same positions as those that had done duty in the 2-0 win at Notts County the previous Sunday, meaning midfielders Carl McHugh and Graham Carey started Argyle's first game of the season as outright League 2 leaders on the substitutes' bench.
However, Accrington manager John Coleman was forced into a late change from the starters in Stanley’s 2-1 win at Barnet when Adam Buxton fell ill during the hour after the teamsheets were handed into referee Nick Kinseley; Joe Wright was promoted from the substitutes' bench.
Argyle have yet to find the net in the initial half an hour of a home match on their way to the summit but they nearly went ahead inside the opening few minutes with their first attack of the game. The ball worked its way, via Hiram Boateng’s steal outside his own penalty box and Gregg Wylde’s pluperfect pass, to Jake Jervis, whose low shot brought the best out of 6ft 9in opposition goalkeeper Jason Mooney.
From auspicious beginnings, the Greens were then undone twice in quick succession by the Owd Reds purple-patch striker Josh Windass.
First, the son of Dean – for whom, surely, an Alice band would be an anathema – took advantage of Peter Hartley’s slip on Home Park’s slick surface to run through unopposed. As he was sizing up which side of McCormick to place the ball, he failed to sense Curtis Nelson sprinting back to deny him a shot with a perfectly-timed tackle.
Immediately afterwards, Windass found himself in the clear again. This time, he had Matt Crooks and Piero Mingoia for company, amid not much Pilgrims cover, and he opted to pass to the former. McCormick talked this week about how Adams has raised standards since arriving at Home Park and the save that the Argyle goalkeeper made from Crooks’ shot was no better illustration.
The Pilgrims’ riposte came down the left from Wylde, after the winger skipped around Liam Wakefield. His cross to the far post was nodded back by Jervis into the path of Josh Simpson, whose shot banged against the not inconsiderable frame of Mooney.
The frame of the goal, rather than its custodian, then kept Accrington out at the opposite end as Sean McConville teed off after Crooks had headed on Mingoia’s free-kick. The ball flashed across McCormick but cannoned back off the angle of post and crossbar.
When Accrington broke, they did so in numbers and the test for Argyle was not to let those numbers count. They nearly did when McConville, finding himself the man over, skipped inside a couple of challenges before unleashing a fierce drive which was bettered only by a combination of McCormick’s knowledge of his angles and his blade-sharp reflexes.
The same fate, by the same method, befell two right-footed shots from Mingoia as before half-time arrived to give the Pilgrims the opportunity to regroup and reshape, with Carey and McHugh coming on for Boateng and Tanner.
From being slightly off-key, Argyle immediately looked more harmonious with Carey orchestrating their efforts from central midfield and he soon had Mooney flinging his massive body full stretch and yet was still beaten by a long-range shot that only narrowly failed to curl inside the post.
That surely would have been a spectacular goal, had it sneaked home, but it still would have paled into shoulder-shrugging insignificance compared to what followed.
Perhaps only Carey, of all the Argyle players, would have been able to envisage and execute the volley that Reid placed from 20 yards into the top right-hand corner after Nelson had inadvertently headed Carey’s free-kick. To beat a goalkeeper of Mooney’s size, not to mention most of the Accrington team who stood between him and the goal, required vision and skill. Older readers might recall a goal by George Best against Tottenham at Old Trafford – this was up there with that.
If Accrington felt hard done, going behind after all their effort and close things, their sense of injustice will have been heightened minutes later, when McConville again beat McCormick but again saw the ball clatter back off the woodwork.
Reid’s race was run as he went off with what looked like a knee injury before Accrington continued to ask questions of the Pilgrims’ defence. Like: how did Windass miss the target after being set up my Seamus Conneely?
McCormick joined the crossbar as being a heartbreaker for McConville, diving low to palm out a shot low to his left that was creeping into the goal.
McConville then tried to set up substitute Terry Gornell from the left, but the ball evaded the attentions of everyone, including McCormick, and trickled across the face of the goal and inches wide of the woodwork.
It might have been a frustrating afternoon for Accrington, but it was another rather good one in a season of rather good ones for Argyle, who now visit Oxford on Tuesday for another top-of-the-table clash.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 8 Josh Simpson, 20 Hiram Boateng (4 Carl McHugh half-time); 14 Jake Jervis, 27 Craig Tanner (10 Graham Carey half-time), 11 Gregg Wylde; 9 Reuben Reid (17 Ryan Brunt 76). Substitutes (not used): 7 Lee Cox, 16 Ben Purrington, 21 James Bittner (gk), 26 Oscar Threlkeld.
Booked: Sawyer 29, McHugh 69.
Accrington Stanley (4-4-1-1): 33 Jason Mooney; 12 Liam Wakefield, 15 Joe Wright, 3 Dean Winnard, 2 Matty Pearson; 7 Piero Mingoia (39 Kaid Mohamed 83), 28 Seamus Conneely, 14 Matty Crooks, 11 Sean McConville; 8 Josh Windass (10 Terry Gornell 83); 29 Billy Kee. Substitutes (not used): 1 Ross Etheridge (gk), 4 Anthony Barry, 6 Andy Proctor, 15 Adam Buxton, 21 Gerardo Bruna.
Booked: Crooks 16, Winnard 64, Wakefield 74, Wright 90.
Referee: Nick Kinseley.
Attendance: 7,865 (73 away).