York City 1
Jervis 19, Carey 44
by Rick Cowdery
THIS game looked like a mismatch on paper and it proved to be just that on Bootham Crescent’s lush green surface as Argyle bounced back from a double cup disappointment to reassert their dominance of Sky Bet League 2.
In a season of fine performances, the Pilgrims produced arguably their best display yet of the campaign, notching up win number 12 from their 17 games so far thanks to Jake Jervis’s 10th goal of the season and Graham Carey’s eighth. Both were picture-book team strikes.
They had the game in their pocket for all but the final two of ten minutes injury-time, when York reduced their lead to one through Ben Godfrey’s close-range strike but it was too little, much too late.
The fact that Argyle were able to remorselessly unpick an admittedly poor York side without two players who, in any other season, would have been regarded as essential to their fortunes and a third who is well on the way to winning that accolade speaks volumes for their title credentials.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had called up goalkeeper James Bittner for, not only his full Argyle debut, but also, three months shy of his 34th birthday and a lifetime in professional football, his first Football League start.
Bittner’s previous playing involvement at a level higher than National League level had been limited to a second-half 45 minutes as a substitute in January’s League 2 1-1 draw with Morecambe at Home Park
Then, as now, he stepped in for Luke McCormick, a man who Bittner has watched from the bench 86 times since joining the Pilgrims last summer.
Prior to that, the Wiltshire-born understudies’ understudy has been involved with, in various roles: Salisbury City, AFC Bournemouth, Exeter City, Torquay United, Salisbury (again), Forest Green Rovers, Hereford United, Newport County, Salisbury (again), Argyle Community Trust, the University of St Mark and St John’s men’s team, and the Argyle Academy.
Other than omitting McCormick because of a groin injury, Adams made no changes to the starting line-up that had exited the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as a result of a 5-3 home defeat by League 1 Millwall the previous Tuesday.
With Hiram Boateng injured, Oscar Threlkeld thus became only the 14th outfield player to start a League 2 game for the Pilgrims this season, continuing in central midfield alongside Carl McHugh.
Jervis, who scored twice against the Lions, was retained as the central striker in the continued injury absence of Reuben Reid, with Craig Tanner and Gregg Wylde in wide support and Carey tucked in behind. The back four was the back four.
New York manager Jackie McNamara’s first home teamsheet included two notable names: 21-year-old George Swan, son of former Green bête noire Peter and a central defender like the old man, was given a Bootham Crescent debut, while 38-year-old midfielder and Academy coach Jonathan Greening was on the substitute bench after re-registering as a player.
Argyle showed no signs of any cup hangover as they set about a side whose only home win of the league campaign had been against everyone’s whipping boys Yeovil back in August with gusto.
A shot from Carey scudded across the face of the York goal after good interplay between Wylde and Gary Sawyer before Tanner set up Jervis for a strike that was shovelled away by City goalkeeper Scott Flinders.
Tanner then left Flinders flat-footed after cutting inside and quickly switching feet to power in a low left-foot grubber that whistled past the post. The on-loan Reading man then slipped in Carey for a shot that was returned to him by Flinders’ save, with his second attempt meeting the same fate.
York had not seen the whites of Bittner’s eyes in the opening 15 minutes, much less troubled the stand-in custodian, so there was some irony that, from their first real attack, Argyle broke on them and took the lead.
The ball rebounded from a defensive block to Tanner midway inside his own half and he drove into the York half before offloading. The ball was worked quickly and easily to Carey on the left, whose first-time ball into the box was perfectly placed and timed for the near-post run of Jervis, who guided the ball past Flinders with his chest.
Going behind at least forced York to open up a bit more, with the result that area of the pitch seeing the main action moved from the home side’s defensive third to the middle third.
That is not to say that the Pilgrims were anything other than utterly dominant and, as it turned out, merely biding their time, jabbing and parrying before landing a second decisive blow with another mercurial break just before half-time.
Wylde was the creator, suckering right-back Eddie Nolan and leaving him for dead. The sweet dummy allowed him the freedom of the city of York to reach the bye-line and pick out Carey in the centre of the penalty area. A man who can smash a ball in from 40 yards does not pass up that sort of gift.
Greening came on at half-time, eighteen and a half years after making his Football League debut as a Minsterman, and his experienced presence lifted those on and off the pitch.
To be honest, though, York would have probably struggled to contain Argyle if the former England Under-21 international had been brought in addition to the 11 on the pitch, rather than as a replacement for Reece Thompson.
Carey twice came close to extending the Pilgrims lead, first with one of those whipped-in near-post attempts that nearly caught Flinders napping, and then with a more floaty attempt that cleared the goalkeeper but hit the crossbar.
As the rain blew and the darkness closed in, York’s miserable season went from bad to worse when centre-back Dave Winfield was taken off on a stretcher after lengthy attention from the medics.
The eight-minute break appeared to benefit the home side better. On the resumption, they enjoyed their best period of the game, with Greening prompting and even having a pot from 20 yards that cleared Bittner’s bar with plenty to spare.
They even managed an attempt on target, when Greening picked out Godfrey, but the header was no test for the Pilgrims’ veteran debutant.
He had a greater examination when substitute David Tutonda cut inside and fired off a low left-foot strike that was bound for goal and it is praise indeed to say that he dealt with the rare threat at least as well as the man who had replaced.
York finished as strongly as Argyle had started but there was no cut to their thrust until the eighth minute of injury-time, when Godfrey fired home.
Remind me – who do we play next?
York City (4-3-3):1 Scott Flinders; 6 Eddie Nolan, 14 George Swan, 16 Dave Winfield (15 Keith Lowe 72), 3 Femi Ilesanmi; 20 Michael Collins (27 David Tutonda 55), 4 James Berrett, 26 Ben Godfrey; 23 Rhys Turner (30 Jonathan Greening half-time), 9 Vadaine Oliver, 7 Michael Coulson (capt). Substitutes(not used): 13 Anthony Straker, 19 Jake Hyde, 24 Michael Ingham (gk), 29 Emile Sinclair.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 21 James Bittner; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 26 Oscar Threlkeld, 4 Carl McHugh (8 Josh Simpson 79); 27 Craig Tanner (17 Ryan Brunt 81), 10 Graham Carey, 11 Gregg Wylde (7 Lee Cox 90); 14 Jake Jervis. Substitutes (not used):15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 24 Louis Rooney, 30 Cory Harvey (gk).
Booked: Threlkeld 47, Nelson 90.
Referee: Richard Clark.
Attendance: 3,654 (721 away).