Cambridge United 2
Williamson 6, Berry 86
By Rick Cowdery
INJURY-HIT Argyle could not give their Green Army the present they wanted in Home Park’s last game before Christmas as their winless Sky Bet League 2 run was extended to four matches by Cambridge’s late winner. Live by the sword...
For the second home game in succession, they conceded an early goal, from Ben Williamson, which they had to work hard to claw back.
They did, thanks to Gregg Wylde’s third goal of the season – and first since August – a smart header midway through the second half.
With both sides reluctant to settle for a draw, Cambridge became only the third team to come away from Home Park with all three points during the Derek Adams’ era – all by the same 2-1 scoreline – when the seasonally appropriate Luke Berry crashed home the winner.
Argyle's personnel problems had relented only a touch during their two-week break, with Peter Hartley passing muster to resume his familiar place on the left-hand side of central defence, in place of on-loan Crystal Palace youngster Luke Croll, and Luke McCormick recovering from a groin problem only sufficiently to be named as a substitute.
On the other side of the balance, the Pilgrims' midfield was without, not only long-term absentee Hiram Boateng, but also two new frequenters of the physio's room. Graham Carey was deemed fit enough just to assist with the Argyle Foundation's £12,000 annual draw at half-time, and fellow midfielder Josh Simpson was also unavailable.
Oscar Threlkeld popped out of the other side of the revolving door to the sick quarters and resumed his place in the engine-room, while Ryan Brunt's reward for his last-gasp leveller in the Pilgrims' previous outing at Dagenham & Redbridge was to lead the attack. With Reuben Reid still not fit after a hip injury, Jake Jervis dropped out to the right side of the attack with Gregg Wylde on the left and Craig Tanner in the Carey hole.
Cambridge had beaten Morecambe 4-2 in their previous away game and quickly again showed an appetite for life on the road, taking the lead before the strains of Three Little Birds had drifted away on the north-westerly squall.
Recalled Barry Corr, who has been both tormenter of and tormented by Argyle during his career, set up Williamson in front of the Devonport end for a shot which slid across Christian Walton and put Argyle behind in a game for a fourth successive match.
When Harrison Dunk got in behind the Argyle defence some ten minutes later, the odds were on the Pilgrims falling further behind but Hartley had smelled the danger and got across well to block Dunk’s slammer with a full-court press.
Argyle enjoyed periods of decent possession but, with Cambridge doggedly defending the bone given them by Williamson, found headway difficult. Naturally, they became vulnerable to the counter attack and it took another body-on-the-line intervention from Hartley to pick off Berry’s goalbound shot.
For all their patience and creative intent, Argyle rarely threatened the Cambridge goal with such menace, although Jervis came close to collecting a neat eye-of-the needle pass by Carl McHugh ahead of United goalkeeper Sam Beasant.
Argyle emerged for the second half with newly found vigour. Tanner, sparked by Wylde, had the ball in the net but was clearly offside, and, soon afterwards, Brunt joined Tanner in the six-yard box to test the visitors’ defensive resolve.
It signalled greater attacking commitment from the Pilgrims, who, at times, looked not far off lining up as a genuine 4-2-4. The risk-reward element of such tactics are obvious and Cambridge had an opportunity to kill off the game when Williamson took a pot shot from deep that brought the best out of Walton.
Curtis Nelson, the Argyle hero in their previous come-from-behind Home Park draw with Leyton Orient, nearly levelled when Hartley’s free-kick from deep dropped to him, but a flashing left-foot shot went wide.
From wide to Wylde. Still committed to attacking at nearly all costs, the ball was worked to Jervis wide on the right with plenty of takers in the area. Wylde read the perfect delivery perfectly, peeling towards the ball to guide a premeditated header past Beasant.
Cambridge responded and looked better for it. Walton was again obliged to deal with a stinging shot from distance, this time by Conor Newton, before Mark Roberts lashed a close-range shot, following a post set-piece melee, over the crossbar.
It might be the season of giving, but neither side seemed keen to share the points and Cambridge made the most of matters when Hartley gifted the ball to Berry for a stunning shot from just inside the penalty area.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 31 Christian Walton; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Carl McHugh, 26 Oscar Threlkeld; 14 Jake Jervis, 27 Craig Tanner, 11 Gregg Wylde; 17 Ryan Brunt. Substitutes (not used): 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 18 Deane Smalley, 19 Aaron Bentley, 22 Callum Hall, 23 Luke McCormick (gk), 24 Louis Rooney.
Booked: Threlkeld 90.
Cambridge United (4-4-2): 13 Sam Beasant; 34 Cameron Gayle, 6 Leon Legge, 5 Mark Roberts (capt), 3 Greg Taylor; 24 Connor Newton, 8 Luke Berry, 23 Ryan Ledson, 11 Harrison Dunk (7 Ryan Donaldson 67); 10 Barry Corr, 22 Ben Williamson (17 Liam Hughes 90). Substitutes (not used): 1 Chris Dunn (gk), 12 Terry Kennedy, 14 Josh Coulson, 15 Robbie Simpson, 35 Jordan Jones.
Booked: Corr 68. Ledson 70.
Referee: Tim Robinson.
Attendance: 7,246 (164 away).