Yeovil Town 0
by Rick Cowdery
RYAN Brunt has not made loads of starting appearances nor scored stacks of goals this season, but he has featured in every Argyle game and popped up with some vital strikes, not least of which was his Boxing Day winner that maintained the Pilgrims’ lead of Sky Bet League 2.
He deserved to be the one to break stubborn Yeovil’s resistance as the gap between top and bottom was reduced to his single goal just before the hour-mark: it capped his best ever performance in the Green and gave Argyle the victory their dominance of the game merited.
It was a fine way to mark the midpoint of what is turning into a potentially memorable season. Argyle have accumulated 46 points, exactly two points a game, which is – whisper it – consistent title-winning form.
Argyle’s starting line-up was unchanged from the one that had paved the way for a 2-1 win at Hartlepool the previous week and significant as much for two players who were not in it, as for the 11 that were.
Reuben Reid has not played an active part in Argyle’s promotion push since firing them to a 1-0 home win over Accrington Stanley in mid-October: after his stunning early match-winner, he hobbled off with a hip injury that – with a recurrence on the training-ground – had absented him for the Pilgrims’ next 11 matches.
The former Glover, who had a largely unhappy 25 games at Huish Park before returning to his Home Park alma mater in 2014, started on an attack-heavy substitutes’ bench alongside Josh Simpson, who missed the previous two games because of a knee injury.
Yeovil were attempting to extend their unbeaten run under caretaker manager Darren Way – a Plymothian former Argyle season-ticket holder – to four. Consequently, Way stayed true to the 11 that had eked out an impressive 1-1 draw at Leyton Orient before Christmas.
The Glovers’ line-up included ex-Pilgrim Ryan Dickson, a Saltash leftie who played seven times for Argyle in the last decade’s Championship years, while another Home Park youth product, Ben Tozer, was a substitute on his return to his home town.
It was not, initially, the composition of the teams that was the talking-point among those in the traditionally bumper Christmas holiday crowd (why is it that only crowds are described as ‘bumper’?) but the composition of the pitch. Despite extensive and expensive work on the surface since the previous home game a fortnight earlier, the infamous algae is clearly still having an effect and the surface is currently more greasy, than grassy.
Gregg Wylde was at the forefront of the Pilgrims’ opening salvos. His first contribution was to skin Connor Roberts on the left flank and send in a cross to the far post which was returned by Jake Jervis back into the centre, from where Oscar Threlkeld could not quite get the ball on target.
From provider to prober. The next significant Argyle attack saw the ball arrive at Wylde’s fleet feet for a shot that, although on target, was easy pickings for Yeovil goalkeeper Chris Weale. The same could be said for Brunt’s edge-of-the-box curler that followed.
Argyle were clearly in the mood. Notwithstanding the surface, they produced a slick end-to-end move in which Brunt was twice prominent as the ball was worked from one side of the pitch to the other before Weale gathered Craig Tanner’s downward header
Yeovil needed to respond to the onslaught and almost snaffled the lead with their first shot, an ambitious 30-yard drive from Matt Dolan which seemed to surprise Argyle ’keeper Luke McCormick with a late dip that saw the ball clatter the crossbar.
McCormick’s excuse might have been a relative lack of activity, the reverse of the problem that Weale was experiencing. A brave punch by the Glovers’ gloveman to take Tanner’s free-kick delivery away from Wylde’s head was followed by a block to thwart Jervis, before another routine collect from another goalbound Brunt shot.
The pressure on the visitors was nigh on relentless and Weale came to Town’s rescue again, just winning the race against Brunt to clear on the edge of his area as the Argyle forward ran down Wylde’s little prodded pass through the centre.
Despite the possession and shot data overwhelmingly favouring Argyle, the two teams turned round level on the only stat that matters.
The second half started much as the first half had been conducted. Brunt was felled just outside the penalty area and Jervis’s subsequent free-kick was beaten out by Weale, who then went full length to keep out Wylde’s drive from the edge of the D.
It was Tanner who finally throw a spanner in Weale’s afternoon, firing off a powerful wobbly shot from 20 yards that the overworked ’keeper could keep out only by beating the ball straight into the path of Brunt, whose predatory instincts had taken him precisely into the right place at the right time.
It was a prescient strike, coming as it did not only just as the league’s in-play leadership had temporarily transferred to Oxford, but also with the crowd beginning to agitate for the introduction of Reid.
The Pilgrims’ momentum was taken from them by a fairly lengthy delay for treatment to Carl McHugh after he was sat on by Josh Sheehan, but they cranked things up after Tozer had replaced Dickson and another flowing move ended with Jervis spooning the ball over.
Reid and Simpson came on for the final ten minutes as Argyle tried to tie down the victory. Yeovil had other ideas and brought on their heavy artillery, too, in pursuit of a point to help ease their plight at the foot of the table.
Argyle contented themselves by playing on the counter, with Brunt and Reid briefly in harness, and the former nearly completed a memorable afternoon as his strike following McCormick’s perceptive kick-out shaved Weale’s bar.
Brunt was withdrawn, to a deserved standing ovation, before five minutes of sometimes nerve-shredding injury-time, during which Argyle sat deep and defended like it mattered.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 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 (8 Josh Simpson 79), 11 Gregg Wylde (9 Reuben Reid 79); 17 Ryan Brunt (16 Ben Purrington 89). Substitutes (not used): 15 Tyler Harvey, 18 Deane Smalley, 31 Christian Walton (gk), 24 Louis Rooney.
Booked: Threlkeld 26, Hartley 45.
Yeovil Town (4-4-2): 12 Chris Weale; 24 Connor Roberts, 26 Darren Ward, 6 Jakub Sokolik, 11 Ryan Dickson (2 Ben Tozer 70); 4 Matty Dolan, 30 Josh Sheehan, 19 Iffy Allen (9 Ryan Bird 75), 3 Nathan Smith; 39 Francois Zoko, 10 Shaun Jeffers (14 Jack Compton 79). Substitutes (not used): 1 Artur Krysiak (gk), 8 Marc Laird, 21 Alex Lacey, 22 Mark Beck.
Booked: Sokolik 27. Dickson 34, Smith 75.
Referee: Charles Breakspear.
Attendance: 12,821 (553 away).