Carlisle United 0
Brunt 26, 90
by Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE’S first Football League game on neutral territory for nearly 55 years saw another Ryan Brunt-inspired victory keep them clear at the top of Sky Bet League 2.
Brunt’s Christmas contribution to the Pilgrims’ progress was again vital as the 22-year-old forward scored for the third game in succession.
His free-kick strike midway through the first half at Ewood Park was his fourth goal in five and a half matches and put Argyle on their way to ending the Christmas period with four wins out of four.
He doubled his tally, and made it five since his last-minute strike at Dagenham at the beginning of last month, with a heavily deflected shot in injury-time.
The match – a home game for Carlisle – had been moved to Lancashire, some 80 miles from the Cumbrian’s regular stadium, after the recent floods swamped their base. We should have gone to Brunton Park; instead we got Brunt on target.
The last man to score from Argyle at a neutral venue was Wilf Carter, when the Pilgrims lost a Second Division encounter to Ipswich Town, going down 2-1 at Torquay United’s Plainmoor after Home Park was shut because of violence towards a referee. Not bad company for Brunt to keep.
On the first footballing day of the new year, the Pilgrims went back to the future by lining up with a three-man central defence for the first time this season. Like a familiar favourite song, the formation had a comforting warmth about it – captain Curtis Nelson on the right, Peter Hartley on the left and, stuck in the middle, Carl McHugh.
Other than that, Argyle manager Derek Adams had decided on just one change of personnel from the side that began the 2-1 victory against Newport County on Bank Holiday Monday, with Josh Simpson, a half-time substitute at Rodney Parade, retaining his midfield place at the expense of Craig Tanner.
It was the first time for four matches that Adams had made a change to his starting line-up, after three consecutive victories during the festive period had taken them back to the top of the division.
Carlisle, who had not previously played since their 3-0 home-away win at Preston North End’s Deepdale the weekend before Christmas, were without 14-goal leading scorer Jabo Ibehre – Derek Asamoah took his place – and made two other changes, benching Gary Dicker and Macauley Gillesphey in favour of Alex Gillead and Luke Joyce.
After some initial sparring, the Pilgrims landed the first blow when leading scorer Jake Jervis won a free-kick just over 20 yards from goal and took the set-piece himself, bringing out a good save from Carlisle custodian Mark Gillespie.
Despite the close thing, Jervis handed over dead-ball duties to his strike partner after winning another free-kick when Jason Kennedy went through him on the edge of the D. Brunt, who can do little wrong at the moment, it seems, took a couple of strides and planted the ball past Gillespie.
The celebrations which followed suggested that the ball might have hit Jervis on its way to the back of the net – and the ball certainly appeared to take a deflection – but, by the time the Lilacs lined up for the restart, the general consensus was that it was Brunt’s goal.
The two free-kicks represented precisely 50% of the number of first-half shots on target managed by both sides combined; the remainder of the opening period saw Argyle conduct a masterclass in defending against one of the most potent sides in the division.
Their rearguard resilience manifested itself in the opening moments of the second half, when McHugh, who, it seems, rarely puts concerns for his own safety before the team, headed bravely away from amid the boots in the penalty area.
Carlisle were clearly invigorated by whatever went on in the home dressing-room during the interval and Antony Sweeney was prevented from pulling them level only by a routine piece of brilliance from Luke McCormick, who clawed away a header from point-blank range.
As the game opened up, so Argyle began to find spaces. A lovely move down the left ended with Gregg Wylde pulling the ball back to Tanner – on for the apparently injured Jervis – but his deliberate shot was well blocked.
McCormick had to deal with a sliced attempted clearance from team-mate Oscar Threlkeld, and a loopy header from Asamoah before he was more thoroughly tested by Michael Raynes header from close in. Argyle swept up the field in an attack which ended with Gillespie saving from Wylde at the foot of his post
As Carlisle continued to pile on the pressure, their Plymouth-raised Argyle loving centre-back Mark Ellis, in his final game on loan from Shrewsbury Town, powered a header wide.
Argyle contented themselves to soak up the pressure, occasionally threatening to exploit the gaps behind Carlisle’s forward-looking players.
They finally did just that in time added on, when the man who can do no wrong, doubled the victory margin with s shot that took a massive deflection before looping over Gillespie.
Carlisle United (4-4-2): 1 Mark Gillespie; 6 David Atkinson, 5 Michael Raynes, 27 Mark Ellis, 3 Danny Grainger (capt); 17 Alex Gillead, 7 Jason Kennedy, 4 Luke Joyce (23 Joe Thompson
83), 12 Antony Sweeney (16 Gary Dicker 56); 9 Charlie Wyke, 25 Derek Asamoah (20 Troy Archibald-Henville 84). Substitutes (not used): 2 Tom Miller, 10 Bastien Hery, 13 Dan Hanford (gk), 26 Macauley Gillesphey.
Booked: Ellis 28, Archibald-Henville 86.
Argyle (5-4-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 4 Carl McHugh, 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 14 Jake Jervis (27 Craig Tanner 50), 26 Oscar Threlkeld, 8 Josh Simpson, 11 Gregg Wylde; 17 Ryan Brunt. Substitutes (not used): 9 Reuben Reid, 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 18 Deane Smalley, 24 Louis Rooney, 31 Christian Walton (gk).
Booked: Nelson 68.
Referee: Seb Stockbridge.
Attendance: 4,415 (801 away).