Bristol Rovers 1
by Rob McNichol
JOSH Simpson's first Argyle goal rescued a deserved point for Argyle in front of a boisterous five-figure crowd at the Memorial Stadium.
Both Bristol Rovers and Argyle are in form, and this was shown on the pitch and on the terraces. The game continued to build to it's crescendo, and Rovers thought that meant a single goal victory when substitute Billy Bodin struck with only 11 minutes remaining.
That reckoned without Josh Simpson, though, who fired home a late equaliser for the Pilgrims on a day where really neither side deserved to lose.
Derek Adams brought in Ryan Brunt to line up against the club from which Argyle signed him, and he joined Reuben Reid in a two-man Argyle attack. Adams has chosen a regulation 4-4-2 to try to outdo Rovers' 3-5-2 system. Craig Tanner was the man to make way for Brunt, with Graham Carey, missing through injury since November, joining him on the substitutes bench.
Argyle did a decent job of nullifying any early Rovers threat, and indeed looked to initiate their first attack on the counter. The Pilgrims dealt with a corner, and Gregg Wylde burst away. At the point where he looked to perhaps release Reid, he was felled by Tom Parkes, who went into the book for the challenge. Brunt's free-kick, deflected, caused no alarm.
Rovers felt a little aggrieved at the Parkes caution, and grew even more perturbed when Peter Hartley halted Matty Taylor's progress on the edge of the area, and decided not to book Kelvin Mellor for a foul on Stuart Sinclair.
Argyle forced a series of corners and throw-ins that stretched Rovers to their limits, with Carl McHugh's header wide the closest the Greens came to opening the scoring.
Rovers then settled into the game, trying to make their numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch count. Brunt's job seemed to be to marshal Chris Lines, the deepest of the Gas midfield three, but this allowed their centre backs to push on with the ball and take Rovers up the park. Similar to Argyle's mini spell of pressure, the blue-and-whites' purple patch yield little in the way of chances, but saw the confidence of the home side visibly growing.
It was Wylde again who punctured the Rovers' pressure, this time at their invitation. Parkes' errant pass was delivered to Wylde, in space, and his pace was no match for the retreating defenders. Wylde's shot was also past Mildenhall in a flash, but the ball rebounded off of the crossbar.
Wylde seemed to be the key to a niggly game, as once again his pace got him down Rovers' right, and his stabbed cross looked certain to end in a goal. Reid's touch set the ball perfectly for Jervis, eight yards, but a last-ditch combination of Parkes and goalkeeper Mildenhall conjured the ball over the bar. From the resultant corner, Hartley headed narrowly wide.
The half ended goalless, with both sides probably quite content. Rovers will have felt they had more of the ball and dictated the tempo, yet Argyle could certainly point to having the three most clear cut chances of the opening 45 minutes by far.
Argyle came racing out of the blocks in the second half, pinning Rovers back and throwing several balls into the area, with the home side valiantly seeing them off. Much of Argyle's joy was coming down the left, where Wylde's pace and trickery was proving a real issue for the Gas.
Home boss Darrell Clarke looked to his bench, and introduced Cristian Montano and Billy Bodin into the fray just nine minutes into the second period.
It did not halt the Argyle momentum. Wylde was still having a field day, and from a corner he forced, McHugh prodded over after Hartley and Brunt had each had a go.
Adams brought on Tanner for Reid with just under half an hour remaining, possibly with the thought in mind that the on-loan Reading man's qualities may echo Wylde's and cause double the trouble.
Rovers remained a threat on the break, and after a lengthy spell of Argyle pressure than included a Tanner effort being charged down, the home side got away. Rory Gaffney did well not to rush things, and when he played in Taylor in acres of space, it looked for all the world like the Rovers top goalscorer had the goal - and perhaps the game - at his mercy. His shot, though, was saved low down by McCormick.
The atmosphere, which had always been bubbling, was now reverberating around south Gloucestershire, and with under 20 minutes to go Clarke brought on former Pilgrim Jermaine Easter to add to the cauldron, in place of Taylor.
Predictably, Easter had a hand - or two - in the goal that put Rovers in front. A long ball forward saw Easter practically catch the ball to bring it under control, although the attack he attempted to set up looked for fall down. It was resurrected by Montano, and as the ball flew into the area, Easter stuck out a leg, with a little hope and a little anticipation. It sat up for Bodin to nod in from close range.
Argyle went straight down the other end and looked to have carved out their equaliser when Tanner and Wylde combined, the latter crossed and the ball came to Jervis. His close-range header was blocked, with Argyle players screaming for handball. No decision was forthcoming.
Rovers fancied a second, with Lines sending one inches wide and McCormick making an excellent save from Parkes' header. Turns out they needed it.
In fairness, if we have suggested that Rovers got away with a handball before their goal, we will make a begrudging nod that a free-kick awarded to Argyle on the halfway line was extremely soft. That said, Rovers had plenty of chances to clear their lines after Kelvin Mellor's deep free-kick. The ball eventually came to Jervis, who crossed into the box. The header clear reached Simpson, who rifled in a low shot to notch his first goal for the club.
It was an apt time, and it came from an apt player, as Simpson had been his quietly excellent self in the Argyle engine room.
Both sides made attempts to find a winner, but things ended all square after a truly high-quality League 2 encounter.
It just turned out Irene was only having 40 winks.
Bristol Rovers (3-5-2): 1 Steve Mildenhall; 15 James Clarke (23 Billy Bodin 54), 4 Tom Lockyer, 6 Tom Parkes; 2 Daniel Leadbitter, 24 Stuart Sinclair, 14 Chris Lines, 7 Lee Mansell (21 Cristian Montano 54), 3 Lee Brown; 10 Matty Taylor (17 Jermaine Easter 73), 30 Rory Gaffney. Substitutes (not used): 5 Mark McChrystal, 8 Ollie Clarke, 22 Kieran Preston, 27 Ryan Broom.
Booked: Parkes 10.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 11 Gregg Wylde (10 Graham Carey 90), 8 Josh Simpson, 4 Carl McHugh; 14 Jake Jervis (26 Oscar Threlkeld 89) ; 9 Reuben Reid (27 Craig Tanner 61), 17 Ryan Brunt. Substitutes (not used): 15 Tyler Harvey, 16 Ben Purrington, 21 James Bittner (gk), 28 Jordon Forster.
Booked: Mellor 90.
Attendance: 10,190 (1,285 away).
Referee: Oliver Langford.