Kee pen 85, McCartan 90
by Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE were agonisingly close to a valuable victory in their promotion push when the wheels came off in heartbreaking fashion at the Crown Ground.
Having led through Jake Jervis’s 12th goal of the season midway through the first half, when he headed home Graham Carey’s left-wing cross, they conceded twice in the final five minutes to cede victory and ground to rivals for a top-three spot.
Argyle were obliged to spend much of the time after the goal defending with every fibre, and were finally breached five minutes from the end of a tense game when Billy Kee was fouled by Kelvin Mellor. A penalty, a first red card of the season, and a spot-kick equaliser by Kee immediately followed.
They were undone again deep into injury-time, when substitute Shay McCartan dived to head in Matt Pearson’s right-wing cross.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had given a debut to one of the two loan signings he made in the three days leading up to the game: Chelsea midfielder Jordan Houghton, who arrived at Home Park on Wednesday night, resumed the Football League career he began at the start of the season with League 1 Gillingham, for who he made 25 appearances.
Houghton’s holding midfielder partner was League 2 February Player of the Month nominee Oscar Threlkeld, who was recalled after a missing the previous week’s 2-2 home draw with Oxford United because of a hamstring strain.
Ben Purrington and Josh Simpson were stood down. Alongside them, starting Argyle life on the substitutes’ bench, was Fleetwood Town striker Jamille Matt, who did not meet his new temporary team-mates until they mustered at their hotel on Friday.
Accrington’s initial line-up included former Pilgrim Rommy Boco, who made 32 appearances in the Green the season before last. The attacking midfielder was one of four changes made by Stanley boss John Coleman as he selected a team starting its ninth game in 29 days and chasing a first win in five; another was the recall, after suspension, of goalkeeper Ross Etheridge.
Stanley were the first to cut an opening which tested the opposition goalkeeper, Piero Mingoia cutting in from the right flank and forcing Luke McCormick to get down sharpish to beat out his shot. Argyle’s riposte saw Gregg Wylde drift in from the Argyle left in pursuit of Jake Jervis cross from the opposite wing, but he could not keep his first-time shot down.
Those morsels were all we had to sustain us in the opening quarter as the two sides, both playing thoughtful, on-the-deck, football, felt each other up. The nip and tuck ended when Jervis tucked into a sumptuous delivery from Carey.
Carey’s initial corner – won by Reuben Reid after a training-ground free-kick manoeuvre initiated by Carey – came to nothing and Curtis Nelson was obliged to play the ball out wide to the Irish playmaker.
The control of the touch-too-harsh pass was beautiful; the cross, curled in with the trusty left foot, was of an angle and precision to trouble the best defenders. Jervis read the trajectory and stooped into the ball before flicking it backwards with his head over Etheridge. It was only Argyle’s third goal at the Crown Ground in a fourth visit since they won 4-0 there in 2012.
Accrington suffered another blow before the interval when they lost Matt Crooks, their influential midfielder who has agreed to play his football with Rangers next season, most probably in the Scottish Premiership. Crooks was crocked long before he limped off to be replaced by Scott Brown.
Stanley’s first-half possession outstripped the Pilgrims’ time on the ball, but most of it was in front of the familiarly solid back four. However, Kee kept them keen in time added on at the end of the first half, controlling the ball on his chest and firing off a shot that had neither the power nor direction to trouble McCormick.
Argyle’s defence remained under scrutiny at the start of the second half. The dangerous Mingoia cut inside and let fly with a shot that was deflected over McCormick’s crossbar before the same player sent over a right-wing cross to the far post, where Sean McConville failed to make the most of the space and time he had been given. His shot went straight to the apparently magnetic Pilgrims’ goalkeeper.
The pressure continued on the goal behind which the Green Army were watching from a large, open, chilly, terrace. Pearson’s cross was perfect for McCartan – an early second-half substitute for Boco – but his header wasted the opportunity and the ball went wide.
Adams sent on Simpson for Wylde as he sought to contain the red storm with a 4-1-4-1 line-up, and respite was given when Reid broke one out and fired off a low shot from the edge of the penalty area that obliged Etheridge to make a low save.
Reid was replaced soon after by Matt, looking every inch the 6ft 1in that is surely an underestimation in most record books, and the big Jamaican’s first touch showed a strength that was greeted with a large cheer from the visiting supporters.
Strength was the order of the day all over: strength of mind, strength of character, strength of purpose, and, of course, the physical strength to repel everything Stanley threw at them.
Maybe Mellor overdid the strength in getting back to challenge Kee as another cross went into the box, but it seemed a harsh call, as did the consequent red card.
Kee stepped up to convert, with McCormick close to getting enough on the ball to keep it out.
After a run by Matt took Argyle into Accrington territory, Adams sent on Craig Tanner for Jervis, and Carey’s free-kick was kept out by Pearson’s block.
Accrington pressed the ten men and Kee tested McCormick from range before, in the third minute of time added on, McCartan was slipped in by Pearson to break Pilgrims’ hearts.
Accrington Stanley (4-4-1-1): 1 Ross Etheridge; 2 Matty Pearson, 5 Tom Davies, 24 Mark Hughes, 22 Adam Buxton; 7 Piero Mingoia, 8 Seamus Conneely, 14 Matt Crooks (18 Scott Brown 43), 11 Sean McConville (39 Brayden Shaw 80); 26 Rommy Boco (17 Shay McCartan 50); 29 Billy Kee. Substitutes (not used): 6 Andy Proctor, 19 Marcus Carver, 33 Jason Mooney (gk), 34 Brad Halliday.
Booked: McCartan 90.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 32 Jordan Houghton, 26 Oscar Threlkeld; 14 Jake Jervis (27 Craig Tanner 88), 10 Graham Carey, 11 Gregg Wylde (8 Josh Simpson 59); 9 Reuben Reid (19 Jamille Matt 71). Substitutes (not used): 7 Daniel Nardiello, 16 Ben Purrington, 21 James Bittner (gk), 29 Jordan Bentley.
Sent off: Mellor 85.
Booked: Houghton 62, Simpson 68.
Referee: Mick Heywood.
Attendance: 2,044 (651 away).