Houghton 14, Matt 47
ONLY five times have Argyle achieved 10 or more away wins in a season. On the first four occasions, they won promotion. The fifth season is this season.
The Pilgrims reached double figures for 2015-16 with a consummate victory at the Globe Arena, thanks to first Argyle goals from two of their loan stars, Chelsea youngster Jordan Houghton and Fleetwood Town forward Jamille Matt.
They were well on top of affairs and leading through Houghton’s 14th-minute strike before the home side made life easier when midfielder Alex Kenyon was sent off for a two-footed tackle on Carl McHugh just before half-time.
Just after it, Matt finished off a wonderful right-wing delivery from Jake Jervis in front of the considerable away support to ensure that a Bank Holiday which had been, for the most part, a frustrating experience ultimately became a thoroughly enjoyable one.
Emerging news of two requests had dominated the pre-match proceedings.
First, Argyle officials had asked for the game’s kick-off to be delayed by 30 minutes to give their supporters stuck on the M6 half a chance of making the start of the game. Well played, us, for sticking up for the Green Army, and for Morecambe and referee David Webb for agreeing to do their bit.
However, if one of Britain’s main motorways cannot cope with entirely predictable amounts of Bank Holiday traffic, it really is time for the Football League to change whatever criteria it uses for sending clubs from one end of the country to the other on possibly the busiest weekend of the year (not just us: Leyton, Wimbledon, Carlisle, York, Bristol Rovers and Hartlepool have all suffered this Easter). It is utter nonsense and utterly avoidable.
The second request impacted on Derek Adams’ team selection. Argyle’s manager was obliged to name touchstone midfielder Hiram Boateng – who re-joined the Pilgrims on a second loan of the season on Wednesday – as a substitute at the behest of parent club Crystal Palace after Boateng’s appearance for the Eagles’ Under-21s earlier in the week.
Nevertheless, Adams shuffled his pack, recalling: Reuben Reid to partner another loan signing, Matt, up front; McHugh, to play alongside Houghton in a four-man central midfield that did not include Gregg Wylde; and Jervis, who swapped places with a fourth temporary Pilgrim, Craig Tanner.
With a fifth loan player, Oscar Threlkeld, keeping the right-back slot despite the availability after suspension of Kelvin Mellor, two other on-loan Pilgrims – Daniel Nardiello and Jordon Forster – did not even make the travelling party. As the Maundy Thursday journey from Plymouth to Lancaster took eight and a half hours, their cloud of disappointment at least had a small silver lining.
Similarly, Morecambe made three changes to the side that had lost 1-0 at play-off chasing Leyton Orient the previous weekend.
One was enforced, with goalkeeper Barry Roche having been sent off at Brisbane Road; Kieran O’Hara was called up from the bench, leaving the Shrimps without ’keeper cover among their replacements.
Also promoted to the home side’s starting line-up were former Pilgrim Lee Molyneux, who made 12 appearances under Peter Reid in 2010, and Chris Doyle, with local favourite Kevin Ellison and Alan Goodhall making way.
It took McHugh about seven minutes to remind everyone of his strengths which the Pilgrims have missed during his five-game injury-absence. After winning the ball with a crunching tackle on the halfway line, he drove forward and slipped in Matt, who failed to beat O’Hara after electing to take him on at the near post.
Argyle continued to show that the delay had not blunted their appetite and Jervis was next to see the whites of O’Hara’s eyes, firing in a low shot that he had to get down to keep out.
The on-loan Manchester United teenager was given no chance minutes later, when Reid seized on a scruffy pass from Threlkeld and, with back to goal, had a shot deflected that merely teed up Houghton, who swept the ball into the net from 20 yards. Hiram who? Maybe if Palace had let their protégé play, Houghton might have started the game on the bench.
Tom Barkhuizen kept the Pilgrims’ defence keen when he chased down a long crossfield pass and fired in a crisp first-time that was plucked off by a diving Luke McCormick, but that was a rare incursion by the home side into Argyle territory.
Even so, the Pilgrims could not build on their lead. For all their control, domination and invention, they were unable to fashion another clear-cut chance before half-time until Carey whipped in a free-kick in stoppage time that deceived O’Hara, with the ball spilling agonisingly out of reach of the Argyle players following in.
Morecambe, despite being second best, remained a live threat while they were only a goal behind. Their best chance fell to Molyneux, whose head proved less of a weapon that his left peg when he headed a delightful cross from captain Shaun Beeley wide.
Then Barkhuizen stayed narrowly onside to latch on to another long diagonal pass, bringing the ball down well before dragging a shot across McCormick’s goal just wide.
Almost immediately, Morecambe were reduced to 10 men when Kenyon felled McHugh as the two midfielders came together in a no-quarters-given clash. Two things: one – it takes an awful lot to leave McHugh on the deck; two – Argyle’s players, who are never normally the most chippy towards officials, were up in arms straight away. Webb’s red card confirmed both impressions, as did later digital evidence.
The Pilgrims wasted no time in making their man advantage tell. In their opening attack of the second half, Jervis took the ball out wide from Ried before picking out Matt in the centre of goal, four yards out, unmarked. Matt’s granny, never mind Matt, would have finished off such super service – she probably would not have provided such a resounding finish, mind.
The points were never in doubt from the moment the ball bulged the net in front of those fans who had made such an effort to see it.
They were nearly further rewarded when Carey won a free-kick and then curled it around the wall, but O’Hara was equal to the excellent attempt with a fine diving save.
The rest of the afternoon was a case of seeing out the victory without spending too much energy before York visit Home Park on Monday.
The third biggest cheer of the afternoon came 12 minutes from time when the Argyle number 20 came on for his first appearance as a Pilgrim since October 31 - when, coincidentally, Argyle beat Morecambe 2-0 at Home Park.
Reid nearly put the seal on a fine, and overdue, victory when he got his head on another Jervis delivery, but the ball dropped over the crossbar.
Morecambe finished gamely and McCormick was obliged to save at his near post when Andy Fleming flicked a low cross goalwards, before the Argyle goalkeeper tipped a cross from Kevin Ellison over his crossbar.
Ellison then found space for a shot that was deflected by a Pilgrim boot and plopped on to the bar.
These were half-chances, at best, though, and Argyle were not to be denied their full portion.
Ten out of ten.
Morecambe (4-2-3-1): 30 Kieran O’Hara; 2 Shaun Beeley (capt), 6 Ryan Edwards, 23 Chris Doyle, 24 Luke Conlan; 17 Andy Fleming, 4 Alex Kenyon; 9 Tom Barkhuizen, 7 Jamie Devitt (11 Kevin Ellison half-time), 10 Lee Molyneux (29 Connor Oliver half-time); 16 Shaun Miller (26 Cole Stockton 76). Substitutes (not used): 3 Aaron McGowan, 12 Paul Mullin, 13 Alan Goodhall, 15 Aaron Wildig.
Sent off: Kenyon 45.
Booked: Molyneux 45.
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 26 Oscar Threlkeld, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 14 Jake Jervis, 32 Jordan Houghton, 4 Carl McHugh (20 Hiram Boateng 79), 10 Graham Carey (11 Gregg Wylde 70); 19 Jamille Matt (27 Craig Tanner 66), 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 2 Kelvin Mellor, 8 Josh Simpson, 16 Ben Purrington, 31 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Booked: Carey 53.
Referee: David Webb.
Attendance: 2,081 (527 away).