Notts County 0
Reid 18, 87
by Rob McNichol
IF Reuben Reid's two goals against Notts County were given pet names, they might be christened Smash and Grab.
Grab would be the opener that Reid scored in the first half, turning smartly from his marker and firing into the corner, whereas his brother Smash would be named aptly as it smashed the hopes of a County side that controlled large swathes of the game without being able to score.
The pre-match focus was on how many of the three players that missed out on Argyle's 2-0 midweek Johnstone's Paint Trophy win over Exeter would make the starting 11 at Meadow Lane. The answer, we soon found out, was one; Gary Sawyer was recalled in favour of Ben Purrington at left-back. Sawyer had missed the Grecians tie because of suspension, along with Carl McHugh, but the latter had to settle for a place on the bench on his return.
Graham Carey, the Sky Bet League 2 PFA Fans' Player of the Month for September, was also back in contention following an injury that put him out of the Devon Derby, and came back via the subs bench.
County's line-up, similar to Exeter on Tuesday, employed a holding midfielder - Stanley Aborah - with the express purpose of covering Argyle's 'floating' forward. Both County and City may have expected it to be Carey, but Craig Tanner remained there after a superb shift on Tuesday night.
This meant the sides were fairly matched up, and so the first 18 minutes went by with very little incident. County midfielder Graham Burke managed on a couple of occasions to find space just outside the area, but hit one shot straight at Luke McCormick and the second onto the roof of the net. At the other end, Argyle's best moment saw Gregg Wylde commit defenders and cut inside, but his right-footed shot was well wide.
On 18 minutes, this all changed. A long punt downfield was brought down well by Reid, and what followed was out of the textbook entitled 'Being a Number Nine'. He controlled the ball, took advantage of how tight his marker was, and spun away from him. Reaching the edge of the box, Reid shot low to Scott Loach's right, and into the corner of the net.
Conceding a goal rather woke County up, and they rattled a post when full-back Elliott Hewitt got to the bye-line and cut back for Burke, whose reactionary effort rattled an upright. Peter Hartley hooked away before any danger could immediately follow.
More pressure certainly followed, though. Few of County's attacks led to distinct chances, until on the half hour former Manchester United and England man Alan Smith had a deflected long-range effort superbly tipped over by McCormick.
County's newly-found dominance did not go unnoticed on the Argyle bench, and Derek Adams made an early change to attempt to combat it. Wylde was replaced by McHugh, and Argyle's midfield inverted to essentially match County's 4-1-4-1 shape.
The home continued to have the upper hand in all matters bar the most important - the score - until the half-time whistle blew, and they had chances to equalise that were squandered. Chief culprit was Liam Noble, who was well placed to head at goal when picked out by Adam Campbell following a mistake by Hiram Boateng, but barely got any contact at all on the cross.
Aborah and Smith had been instrumental at making County set the tone of the game, but the former made a rare slip in the closing moments of the half, and Reid had a chance to go through on goal. It took a strong piece of defending by Gill Swerts to snuff out the danger.
County began the second period as they had ended the first, forcing three corners in the opening three minutes. Campbell and Noble each forced McCormick into action, too, as the Magpies dictated the tempo. Argyle found it almost impossible to retain the football, and when they did get it and get into a good position - Jervis being felled on the edge of the area - they made a hash of the short dead-ball routine.
Argyle had a good five minutes, just after the hour mark, and Adams saw this is a good time to bring on Carey, while Argyle were perhaps getting a foothold again. County countered with the introduction of big forward Jon Stead for full-back Hewitt, a move which meant Aborah had to switch to centre-back.
Argyle's next move in the chess game was to move Jervis up front with Reid, and the two combined to produce a decent chance to stretch their lead. Reid played an early ball beyond County's defence which found Jervis, but he was stretching when shot plenty over.
The Pilgrims seemed to have regained their groove, and a second nearly came from an unlikely source, but in a not-too-unfamiliar manner. Curtis Nelson has a tendency to go on a long run from back to front at least once a game, and this time when he set off he released Carey and continued his run. The Argyle number ten looked for his captain in the middle, and but for a last ditch piece of defending, he would have found him.
County still had frequent forays into Argyle territory, but their shooting became more and more wayward; one got the sense their race had been run.
With only a few minutes remaining, and County hope waning, Carey played Reid in over the top. Mike Edwards had not pushed out quickly enough to catch the number nine offside, and Reid went in on Loach. The County keeper made a good stop from the initial shot, but the ball ran loose. Jervis picked it up, intelligently held the ball up and rolled it back to Reid, who stoked home.
In injury time, Reid nearly bagged a hat-trick goal in similar fashion - and a 0-3 scoreline would have been decidedly harsh on the home side, but he will be content with his brace.
Oh, and Argyle's three point lead at the top of the table.
Notts County (4-1-4-1): 1 Scott Loach; 18 Elliott Hewitt (30 Jon Stead 66), 35 Mike Edwards, 28 Gill Swerts, 44 Alan Sheehan; 33 Stanley Aborah; 24 Adam Campbell (25 Kyle De Silva), 4 Alan Smith (capt),16 Liam Noble, 26 Graham Burke (27 Julian Jenner 79); 39 Izale McLeod. Substitutes (not used): 15 Curtis Thompson, 31 Thierry Audel, 32 Civard Sprockel, 40 Kevin Pilkington (gk)
Booked: Hewitt 56, McLeod 65.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 8 Josh Simpson, 20 Hiram Boateng (10 Graham Carey 66); 14 Jake Jervis, 27 Craig Tanner (17 Ryan Brunt 78), 11 Gregg Wylde (4 Carl McHugh 32); 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 7 Lee Cox, 16 Ben Purrington, 21 James Bittner (gk), 26 Oscar Threlkeld.
Booked: Reid 79.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson.
Attendance: 5,266 (826 away).