Hylton 50, Marriott 69, Smith 90
by Rob McNichol
FOR the second consecutive season, Argyle's Sky Bet League Two campaign began with a win to an away side. Unfortunately for Derek Adams and his team, this time they were playing at home.
Last year, Argyle saw off an early AFC Wimbledon flourish to win their opening game by two goals, and this year's opener had echoes of that day, except the Pilgrims were the ones on the receiving end, and conceded three times. After a bright start, Argyle lost their lustre, and second half goals by Luton strike duo Danny Hylton and Jack Marriott had given the traveling Hatters the opening day points long before Jonathan Smith's late third wrapped things up.
For the third consecutive season, Luton won in PL2, keeping a clean sheet. Following 1-0 wins over the last two seasons, this win gave Luton a comfortable 5-0 aggregate in the games since January 2015. In fact, the last Argyle player to score at Home Park was Bojan Djordjic.
Opening days are all about firsts, but this one in particular seemed more full of them that usual. Not only was this the first time Argyle were in meaningful action since the disappointment of Wembley 68 previous, but a first Argyle outing for seven brand new players. For one - David Ijaha - it was his first professional start. For another of the side - Oscar Threlkeld - it was his first game as a permanent Pilgrim, having signed a deal in the summer to make Plymouth his base, and not a temporary billet.
Derek Adams' first choice back five was reasonably easy to call - new captain Luke McCormick behind a back four of Gary Miller, Yann Songo'o, Sonny Bradley and Gary Sawyer - but further forward, the selections were harder to call. Adams' choice in the end was to play Threlkeld as the shield in front of the defence, Graham Carey just behind the attack, with David Ijaha and Ryan Donaldson in between. The front two of David Goodwillie and Jimmy Spencer came into the game having scored 16 goals between them in pre-season.
The Luton side featured some familiar names. Former Argyle scholar, goalkeeper Christian Walton started the game for the Hatters, having had a loan spell at Home Park last season, while another former Academy man Isaac Vassell shared bench space with Olly Lee, a midfield loanee two season back.
Before Luton kicked off the match - the first kick-off at Home Park under the new kick-off rules - we had a delayed start. Alan Sheeran, on the team-sheet as the Luton captain, ceded his armband before even calling the toss of a coin. An apparent injury ended Sheehan's afternoon before it had begun. Scott Cuthbert took his place - and his armband.
Cuthbert slotted in at centre-back, and it soon transpired that Luton's line-up mirrored Argyle's diamond-like midfield. That said, it was the Pilgrims who made the far livelier start to the game. The only real chance created was an acrobatic overhead kick by Goodwillie that had Walton beaten but missed the post, but Luton were having to defend their box from corners, free-kicks and other incursions.
Luton's first real sign of activity came around the midway mark of the half, when Johnny Mullins, formerly of Oxford United, found a good position, but headed a ball in such a way that at his old home of the Kassam it would have bounced down towards Pets at Home and the bingo hall.
Jack Marriott then had an effort that he merely glanced, but a deflection off of Yann Songo'o almost diverted the ball past McCormick, who had to be on his toes to maintain the deadlock.
The game was not without its share of crunching - yet fair - tackles, often involving Threlkeld or Songo'o, but little followed in the way of such dynamic action in either goalmouth. The half concluded with both sides having a crack from a direct free-kick. Carey's beat both wall and goalkeeper but found the side netting on the wrong side, while for Luton McGeehan found only the defensive wall.
After the break, there were more chances in the opening five minutes of the second half than in the entire first period. First Marriott wriggled clear with Argyle looking for an offside flag, but found only McCormick in fine form, and the Argyle goalkeeper repelled the effort.
Immediately, the Greens pushed forward, and Walton made an impressive stop of his own after Goodwillie got one on target following a slick move by the home side.
From the third chance, Luton got themselves in front. Argyle failed to stop a Stephen O'Donnell cross which looked perfect for Marriott. The Luton forward completely fluffed his lines, but the deflection off Songo'o laid the ball on a plate for Hylton, who hammered home.
Adams switched Carey and Donaldson, playing the latter closer to Spencer and Goodwillie, but the constricted game was not yielding chances. The next step, on 65 minutes, was to throw on Jake Jervis for Ijaha as an extra attacking threat. The chance was not a comment on Ijaha's performance - on the contrary, the former Whitehawk man impressed with his effort, especially without the ball - but more on his probably lack of match-fitness.
Argyle's task became doubly difficult, though, as Marriott raced onto a McGeehan throughball, left Songo'o in his dust, and clipped past McCormick. It would be difficult to suggest, even for the most mad keen Hatter, that Luton had been two goals better at this point, but simply they had taken their two chances.
To rub this in a little more, Carey produced a chance out of virtually nothing, scooping a ball that took out Luton's entire defence and put Spencer through. The number nine just could not get the ball under control, and as the ball bobbled into Walton's grateful grasp, the frustration could be felt all round.
A last throw of the dice: Adams brought on David Fox and Jordan Slew, replacing Donaldson and Goodwillie, looking for someone to thread a killer ball or outpace Luton's largely unruffled defence.
Indeed, one of said defenders, Cuthbert, was the next to test a goalkeeper, heading powerfully on target from a corner, with McCormick holding extremely well.
At the other end, a clipped Carey free-kick was met by Bradley, but Luton seized the loose ball before any Argyle attacker could get near it.
Dan Potts was sent off in the closing stages for second caution, the latter being for preventing Slew was taking a free-kick, but it was too late for Argyle to make the extra man count.
In fact, it was Luton, via substitute Smith, firing under McCormick, that wrapped up the day for the Hatters.
Argyle will need to wait until January 25 to exact revenge at Kenilworth Road, a place the Greens have taken three points from in the last two seasons.
In the short term, Adams and his men have just three days before trying to rid this scoreline from their mind, on the road at Reading in the EFL Cup.
Argyle (4-1-2-1-2): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller, 4 Yann Songo'o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 22 David Ijaha (14 Jake Jervis 65), 10 Graham Carey 11 Ryan Donaldson (24 David Fox 76); 9 Jimmy Spencer, 7 David Goodwillie (8 Jordan Slew 76). Substitutes: 6 Connor Smith, 16 Ben Purrington, 20 Louis Rooney, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Booked: Miller 45.
Luton Town (4-1-2-1-2): 1 Christian Walton; 2 Stephen O'Donnell, 5 Johnny Mullins, 6 Scott Cuthbert, 3 Dan Potts; 16 Glen Rea; 10 Jordan Cook (4 Jonathan Smith 88), 17 Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (7 Jake Gray 90); 8 Cameron McGeeham; 14 Jack Marriott (19 Olly Lee 90), 9 Danny Hylton. Substitutes: 20 Isaac Vassell, 23 Josh McQuoid, 31 Craig King (gk), 36 James Justine.
Booked: Hylton 26, Ruddock Mpanzu 55, Potts 71, McGeehan 90.
Sent off: Potts 89.
Referee: Lee Collins.
Attendance: 9,761 (1,094 away).