By Rob McNichol
ARGYLE remain without a point or a goal in this Sky Bet League Two season, after a long trip to Carlisle clocked up more miles than smiles.
Carlisle maintained their unbeaten and positive beginning to the season, following up a creditable draw at Portsmouth and a win at home to Port Vale in the EFL Cup with three points against the Pilgrims.
The Cumbrians' winning goal was scored on 37 minutes by winger Reggie Lambe, who found himself in space on the edge of the penalty to lash home. As Carlisle cruised into half-time a goal up, no-one in green and white could have any complaints. As at Reading on Tuesday, Argyle followed a slow start with a second half revival, but no amount of energy, changes or pressure could be converted into goals, and a relieved Carlisle saw the game out.
The news, on Friday morning, that Argyle had received international clearance to play Latvian defender Nauris Bulvitis, gave manager Derek Adams the option to add a dimension to his starting line-up, and he took the chance by playing Bulvitis as one of three centre-backs in a 3-5-2 formation. Ryan Donaldson was the unlucky casualty of the switch in formation from the opening day defeat at home to Luton Town, and he dropped to the bench.
Bulvitis lined up alongside Yann Songo'o and Sonny Bradley as the trio tasked with protecting goalkeeper Luke McCormick, with the two Garys, Miller and Sawyer, as twin wing-backs. Oscar Threlkeld and David Ijaha played in central midfield, with Jimmy Spencer and David Goodwillie up front, and Graham Carey acting as the link between.
The home side started the brighter, carving out some half-chances in the opening five minutes. Two were just that - defenders and goalkeeper not tested at all - and another saw Charlie Wyke head over the bar when he was offside. A fourth looked promising, but Shaun Miller dawdled while Songo'o recovered, and Argyle had snuffed out that particular threat.
Argyle began to grow into the game, getting an increased number of knockdowns and pushing into Carlisle territory. One such push led to Carey shooting high and wide from distance. Any other player doing so might have been derided, but given that we know what Graham can do, it was forgiven.
United tried from far out themselves, with Danny Grainger's long-ranger proving to be close but of little danger. Argyle's best attack, in response, featured just one touch; McCormick's intelligent ball looked to have found Spencer's equally bright run, but the latter could not bring down the admittedly difficult high ball.
After Threlkeld was cautioned for a third foul in the half, Carlisle took the lead at the third bite of the cherry, from a free-kick wide on the left. Argyle dealt with the initial ball in, and then again, from the re-delivery, saw their centre-backs outnumber the Carlisle forwards and clear the ball. Unfortunately, it only reached the unmarked Lambe, who drove past McCormick from just inside the penalty area.
Nicky Adams had a chance to double the lead two minutes later, cutting inside past two defenders and shooting narrowly wide. The home side finished the half with their tails up, and the whistle to signal the interval was warmly received by the Brunton Park faithful.
When play restarted, Derek Adams had made an alteration. Ijaha did not re-emerge; instead Connor Smith, who had made a not insignificant impact at Reading four days previously, took his place. The system had changed, too, with Songo'o stepping into midfield along with Smith and Threlkeld, while Carey joined Spencer and Goodwillie in attack.
Smith's introduction seemed to pay dividends, as the Irishman got on the ball more and kept Argyle ticking. Chances were far from free-flowing, but the arrival of corners, and free-kicks and throw-ins in advanced areas came as a welcome change of emphasis.
That said, it was from an unfortunate Smith slip that Carlisle had a chance to increase their lead. As Smith's studs let him down when trying to receive a throw, Lambe raced away, skinning Bradley and playing an intelligent early ball into the area, only for it to just evade the oncoming Shaun Miller.
Miller was replaced shortly after by Jabo Ibehre, while Argyle made a change to their own forward line, bringing on Jake Jervis for Goodwillie. Moments later, each side made another sub in unison: Ryan Donaldson for Threlkeld for Argyle, Jamie Devitt for Wyke for Carlisle.
Argyle's latter two subs were involved in Argyle's best chance to that point, which followed the Pilgrims longest sustained piece of pressure. Men in green and white worked the ball down both wings before Donaldson, in the right channel, stood a ball up for Jervis, who headed over.
Among the 362 supporters in the away end, there sat some who had traveled a fair way south, rather than north. It is an indication of the regard that Derek Adams - and others - is held by Ross County supporters that some Staggies came over the border to watch their old boss and a handful of their former players. A trio of ex-Ross men combined, with just udner ten minutes remaining, to so nearly give Argyle a lifeline with foundations in Dingwall.
Jervis and Carey combined in their own half before Jervis tore away down the left. His impressive run and industry got him deep into Carlisle territory, and as the ball was helped on by desperate home defenders, it appeared Argyle's saviour might be an unlikely source. Right-back Miller appeared in the right place, at the right time - but could not get the right connection. His bouncing shot was on target, but was clawed off the line.
Jervis was Argyle's brightest spark following his introduction, and he again took strips off of retreating Cumbrians, before clipping a cross that was just too high for Sawyer.
Argyle threw everything at Carlisle in the closing stages but could only find a wall of blue only too willing to head and kick balls clear in any fashion.
If any consolation is to be found from Argyle's nightmarish opening week of the season, it lies in the gradual decreasing of margins of defeat. A 3-0 loss against Luton was followed by a 2-0 reverse at Reading in the EFL Cup. After this 1-0 loss at Brunton Park, a draw on Tuesday at Notts County would be gratefully received.
Should that be followed by a single goal victory at home to Mansfield in seven days time, we can finally start to get this campaign on the road, in a positive, metaphorical sense.
Carlisle United (4-3-3): 1 Mark Gillespie; 23 Tom Miller, 5 Michael Raynes, 6 Mark Ellis, 3 Danny Grainger (capt); 19 Reggie Lambe (7 Jason Kennedy 81), 4 Luke Joyce, 8 Mike Jones, 10 Nicky Adams; 9 Charlie Wyke (17 Jamie Devitt 73), 20 Shaun Miller (14 Jabo Ibehre 70). Substitutes (not used): 2 David Atkinson, 12 Macauley Gillesphey, 16 Russell Penn, 22 Max Crocombe (gk).
Booked: Grainger 63.
Argyle (3-5-2): Luke McCormick (capt); 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 4 Yann Songo'o, 15 Sonny Bradley; 2 Gary Miller, 22 David Ijaha (6 Connor Smith half-time), 10 Graham Carey, 18 Oscar Threlkeld (11 Ryan Donaldson 73), 3 Gary Sawyer; 7 David Goodwillie (14 Jake Jervis 71), 9 Jimmy Spencer. Substitutes (not used): 8 Jordan Slew, 16 Ben Purrington, 20 Louis Rooney, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Booked: Threlkeld 37, Songo'o 53.
Referee: Andy Haines.
Attendance: 5,129 (362 away).