Notts County 1
Jervis 14, Bulvitis 34
By Rick Cowdery
A LITTLE belatedly, sure, but Argyle got their 2016-17 Sky Bet League Two season up and running with a determined performance at Meadow Lane.
Jake Jervis, who had a short unproductive loan spell at Notts County early in his career, set the Pilgrims on their way with their first goal of the season – after three previous blanks – midway through the first half.
County, now under the tutelage of former Argyle manager John Sheridan, responded swiftly with veteran forward Jon Stead equalising. However, the Pilgrims were back in front before the interval after Connor Smith’s corner was deflected in from amidst a wedge of heads, with the goal being credited, somewhat uncertainly, to Nauris Bulvitis.
There followed a performance of great discipline and dedication from Argyle, who needed every ounce of those characteristics to keep County at bay and claim a first win of the season.
Argyle had begun with a line-up tweaked slightly from the one that started Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Carlisle United; former County loanee Jervis and Smith, second-half substitutes at Brunton Park, came in for Davids Goodwillie and Ijaha, as they had at the weekend.
There was also a starting return to Meadow Lane for forward Jimmy Spencer, who scored six times as a Magpie in 32 appearances between 2014-16 before he flew the nest for Cambridge United in January this year.
Spencer started as the pivot in a front three, with Jervis on the right and Graham Carey on the left; Smith took his place alongside Oscar Threlkeld in a midfield trio anchored by Yann Songo’o in front of a back four in which Bulvitis and Sonny Bradley were flanked by Garys Miller and Sawyer.
Bradley was in the right place at the right time after five minutes when Jonathan Forte got in behind the Argyle back four and pulled the ball back to Stead, who looked sure to convert against the Pilgrims’ disarrayed defencemen. Bradley, though, read his intentions and stuck a size 12 adidas in the path of the powerful shot.
The moment the Green Army had been waiting all season for arrived shortly afterwards. Miller, raiding on the right, fed Jervis, whose sweet first touch set him up perfectly for the second, a rasping low drive that gave opposition goalkeeper Adam Collin no chance.
The lead lasted less than three minutes as County countered quickly to finding themselves behind for the second home game in succession. Stead proved more clinical this time, cutting in from the right after picking the ball up from Thierry Audel, and wrong-footing Luke McCormick with a crisp low shot.
County set their eyes on more, and came close to taking the lead three times in one sustained attack. New signing Louis Laing’s header was blocked by Sawyer with the ball falling to Carl Dickinson, whose fierce cross Bradley turned on to the post of the goal he was defending. When Dickinson retrieved the ball, his cross was headed narrowly over the crossbar by Laing.
The pendulum then swung back to the Pilgrims. After forcing a corner, Carey stood over the ball but decided, late on, to invite Smith to deliver the dead ball. Good choice.
Smith’s delivery was right on the money for Bradley and Bulvitis at the near post and both went up, along with a clutch of home defenders before the ball flew past Collin. Precisely how it got there was initially and – after watching a replay many times during the half-time interval – unclear.
Now, in this fluctuating game, Argyle were in the ascendancy. Spencer was fouled and Carey this time kept the set-piece for himself, curling the ball over the defensive wall and away from Collin, who scrambled it to safety.
The Pilgrims made a steamhammer start to the second half, with Sawyer pulling the ball back from the bye-line for Jervis, whose powerful shot was blocked. Another goal then would surely have killed off County.
Instead, Argyle contented themselves with a period of consolidation and succeeded in keeping their hosts at arm’s length and picking off their attempted runs in behind, largely by obeying their dugout’s continual impassioned exhortations to ‘squeeeeze’.
The home side stuck to it and inched up the pitch. Forte was denied by Bulvitis after sneaking down the right, while Matt Tootle failed to direct a tasty cross from Alex Rodman on target.
The Pilgrims needed to maintain their shape and discipline as they faced waves of County attacks. Forte set up substitute Vadaine Oliver for a header which was booted clear by Bradley, while fellow replacement Adam Campbell shot over.
There were moments of respite, such as when Carey’s shot sent Collin full length, but Argyle were in what-we-have-we-hold mode, and the withdrawal of Jervis and Carey, in favour of Ryan Donaldson and Ben Purrington, reinforced the ranks.
In time added on, Michael O'Connor picked up the loose from the second of two corners and let rip with a shot that took a deflection on its way to goal, making McCormick’s strong one-handed save even more impressive.
Notts County (4-2-3-1):1 Adam Collin; 31 Thierry Audel, 14 Louis Laing, 5 Richard Duffy, 3 Carl Dickinson; 2 Matt Tootle (24 Adam Campbell 76), 23 Alex Rodman; 8 Michael O’Connor, 33 Stanley Aborah, 11 Jonathan Forte; 30 Jon Stead (9 Vadaine Oliver 76). Substitutes (not used): 4 Alan Smith, 7 Genaro Snijders, 13 Scott Loach (gk), 18 Elliott Hewitt, 26 Graham Burke.
Booked: Dickinson 5, Aborah 41.
Argyle (4-3-3): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 4 Yann Songo’o, 6 Connor Smith; 14 Jake Jervis (11 Ryan Donaldson 80), 9 Jimmy Spencer (8 Jordan Slew 68), 10 Graham Carey (16 Ben Purrington 83). Substitutes (not used): 7 David Goodwillie, 20 Louis Rooney, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 22 David Ijaha.
Booked: Miller 37, Smith 41, Songo’o 84, McCormick 88, Sawyer 90.
Referee: Mark Heywood.
Attendance: 3,718 (366 away).