By Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE bullied their way to a third successive victory, and second clean sheet in a row with an...ahem, towering performance at Blackpool.
Latvian centre-back Nauris Bulvitis – ‘Bully’ to everyone at Home Park - was the Pilgrims’ match-winner for the second time in successive away matches, heading home Graham Carey’s 50th-minute cross.
It was, if there is such a thing, a typical Argyle performance under Derek Adams, with much emphasis on defensive discipline and shape underpinning their forward raiding, typified by substitute Gary Miller’s splendid late goal-line clearance. It can be celebrated as such.
Argyle manager Adams had stayed faithful to the starting 11 that paved the way to the previous week’s 2-0 home win over Mansfield Town, with Oscar Threlkeld continuing at right-back in place of Miller who was available again after serving a one-match ban belatedly passed on by the Scottish FA.
Miller returned only to the bench, alongside, among others, former Tangerine David Fox and the latest of Adam’s 15 summer recruits, Craig Tanner.
Blackpool’s line-up included one of the two Pilgrims they inherited during the summer, with Kelvin Mellor starting in the right-back position he occupied with distinction for Argyle for two seasons. Jamille Matt, scorer of seven goals in the Pilgrims’ final 12 games at the end of the last campaign, was injured.
The Tangerines made three changes from the midweek EFL Cup defeat at Crystal Palace, bringing back captain Danny Pugh, defender Andy Taylor and forward Mark Cullen.
Argyle’s victory over Mansfield had been architected by Carey and, with the Green Army signing ‘his’ song (“We’ve got Carey, Graham Carey, I just don’t think you’d understand...”) the Irish midfielder was soon in the thick of things.
An early free-kick from a promising position was overhit, but he then nearly put Argyle ahead with a typically audacious whipped shot from a tight angle after a little short-corner routine.
The opposition’s first clear opportunity fell, inevitably, to Mellor, whose crisp, measured, shot on the overlap was beaten out by Luke McCormick. The cheers for McCormick were easy to understand; the jeers from the otherwise magnificent away support directed towards Mellor somewhat more difficult to comprehend.
Argyle are looking slick these days, never more so than when Jake Jervis flicked Carey’s ball-to-feet into Jimmy Spencer’s path for the Pilgrims ‘ No.9 to fire off a shot that fizzed by Pool goalkeeper Sam Slocombe’s right-hand post.
Argyle’s bright start was immediately put in the shade by the Tangerines, who quickly fashioned three scoring opportunities. First, Threlkeld nipped in to prevent Cullen from shooting when well placed; then McCormick stood tall to beat out a shot on the run from Armand Gnanduillet, who had broken free of the Pilgrims’ back line.
The woodwork of McCormick’s goal then joined the defensive effort, coming to the Pilgrims’ aid when Cullen headed a left-wing cross into the turf and saw it bounce up and hit the frame of the goal.
After a deflected shot from Brad Potts, Argyle reasserted themselves and looked the side more likely to break the deadlock. Their assurance was nearly dented five minutes before the half-time, though, when Potts led a two-man break which ended with him flashing a driven cross low across the Pilgrims’ six-yard box as Cullen stretched to get something on the handsome delivery.
Back came the Pilgrims. Carey released Connor Smith on the left side of the Blackpool penalty area and the Irish connection almost came up trumps only for Smith’s shot to be blocked by Scotsman Tom Aldred.
Ben Purrington replaced the injured Gary Sawyer, a former Bloomfield Road match-winning goalscorer for Argyle, at half-time and did not have long to wait before celebrating.
Carey had already provided a cross from which Ryan Donaldson’s header back across goal was well saved by Slocombe when he won a corner on the left. From the set-piece, Carey curled in a cross which was begging to be headed home. Bulvitis duly obliged.
The goal clearly rocked Blackpool and Argyle might have taken advantage before another Potts shot that scudded wide reminded everyone that the home side were not going to let their unbeaten home record go without a fight.
To that end, they brought on Kyle Vassell and new signing Jack Payne but Payne gave Pool no gain as he was dismissed within six minutes of coming on for felling Jervis as the Pilgrim broke on to Spencer’s delivery. Jervis still had plenty to do, and much ground to cover, but Payne was the last man and it was, technically, a goalscoring opportunity.
The atmosphere turned as grey as the previously sunny skies for a while, not helped by a collision between Spencer and Aldred which saw the Argyle man earn yellow while many in Bloomfield Road were baying for another red.
More drama followed when Gnanduillet got free in the box and dinked a volley over McCormick. The ball was destined for the back of the net when Miller, who had just come on as substitute for Donaldson, somehow managed to head the ball clear from under the crossbar while running towards his own goal.
It was the best chance in a sustained period of late pressure by Blackpool, the kind of test that Argyle, for all that its shreds the nerves of their followers, seem to relish.
After me – Oh we do like to be beside the seaside...
Blackpool (4-4-2): 1 Sam Slocombe; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Clark Robertson, 15 Tom Aldred, 3 Andy Taylor; 8 Bradley Potts (21 Bright Osayi-Samuel 78), 4 Jim McAlister (28 Jack Payne 64), 22 Danny Pugh (capt), 23 Colin Daniel; 9 Mark Cullen (7 Kyle Vassell 63), 31 Armand Gnanduillet. Substitutes (not used): 16 Eddie Nolan, 17 Mark Yeates,, 25 Myles Boney (gk), 26 Michael Cain.
Sent off: Payne 68.
Booked: Aldred 90
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer (16 Ben Purrington half-time); 4 Yann Songo’o, 6 Connor Smith; 14 Jake Jervis, 10 Graham Carey (27 Craig Tanner 81), 11 Ryan Donaldson (2 Gary Miller 71); 9 Jimmy Spencer. Substitutes (not used): 7 David Goodwillie, 8 Jordan Slew, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 24 David Fox.
Booked: Spencer 76, Songo’o 80.
Referee: Nigel Miller.
Attendance: 3,085 (est 600 away).