Cheltenham Town 0
By Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE maintained their unbeaten recent run in Sky Bet League Two - but were taken to the final moments by stubborn visitors before claiming a fifth successive victory.
Defender Sonny Bradley popped up in the final minute of three added on at the end of an attritional game played in horrible weather to head home Oscar Threlkeld’s long, looping, delivery to the far post.
Up until then, Arnold Garita, the Pilgrims’ new loan signing from Bristol City, had come as close as anyone to resolving the stalemate when he hit the post during a period of second-half ascendancy by the Pilgrims.
In a game of few clear-cut opportunities, Cheltenham also hit the woodwork late in the second half, but it was an afternoon when defences held sway. It was shaping up to be the Pilgrims’ first goal-less Home Park draw during Argyle manager Derek Adams’ tenure, and their first at home since March 2015, until Bradley claimed his first goal of the season.
Adams had returned to the side that had begun the second half of the previous week's away win at Blackpool, when Ben Purrington had replaced the injured Gary Sawyer.
That meant some impressive displays in the midweek 4-1 Checkatrade Trophy win over Newport County at Home Park, by the likes of David Fox, Jordan Slew, Craig Tanner and David Goodwillie, had not been enough to convince the gaffer to tinker with a line-up that went into the game on the back of two wins and two clean sheets.
Where whim had not been persuasive, injury was. Spencer last less than five minutes before giving best to an injured thigh, and Goodwillie was introduced from a bench that also included Garita, the deadline-day signing from Ashton Gate.
Goodwillie was obliged, with his colleagues, to play into a fearsome north-easterly, having been turned round by Robins' captain Danny Parslow who obviously knew bad weather when he saw it.
Aided by the elements, the Robins flew at Argyle, who had to draw on the strength that had see them chalk up three league wins on the bounce, conceding a single goal in the process.
McCormick was, by and large, well protected by a back four in which only Sonny Bradley has started every league and cup game this season: only one save, at the feet of Danny Wright, was especially noteworthy.
Still, the Devonport, from where the appalling weather was driving in, saw little meaningful first-half action as Argyle were obliged to not so much have the backs to the wall, as their faces to the squall.
That nearly changed in time added on to the first 45 minutes, when Graham Carey slung in a free-kick that Yann Songo'o nodded into the path of Jake Jervis. It was a difficult chance, to be sure, and Jervis could not quite get his foot around the volley enough to keep it down.
Argyle came out for the second half drier, but otherwise unchanged. That lasted only a few minutes as Adams rang the changes, bringing on Garita and Fox and switching from his starting 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2.
The new man wasted no time in getting noticed, although going into the referee’s notebook after disputing, justifiably, a free-kick award against him was probably not the initial impact that he had been hoping for.
The changes of direction and personnel appeared to have the desired effect, with Argyle getting forward with more ease and frequency.
Carey’s free-kick was headed out from under the Cheltenham crossbar by Robert Dickie before Garita made space for shot that was thwarted. The ball ran free to Goodwillie, whose shot was well saved by scrambling Town goalkeeper Russell Griffiths.
Goodwillie was growing into the game and he found space for another shot that was blocked by lunging defender Daniel O’Shaughnessy. His new partner in the van, Garita, then twisted on to a dropping corner only for his shot to hit the post.
Cheltenham proved as obdurate as the Pilgrims, though, despite some increasingly frantic defending. To try to unlock them, Adams brought Carey in off the left flank to the apex of a midfield diamond.
The visitors’ best hope seemed to reside with substitute Amari Morgan-Smith, and, from one of his breaks, the ball reached right wing-back Hall, whose first-time shot beat McCormick byt rebounded into play from the inside of the opposite goalpost.
No-one had gone nearer during a match which saw the Pilgrims keep a third successive EFL clean sheet, until, on the most horrible of afternoons, a man called Sonny came up with the winner.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington; 4 Yann Songo’o, 6 Connor Smith; 14 Jake Jervis (26 Arnold Garita 53), 10 Graham Carey, 11 Ryan Donaldson (24 David Fox 53); 9 Jimmy Spencer (7 David Goodwillie 7). Substitutes (not used): 2 Gary Miller, 8 Jordan Slew, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 27 Craig Tanner.
Booked: Garita 55.
Cheltenham Town (3-5-2): 1 Russell Griffiths; 28 Robert Dickie, 6 Danny Parslow (capt), 24 Daniel O’Shaughnessy; 14 Asa Hall, 18 James Rowe, 7 Harry Pell, 23 Danny Whitehead, 17 Jordan Cranston; 9 Danny Wright, 8 Billy Waters (10 Amari Morgan-Smith 64). Substitutes (not used): 2 Jack Barthram, 5 Aaron Downes, 11 Jack Munns, 12 Calum Kitscha (gk), 15 Koby Arthur, 27 Johnny Smith.
Booked: Hall 37, Wright 45, Rowe 72.
Referee: Nick Kinseley.
Attendance: 7,552 (262 away).