Exeter City 0
Carey 6, Garita 26
by Rick Cowdery
DEVON is green again.
Argyle gave manager Derek Adams his first EFL Devon Expressway Derby victory as the Pilgrims satisfyingly extended their winning streak to seven games at the home of their nearest and far from dearest rivals.
Goals from Graham Carey and on-loan Bristol City striker Paul-Arnold Garita in an utterly dominant first half ensured Argyle stayed on top of Sky Bet League Two. Although the second half was more of an even contest, when the Pilgrims get their noses in front these days, there is little shifting them.
Having made five changes to a winning starting line-up seven days previously – and winning again – Adams’ choice was unpredictable in advance and yet totally predictable when the team sheets went in – same again.
Gary Miller had recovered from the double injury whammy that forced him off at half-time of the 2-1 home win over Cambridge United to reclaim the right-back spot from Oscar Threlkeld, while Garita continued as the lone loan striker, buoyed no doubt by the knowledge that all four of Argyle’s goals in three matches last season had been scored by a loan player.
The inclusion of a former Pilgrim in the Exeter starting line-up did not cause much of a stir. Then again, Luke Croll did not rip up any trees in his three-game Home Park loan spell from Crystal Palace last season – indeed, he debuted in a 2-1 home defeat by his current club and featured in two subsequent 1-1 draws.
Croll came in on the left side of central defence, with captain Jordan Moore-Taylor moving out to left-back in place of his fellow double-barreler Connor Riley-Lowe
The other of the Green Army’s old flames to end up on the arm of their hated rival was named as substitute, his squad number of 33 a poignant reminder that, two seasons previously in the 100th meeting between the two sides, he had become only the third Argyle player to score a hat-trick in the Devon Expressway Derby and first at St James’ Park.
Reuben Reid was, of course, jeered by the visiting supporters during the warm-up, but – mark of the man – on returning to the dressing-room, he applauded those who had applauded him for 165 games in the green, and received large dollops of due respect back.
Heroes are forever, but new ones emerge all the time and there is no doubt that Carey will have his own place in the pantheon of Pilgrims one day, if he is not already enshrined.
His fourth goal of the season, in his 50th start in the Green, was the ultimate nerve-settler, coming from Argyle’s first meaningful attack. Craig Tanner received the ball wide on the left and teased his two markers before leaving them treading water. His cross to the near post found Garita with back to goal, fending off the barely legal attentions of his marker to tee up Carey, who slammed the ball home with gusto in front of the immediately delirious St James Terrace.
Exeter offered little by the way of meaningful threat, their first chance of the game coming from Robbie Simpson’s overhead improvisation after the ball had pinged around the Pilgrims’ penalty box.
Argyle, alternatively, looked permanently potent, whether they attacked left, right or centre, and the only surprise about the second goal was that it took as long as 20 minutes after the first to arrive.
Tanner again, was the instigator, freeing Garita through the middle with sweet little touch. Big Arnie brushed off the attentions of the Exeter central defence as he bore powerfully and ominously down on goal before slotting the ball past Bobby Olejnik. Never, at any point, did the outcome look likely to be anything than a 2-0 lead.
Argyle, briefly, were rampant, with Garita to the fore, muscling his way forward, beating his man for the umpteenth time, and cutting the ball back to Jordan Slew, whose ambitious first-time attempt turned into an airshot.
Exeter needed to gain a foothold in the one-sided affair and threw caution to the wind in pursuit of a way back in. Ollie Watkins, last season’s nemesis, and Ryan Harley each had a shot blocked before McCormick was obliged to make his first save, a relatively easy pluck of Jake Taylor’s header after Jack Stacey’s cross.
Stacey, the right-back, then served up the opportunity that the Grecians had been striving for with another searching delivery that found Simpson unmarked in the centre of the goal. It looked easier to score, than balloon the ball into the Big Bank, but Argyle’s defence remained unbreached.
Exeter’s progress on their right flank might have been behind Adams’ half-time decision to replace Slew with Jake Jervis on the left side of Argyle’s midfield. Within minutes, Garita joined Slew on the sidelines after injuring himself making a typically robust challenge.
The Pilgrims shrugged off the loss of their talisman to turn the pressure back on Exeter, Jervis checking inside to bring out a fine low save from Olejknik with a fizzing drive. On the other side, Tanner nearly walked the ball into the goal after linking with Carey.
Reid came on for Joel Grant, just after the departing Grecian had found Harley with a cross from the right that Sonny Bradley got enough on to deflect the ball away for a corner.
The home side continued to take the game to Argyle with substitute Lee Holmes rattling a post, and his team-mates rattling the Pilgrims’ defence, with Purrington blocking Reid’s shot, and McCormick pouching another on-target shot from the resulting corner.
While the score remained as it was, it was impossible to shake that too fresh memory lodged in the back of the mind of what happened in the final minutes the last time the two sides met at St James’ Park.
Carey joined Garita as a second major injury concern of the afternoon, limping to the sidelines, just as his fellow goalscorer had done earlier.
Lloyd James wasted a free-kick from a decent position after substitute Oscar Threlkeld’s rash challenge, before Davids Fox and Goodwillie both went close at the other end.
Exeter City (4-3-3): 1 Bobby Olejnik; 28 Jack Stacey, 31 Pierce Sweeney, 15 Luke Croll, 15 Jordan Moore-Taylor (capt); 25 Jake Taylor, 4 Lloyd James, 7 Ryan Harley (10 Lee Holmes 44); 14 Ollie Watkins, 8 Robbie Simpson, 12 Joel Grant (33 Reuben Reid 64). Substitutes (not used): 3 Craig Woodman,, 16 Matt Oakley, 19 Liam McAlinden, 23 Connor Riley-Lowe, 30 Christy Pym (gk).
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington; 24 David Fox, 4 Yann Songo'o; 10 Graham Carey (18 Oscar Threlkeld 77), 27 Craig Tanner, 8 Jordan Slew (14 Jake Jervis half-time); 26 Paul-Arnold Garita (7 David Goodwillie 52). Substitutes (not used): 9 Jimmy Spencer, 11 Ryan Donaldson, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 22 David Ijaha.
Booked: Bulvitis 45.
Referee: Dean Whitestone.
Attendance: 6,612 (1,545 away)