Leyton Orient 0
Spencer 11, Donaldson 84
By Rob McNichol
ARGYLE were victorious on Tuesday night against Leyton Orient, maintaining their top spot in Sky Bet League Two thanks to Jimmy Spencer and Ryan Donaldson scoring their first goals in Plymouth Argyle shirts.
Spencer’s opener, on 11 minutes, was followed by a late Donaldson effort, and clinched the very valuable three points for the Pilgrims in the Matchroom Stadium, London.
Budding journalists are taught that three words per minute is the standard speaking rate for a broadcast. Therefore, in the time it took you to read the opening two paragraphs, this game was effectively over.
Robbie Weir was sent off for Orient after 20 seconds, reducing an already beleaguered Leyton side to ten men, and making life easy for Argyle. Spencer scored before Jens Janse saw red, too, and although it took until Donaldson's 84th minute goal to allow Argyle to breathe, the result was realistically never a doubt.
Outside factors from the opposition seem determined to create stories before Argyle matches these days. Two weeks ago it was Reuben Reid signing for rivals Exeter City in the build up to a Devon Derby, and this time Orient changed the narrative by sacking manager Andy Hessenthaler, just over 24 hours before the visit of the Sky Bet League Two leaders. His assistant Andy Edwards was asked to step into the void, and temporarily restore Orient's fortunes in the short-term. Coming in to this game, Leyton had won three out of nine games this season, and sat 14th in the table.
Derek Adams made three changes to the Argyle starting 11 that had drawn 1-1 with Hartlepool at Home Park, three days previously. Jordan Slew, Craig Tanner and David Fox all dropped to the bench, with Jimmy Spencer, Connor Smith and Jake Jervis all recalled.
Jervis had been Argyle's hero last time the Pilgrims visited the Matchroom Stadium, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory, after coming off the bench. Just three players that started that night, in mid-April, started this: Luke McCormick, Ben Purrington and Graham Carey.
Carey lined up on the left of a new-look, three-man Argyle midfield, alongside Yann Songo'o and Smith, while a front three of Spencer, David Goodwillie and Jake Jervis attempting to cause Orient some problems.
And yet, it was Leyton who caused their own.
In as much time as it takes to spell the word 'Hessenthaler', the home side were reduced to ten men. Twenty seconds into the game, home captain Weir crashed into Purrington, as he attempted to sweep a ball down the line. Referee Charles Breakspear was quickly on the scene, displaying a red card instantly.
Predictably, home fans and players alike were less than chuffed with the opening to the game. Every Argyle foul from that point on, no matter how trivial, were met with cries of "Off! Off! Off!" from the home supporters. It was not always easy to work out how ironic the cheers were.
In a strange way, the pressure, one could argue, was put onto Argyle. Playing 89 minutes and 40 seconds with a man advantage would surely demand a victory.
It was relieving, then, when Argyle got the goalscoring under way on 11 minutes. Smith pressed a ball into the feet of Goodwillie, who flicked, first time, into Spencer's path. There was still a bit to do - both goalkeeper and defender looked to have a chance of getting to the ball before Argyle's number nine - but Spencer reacted quickest, and flicked past Alex Cisak with the outside of his right foot, to score his first Argyle goal.
In stadium named for a company owned by boxing supremo Barry Hearn, it felt like all Orient could do was cover up and try to sustain the body blows they were receiving. The next thing to jump up and bite them was an injury to Liam Kelly, who limped off and was replaced by Nigel Atangana, just moments after Argyle had scored.
The expression 'when it ain't your day, it ain't your day' might have written especially for stand-in manager Edwards. Next on his laundry list of troubles was another red card, this time for Jens Janse. The offence was remarkably similar to that which had reduced Blackpool to ten men against the Pilgrims some weeks earlier. Jervis ran onto a loose ball and looked to be clean through, albeit with 35 yards still to travel to get to goal. Janse, in a desperate lunge, brought Jervis down, and Breakspear had little option but to show his red card for a second time.
This is the point where Orient fans scream injustice, neutrals leap to the well-worn platitude that the game is ruined as a spectacle, and Argyle fans simply sit back and hope that a few more goals flow.
Another expectation shift. Now, playing against nine men for over 80% of the game, it is natural to expect a hatful. To Orient's credit, they went narrow, tried to pack their area, and attempted to repel anything Argyle had to throw at them.
And there was plenty to be thrown. Argyle threw in men - and crosses - to pressure Orient into conceding a second, but combination of luck - the only luck Orient were getting - profligate Argyle finishing and last ditch blocks was putting paid to the Greens making it an easy night.
The enigmatic Goodwillie managed to wriggle out of a tight spot and force an excellent save out of Cisak, then contrive to miss the target entirely when he had a free header eight yards out. Jervis, Smith, Carey and even Nauris Bulvitis, from open play, either asked questions of Cisak or whizzed balls close to his goal, but somehow Leyton made it to half-time only a goal down.
Can intervals change a team's luck? Perhaps sometimes, but the 15 minutes in the dressing was just a quarter of an hour of respite for Leyton Orient. Two minutes into the second half Atangana, who had replaced the stricken Kelly in the first period, fell to an injury of his own, and was withdrawn, with Harry Cornick coming on.
On a day that, on a national scale, began with news about the national manager's alleged indiscretions, and concluded with his losing his job, this game was beginning to have echoes of watching England playing a very minor nation in a qualifier. You expect a pummelling to be handed out, but heart and adrenaline seem to help the minnows to cling on. With 11 v 11, Orient are hardly San Marino to Argyle's England, but two men down, it was a minor miracle that they stayed in the game.
And while they did, trailing by a goal, they remained a threat. At any time, a moment of brilliance from an Orient player could make them a hero, or a deflected free-kick could cause Argyle embarrassment.
Adams tinkered, looking for the right combination to stretch the lead. David Fox, Craig Tanner and Ryan Donaldson were introduced, at regular intervals, as the Pilgrims sought a clincher.
Argyle continue to rain down chances. Fox and Carey whistled over; Spencer and Goodwillie worked Cisak. Various other probed and prodded, but the remaining men in red were hanging to their crumbling lifeline.
In the end, Donaldson was able to issue a coup de grace. Purrington reached the bye-line and cut back, where Donaldson had found space, and slid the ball home. His celebration, in front of the impressively assembled Green Army, was laced with personal elation and collective relief.
Tanner hit the bar, Spencer flicked just wide and Carey curled over as Argyle looked to put Orient further to the sword, but it was merciful that the lead remained at two.
It is not the only lead that remains. Argyle will host Yeovil Town on Saturday as league leaders and, whatever happens that day, will end the weekend on top too, such is the gap developing.
Early days - but halcyon ones, too. See you Saturday.
Leyton Orient (4-5-1): 1 Alex Cisak; 46 Jens Janse, 16 Nicky Hunt, 6 Tom Parkes, 3 Callum Kennedy; 4 Liam Kelly (15 Nigel Atangana 13 (20 Harry Cornick 47) 8 Robbie Weir, 22 Sandro Semedo; 27 Jay Simpson, 9 Paul McCallum (21 Jordan Bowery 82), 11 Gavin Massey. Substitutes (not used): 9 Ollie Palmer, 18 Ulrich Nnomo, 24 Sam Sargeant (gk), 25 Aron Pollock.
Sent off: Weir 1, Janse 14.
Booked: Hunt 74.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington; 6 Connor Smith (11 Ryan Donaldson 76), 4 Yann Songo'o (24 David Fox 57), 10 Graham Carey; 14 Jake Jervis (27 Craig Tanner 73), 9 Jimmy Spencer, 7 David Goodwillie. Substitutes (not used): 8 Jordan Slew, 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 22 David Ijaha.
Booked: Carey 50, Purrington 71, Bulvitis 87.
Referee: Charles Breakspear.
Attendance: 4,366 (918 away)