Bradley og 54
Bradley 47, 58
By Rick Cowdery
ONE way or another, it has been an eventful few days for Sonny Bradley.
At the end of a week that he lost his ever-present record in the Pilgrims’ team and was one of four nominations for the Sky Bet League Two player of the Month for September, he headed the winner in Argyle’s 2-1 victory at Stevenage.
Not only that, he also claimed the Pilgrims’ first, with a critical headed flick to David Fox’s free-kick, and supplied the equally vital final touch to Stevenage’s subsequent equaliser.
As importantly, the Yorkshireman was outstanding in another solid defensive display by the Argyle against opponents that worked hard to deny the Pilgrims a tenth successive league game unbeaten.
The upshot was that the Pilgrims maintained their five-point lead at the top of the division to six points. After just 12 games of the season, they are already eight points clear of fourth place.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had made one change to the Pilgrims’ starting line-up from the one that had begun the 4-1 home beating of Yeovil Town seven days earlier: Jordan Slew came in on the left side of attack instead of Ryan Donaldson who, Adams reported, “had not been feeling too great” during the week.
Donaldson dropped to a bench that was without the injured Oscar Threlkeld but included Craig Tanner, the only Plymouth player ever to have previously scored against Stevenage in Hertfordshire.
Otherwise, the line-up was a familiar and formidable one. It included a back four and ‘keeper that had been together for the previous six and a half league matches and kept a clean sheets in three and half of them, conceding three goals in nigh on ten hours football.
Stevenage, defending a 100% record against Argyle at their Lamex Stadium home, included midfielders Charlie Lee, who scored twice against the Pilgrims at Home Park last season, and Aston Villa loan player Henry Cowans, a freakishly similar playalike to former England international dad Gordon.
Argyle showed first, with Jimmy Spencer, back to goal as he is in the majority of games, teeing up Slew for a rising shot which unfortunately rose too much and cleared the bar.
Stevenage sat Lee on Graham Carey – the respective sides’ potentially most influential player cancelling each other out – and got busy with the pressure for which Argyle had no doubt prepared.
However, the opening 20 minutes produced nothing more threatening for goalkeeper Luke McCormick than Carey’s loft which, with the help of a foul that was missed by referee Ross Joyce, he misdirected, propelling the ball towards the Pilgrims’ six-yard box.
Argyle looked menacing on the ball, as you might expect from a side laden with so much attacking talent. Carey, played in by Slew, fired a shot across goalkeeper Jamie Jones and just wide, before David Fox, played in by Carey, fired just over from long range.
In between, Stevenage had almost pulled a rabbit from the hat with a right-wing corner routine that served up a free header for left-back Kgosi Ntlhe which he really should at least have directed on target.
In fact, Boro’s best opportunities came from thoughtful dead-ball situations, to which end they were aided by some esoteric free-kick awards by referee Ross Joyce.
Argyle soaked it up without much ado and, as the half wore on, so the home side’s high-pressing game began to wear the Boro players out.
Three minutes before the interval, Carey broke free of Lee and drove towards goal down the middle. He lost possession but the ball broke for Spencer, whose insouciant first-time shot towards goal hit the outside of his foot and bounced off the crossbar.
The Pilgrims lost no momentum during a half-time in which they were kept waiting on the pitch by their hosts before the restart. Maybe Stevenage suspected what was coming.
In the first attack of the second period, Slew gave his marker, Ronnie Henry, a three-yard start but still went by him in a ten-yard sprint and was clipped by the Stevenage captain on the left edge of the penalty area. Fox slung in a pluperfect free-kick and Bradley deftly helped the ball home.
Argyle were almost immediately pegged back by another set-piece, conceded on their left-hand dead-ball line, when Jake Jervis tripped Kgosi Ntlhe. Cowans’ low, driven, cross was headed on by Matt Godden before being diverted into the net by Bradley.
The Pilgrim centre-back’s impact on the game was not over. Within five minutes, he had put Argyle back ahead from another free-kick, this time supplied by Carey on the right.
Stevenage’s efforts in keeping Argyle at bay, and coming back to equalise, appeared to have taken a lot out of them, and they were not the first side to discover over the past two seasons that, when you go toe to toe with the Pilgrims on fitness, you face formidable competition.
Bradley was then booked for complaining about Cowans’ crunching challenge on Ben Purrington. You suspect Joyce did not need to ask him his name.
Neither Bradley nor anyone else in green could add to the Argyle tally, although they came close on several occasions, notably through Spencer, Jervis, Fox and Slew, and had no difficulty seeing the game out.
They needed McCormick to remain alert to the last in order to pouch Jack King’s shot, and for Jake Hyde’s radar to fail him in the fifth of five minutes time added on.
Anyone got any plans for next Saturday that do not involve attending the 100th Dockyard derby?
Stevenage (4-1-4-1): 1 Jamie Jones; 25 Ronnie Henry (capt), 19 Dean Wells, 5 Fraser Franks, 33 Kgosi Ntlhe; 22 Charlie Lee; 11 Tom Pett (15 Jake Hyde 73), 4 Jack King, 23 Henry Cowans (18 Michael Tonge 83), 3 Andrew Fox (13 Harry McKirdy 73); 24 Matt Godden. Substitutes (not used): 6 Luke Wilkinson, 8 Steve Schumacher, 16 Chris Day (gk) 17 Dale Gorman.
Booked: Godden 29, Henry 46, Cowans 69, Franks 78.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington; 4 Yann Songo’o, 24 David Fox (22 David Ijaha 88); 14 Jake Jervis, 10 Graham Carey (6 Connor Smith 81), 8 Jordan Slew (7 David Goodwillie 90); 9 Jimmy Spencer. Substitutes (not used): 11 Ryan Donaldson, 19 Karleigh Osborne, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 27 Craig Tanner.
Booked: Spencer 49, Bradley 69, Jervis 85.
Referee: Ross Joyce.
Attendance: 2,881 (904 away).