Crewe Alexandra 1
Plymouth Argyle 2
Tanner 41, Carey 74
By CHARLIE HEMPSTEAD
ARGYLE extended their lead at the top of Sky Bet League Two to seven points with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Crewe Alexandra at the Alexandra Stadium.
Goals from Craig Tanner and Graham Carey, following Alex Kiwomya’s opener for the hosts, ensured that the Greens took full advantage of Carlisle’s unexpected first defeat of the season at bottom-placed AFC Newport County.
The outcome could have been much different had it not been for a penalty save by skipper Luke McCormick when Crewe were already a goal to the good, but in truth the margin of victory could ultimately have been greater.
Having named an unchanged side as often as possible in recent weeks, boss Derek Adams was forced into a change by a calf injury picked up during the week by first-choice centre back, Nauris Bulvitis. The Latvian’s absence opened the way for Ryan Donaldson to make a start in midfield alongside ex-Alex man David Fox, with Yann Songo’o, billed as a centre back when joining Argyle in the summer, dropping back into a central defensive berth alongside Sonny Bradley. Gary Miller and Ben Purrington took up station as normal either side, with the front four of Graham Carey, Craig Tanner, Jordan Slew and Jimmy Spencer also having a reassuringly familiar look.
The gap left on the bench by Donaldson’s elevation was filled by Arnie Garita, last seen limping from the field in the win at Exeter back in mid-September. Otherwise the cast of substitutes was as last week.
After a couple of early corners for the home side, Argyle almost broke the deadlock in the sixth minute. Carey’s measured pass released the surging Donaldson, but a slightly heavy first touch showed home keeper Ben Garratt just enough of the ball for him to avert the danger.
It was the hosts though who drew first blood. A fine turn in centre field by Callum Ainley took him clear of Fox and his long diagonal ball found Alex Kiwomya in space on the left. As Argyle looked in vain for the linesman’s flag, the wide man cut inside Miller and buried a fine shot in the bottom corner.
In a game that was very pleasing on the eye, both sides looked sharp on the break. Carey and Slew were very much to the fore as Argyle looked for a way back into the game, while it took a magnificent covering tackle by Fox at the other end to snuff out what would have been a clear chance for Ainley to double the lead.
The game looked to have taken a potentially terminal turn for Argyle in the 37th minute, when Fox upended James Jones in the penalty area, but George Cooper’s penalty kick lacked venom, and McCormick was able to make a routine save.
It felt at the time like a potential turning point, and so it proved, even though the home side still held the advantage.
Keen to atone, Cooper let fly from double the distance moments later – and on his weaker right foo – but was thwarted by the crossbar with McCormick beaten.
Revenge for the double let-off was duly exacted in the 41st minute, and in some style. More good approach play by Slew and Carey found Tanner in the penalty area. There was not much room to work with, but there was enough. The Reading loanee’s finish into the bottom corner was every bit as unerring as Kiwomya’s had been earlier.
Level-pegging at half time felt about right on the balance of play, but it was clear straight from the restart that Argyle were intent on asserting their authority. Carey shot across the face of goal and Tanner had two well-struck volleys blocked, before Carey’s driven cross carried just too much weight for Spencer to be able to adjust his feet and divert it goalwards.
Jake Jervis, on for Slew after an hour, almost got on the end of a low Carey cross after superb hold-up play by the tireless Spencer.
Fittingly, it was Spencer who started the move that led to Carey’s winner. His perfect pass released Jervis to sprint down the right and drive in a low cross which was missed by Tanner at the near post, but met gleefully by Carey, in splendid isolation at the far.
Crewe were not going to take that lying down, and McCormick was again Cooper’s nemesis, saving with his feet as the midfielder found himself in space at the far post.
But as an already open game became even more stretched, it was Argyle that looked the likelier to score. A succession of shots were blocked after Carey had burst into the box, leaving most of the Crewe team in his wake, and Donaldson had Garratt scrambling with a rasping low strike from distance that missed the post by a whisker.
Connor Smith came off the bench for Spencer and almost announced himself with a goal, before Carey put the icing on the cake with the best pass you will ever see, and I mean ever, picking out the third substitute, David Goodwillie, with a volleyed 40-yarder from a ball dropping out of the sky with snow on it.
The standard phrase is ‘worth the admission price on its own’. That is probably a stretch, but the 90 minutes that preceded it most certainly were good value.
This is an Argyle side that has heart and quality in equal measure, as the league table shows.
And as we all know, the table doesn’t lie.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt.); 2 Gary Miller, 4Yann Songo’o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington; 24 David Fox, 11 Ryan Donaldson; 8 Jordan Slew (14 Jake Jervis 61), 10 Graham Carey, 27 Craig Tanner (7 David Goodwillie 88);9 Jimmy Spencer (6 Connor Smith 82). Subs not used: 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 19 Karleigh Osbourne, 22 David Ijaha, 26 Paul-Arnold Garita
Bookings: Donaldson 22
Crewe Alexandra (4-2-3-1): 1 Ben Garratt; 23 Perry Ng, 4 Harry Davis, 3 Jon Guthrie, 14 Zoumana Bakayogo (6 Ben Nugent 55); 15 Danny Hollands, 8 James Jones; 25 CallumAinley (36 Tom Lowery 71), 11 George Cooper, 22 Alex Kiwomya; 17 Daniel Udoh (10 Callum Saunders 81). Subs not used: 13 Dave Richards (gk),20 Charlie Kirk, 21 Ryan Wintle, 35 Oliver Finney.
Attendance: 4,573 (1,106 away)
Referee: Nigel MIller