Argyle 2 Doncaster Rovers 0 - Match Report
Carey 33, Jervis pen 63
Doncaster Rovers 0
by Rick Cowdery
CRISIS? What crisis?
Argyle returned to the top of Sky Bet League Two by beating the team that had arrived at Home Park in that position with a performance that spoke as much about their character, as their talent.
Graham Carey’s opportunist ninth goal of the season just after half-and-hour, and a penalty by Jake Jervis 18 minutes after the interval accounted for the best side the Pilgrims have faced this season.
After four games without a win – three of them without a goal – it was indeed fine fare to serve up at the Theatre of Greens in the stadium’s final home game before Christmas Day.
It was a feather in the Pilgrims’ collective cap, too, that they became the first League Two team to keep a clean sheet against the division’s highest scorers.
They need Liam Mandeville to miss an 88th-minute penalty for that proud lowering of the previous leaders’ colours, but their performance merited nothing less.
Argyle began with Jordan Slew recalled to the attack after his single game suspension for being sent off at Morecambe and Ryan Donaldson restored to the midfield, instead of David Goodwillie and Craig Tanner.
Donaldson lined up opposite Jordan Houghton, a Pilgrim last season and Rover this. The Chelsea loanee came into the game having been nominated as one of four League Two players of the month for October.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had predicted the possibility of an expansive game and, before the match was a minute old, both sides had carved out decent openings. First, Carey scorched past Liam Mason to send over driven cross from the right bye-line that Doncaster goalkeeper Marko Marosi did well to hold; Rovers’ responded with a quicksilver move down the same flank that ended with Tommy Rowe’s shot being saved by Luke McCormick.
If the chances slowed a little after the ding-dong start, the pace of the game did not. After the anti-football served up by Newport and others in recent weeks, it was a pleasure to watch two skillful teams – and two young managers who have been friends since they were so high – pit their wits against each other.
Darren Ferguson’s sides have always been built from the front back, and Doncaster this season, like Peterborough before them, are a free-scoring unit; Adams admits himself that he is probably more like Sir Alex than the great man’s son but nevertheless likes his players to express themselves.
Both looked to use the wings to unlock busy, but steady, defences. Matty Blair’s right-wing delivery was slashed past his own post by Yann Songo’o, again deputising for the injured Nauris Bulvitis in central defence, before two Donaldson deliveries, one from either flank, were repelled by the Rovers rearguard.
Then, the breakthrough. The visitors were caught cold by Carey as they tried to bring the ball out of defence. As he did several times last season, the Argyle midfielder closed down his man – Mason again – with unanticipated alacrity and stole the ball, leaving him with a run in on goal.
There was still plenty do, with Rovers scrambling back, but the Irishman had one thought in his mind and he teased Andy Butler, using him as a shield to block Marosi from seeing the ball clearly, before curling home a sweet finish.
Doncaster responded like a prize-fighter bouncing up off the canvas and, when Argyle allowed James Coppinger’s free-kick to reach John Marquis, his header teed up Butler for a shot inside the six-yard box that Sonny Bradley did well to block.
Bradley, in fact, was having a fine game – one of many this season. The 6ft 4in central defender may have been brought in for his prowess in the air, but the timing of some of his tackles took the breath away.
Bradley was to the fore immediately after the interval. He had to be as Argyle needed all their wits about them to prevent Doncaster from making use of a huge majority of possession.
Discipline won over invention when the Pilgrims’ first meaningful attack of the second half saw Jervis slice open the Rovers back line. Donaldson jinked inside a rooted Butler on the edge of the penalty area; Butler hung out a leg; Donaldson went over; referee Oliver Langfod pointed the spot.
Jervis did not let the import of the moment get to him and crashed home the penalty off the underside of the crossbar. For one heart-stopping nanosecond, it looked as though the ball might bounce back out but, such was its power that the forward momentum saw it nestle in the back of the net.
Ferguson strengthened his already potent attacking options immediately by bringing on Andy Williams and, a little later, Riccardo Calder. Argyle rolled up their sleeves.
It says much about their resolve that Doncaster, proudly protecting their leadership and stung by the position they found themelves in, barely had a clear sight of goal. Luke McCormick had to pluck off Marquis’s header from Calder’s cross, but that was a rare on-target effort.
The hard work was nearly undone in the 88th minute, when Jervis clumsily gave the ball away and David Fox equally clumsily clattered into Matty Blair inside the box.
Mandeville sent McCormick the wrong way from the spot-kick, but the ball hit the outside of the unprotected left-hand post and rolled to safety.
Coppinger took issue with McCormick’s celebrations and attempted to throttle him. The former Exeter player thus became the eighth opposition player this season to see red against the Pilgrims.
It was an undignified end to an afternoon which otherwise epitomised the best of League Two , on the pitch and in the dug-outs.
Argyle (4-1-4-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller, 4 Yann Songo'o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 18 Oscar Threlkeld; 24 David Fox; 10 Graham Carey, 11 Ryan Donaldson, 6 Connor Smith, 14 Jake Jervis, 8 Jordan Slew. Substitutes (not used): 7 David Goodwillie, 19 Karleigh Osborne, 20 Louis Rooney, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 27 Craig Tanner, 29 Billy Palfrey, 30 Alex Fletcher.
Booked: Smith 64.
Doncaster Rovers (4-4-2): 13 Marko Marosi; 2 Craig Alcock, 5 Mathieu Baudry, 6 Andy Butler (8 Riccardo Calder 72), 24 Niall Mason (11 Andy Williams 64); 16 Jordan Houghton; 17 Matty Blair, 26 James Coppinger (capt), 10 Tommy Rowe; 19 Liam Mandeville, 9 John Marquis. Substitutes (not used): 14 Harry Middleton; 15 Joe Wright, 18 Paul Keegan, 23 Alfie Beestin, 33 Louis Jones (gk).
Sent-off: Coppinger 89.
Referee: Oliver Langford.
Attendance: 8,575 (385 away).