Cheltenham 1 Argyle 2 - Report
Cheltenham Town 1
Bradley 26, 90
By Rick Cowdery
ALL was well that ended well for Argyle as Sonny Bradley scored his second injury-time winner against Cheltenham this season to secure a hard-fought victory at the LCI Rail Stadium which kept the Greens' promotion train on track.
Bradley headed the Pilgrims into the lead with his fourth goal of the season midway through the first half, but it seemed that his strike was only going to be worthy a point after Cheltenham substitute Dan Holman leveled with five minutes remaining.
Derek Adams' sides do not know when they are beaten, though, and up popped Bradley in the dying moments to turn four into five – all headers – with his second win-double of the campaign following his two-goal victory-charge at Stevenage.
The preparations for the game had not sat well with the Pilgrims. Referee Ross Joyce’s decision to pass a hard surface playable, following two inspections, did not meet wholehearted endorsement in the Argyle dressing-room, and there was a change to Cheltenham line-up after the teamsheets had been submitted.
That saw Welsh Under-19 international left-back Jordan Cranston drop out of the defence, to be replaced by Jack Barthram, with Asa Hall taking Barthram’s place on the substitutes’ bench.
Argyle manager Adams saw no need to shuffle, let alone reshuffle, his hand, naming the same 11 that had started Wednesday’s defeat-with-honour Emirates FA Cup exit at the hands of Liverpool.
His squad options were strengthened by the availability of the previously cup-tied Jakub Sokolik and Nathan Blissett, who took the place of youngsters Alex Fletcher and Callum Rose alongside old sweats like Gary Sawyer, Naurius Bulvitis and Craig Tanner.
Whether or not the pitch retained pockets of ice from a heavy overnight frost, it soon looked like the final furlong at nearby Prestbury Park after a particularly grueling Gold Cup, with both goalmouths bereft of grass.
Argyle made the early running, with Jordan Slew letting off a low shot from the edge of the penalty area that was deflected nearer to goal by Daniel O’Shaughnessy before Scott Brown made a sprawling save.
A better chance came their way when Jake Jervis’s left-wing corner was met on the full by Arnie Garita’s head, but the Frenchman’s radar malfunctioned and the ball sailed over the crossbar.
Cheltenham’s response came from the bullish Diego De Girolamo – like Big Arnie, a Bristol City loanee – who, having already tested Luke McCormick with a long-range thump, made space for a shot that whistled wide.
O’Shaughnessy saw a header from James Rowe’s testing corner cleared by Ben Purrington before De Girolamo and strike partner Danny Wright linked threateningly only for the advance to peter out with the latter’s weak shot.
If Rowe’s left-wing corners were asking questions of Argyle’s defence, Jervis was providing similar ammunition at the other end of the muddy park and it was from one of his deliveries that Argyle made the breakthrough. The inswinging far-post delivery drew everyone to the right-hand byeline but found no takers until it reached the head of Bradley, who merely directed the ball back into the now unguarded net.
Cheltenham had what looked a reasonable shout for a penalty, for handball against the Pilgrims’ goalscorer, waved away; then Carl Winchester rifled a shot that was destined for the top corner of Argyle’s goal before McCormick effortlessly plucked it out of a now bright sunlit sky.
Winchester unleashed a second barrel before another appeal for a penalty was given the shake-off by Joyce, who can only have decided that Yann Songo’o’s hands were naturally in front of his face after De Girolamo smacked in a shot.
Argyle switched things around at half-time, bringing on Blissett and debutant Sokolik in place of Jervis and Slew and changing shape to accommodate them; Sokolik took his place in the middle of a back-three defensive unit, while Blissett joined Garita up front.
Cheltenham showed first after the interval, with Billy Waters making ground on the left before slinging a cross to the far post, where right-back Alex Pike had stolen up unnoticed. His header lacked conviction and the Pilgrims survived.
With the change of formation, Argyle suddenly found pockets of space to exploit in a game that had previously been very restricted. Blissett showed great presence and came close to scoring when he dropped off to pick up a pass, only to skew his shot wide.
The home side rallied, though, and tried to find a way to parity. They had a sniff of a chance when Songo’o chested a cross towards his goal, requiring McCormick to scramble in the mud to thwart Wright.
The momentum remained with the Robins, obliging Argyle to draw on their seemingly bottomless reservoir of defensive discipline.
Garita had a chance to settle the nerves and settle the issue when he latched on to a poor pass from Barthram and had only goalkeeper Brown to beat from the edge of the penalty area. In trying to take the ball around the goalkeeper, he allowed the custodian to get a crucial touch on the ball.
Craig Tanner came on shortly afterwards, for his 100th career first-team appearance, and showed immediate signs of an understanding with the eye-catching Blissett but they could not fashion the all-important second goal.
In the end, it was the home side who found the net. Another Rowe corner was met at the far post by William Boyle, whose powerful header was initially cleared from danger but eventually fell to Holman, who poked the ball home from close range.
As the match entered four minutes added time, Blissett won a free-kick ten yards outside the penalty area. David Fox swung the ball to the far post and Bradley headed home his third goal against Cheltenham this season.
A Sonny finish to a sometimes cloudy day.
Cheltenham Town (4-3-1-2): 1 Scott Brown; 26 Alex Pike (4 Kyle Storer 70), 23 Emmanuel Onariese, 15 William Boyle, 2 Jack Barthram; 18 James Rowe, 8 Billy Waters, 27 Carl Winchester; 24 Daniel O’Shaughnessy; 9 Danny Wright (capt), 36 Diego De Girolamo (30 Dan Holman 70). Substitutes (not used): 5 Aaron Downes, 11 Jack Munns, 12 Calum Kitscha (gk), 14 Asa Hall, 21 James Dayton.
Booked: Boyle 67, Rowe 88.
Argyle (4-3-3): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 4 Yann Songo’o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington; 11 Ryan Donaldson, 24 David Fox, 10 Graham Carey; 14 Jake Jervis (13 Nathan Blissett half-time), 26 Arnold Garita (27 Craig Tanner 76), 8 Jordan Slew (31 Jakub Sokolik half-time). Substitutes (not used): 3 Gary Sawyer, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 20 Louis Rooney, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Booked: Threlkeld 83, Bradley 90, Tanner 90.
Referee: Ross Joyce.
Attendance: 4,729 (1,512 away).