Argyle 1 Hartlepool 1 - Report
Jervis pen 84
Hartlepool United 1
By Rick Cowdery
THE magnificent seven failed to become the awesome eight as Argyle narrowly failed to win for the first time since August 13 thanks to a fluke goal from old boy Nathan Thomas.
The winger’s attempted cross midway through the first half deceived goalkeeper Luke McCormick – and just about everyone else inside Home Park – to give Pools the lead.
Argyle lacked the power of the injured Arnold Garita and were also missing the edge that had seen them win seven matches in a row before their second home loss of the campaign, but kept plugging away.
They were rewarded for persistence, if not consistency, when substitute Jake Jervis coolly converted a late penalty to rescue a point for the Pilgrims that maintained their lead at the top of Sky Bet League Two.
So nearly the equal of Peter Shilton’s Nearly Men of 23 years previously, they must accept the only slightly lesser accolade of parity with Paul Sturrock’s Nationwide League Two champions of 2003-04.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had made one change to the starting line-up that quickly demolished Exeter City in the Devon Expressway Derby seven days earlier, with the hamstrung Garita being replaced by David Goodwillie in the centre of attack.
Hartlepool arrived at Home Park with only two league victories under their belts, both away, both by 2-1, and both this side of Bristol, at Exeter and, most recently, Yeovil.
They, too, made one injury-enforced change, having lost defender Carl Magnay in the previous weekend’s 0-0 home draw with Mansfield. Jake Carroll was promoted from the bench, where, confusingly, he was replaced by Jake Orrell.
Their 4-5-1 line-up included, out wide, left and right respectively, former Greens Thomas and Lewi Alessandra. The latter received more cheers than the former, in proportion to their contributions as a Pilgrim.
It seemed a line-up designed to avoid a repetition of the previous time the two teams squared up at Home Park, in the final game of the 201516 regular campaign. Then, the least experienced Argyle side of the season whupped them 5-0, with four of the goals coming from two players who are now at Wrexham and Truro.
In their two former Greens and lone front man Padraig Amond, they certainly had the pace to counterattack but it was chance, rather than speed, that unlocked the Pilgrims after an insipid opening quarter.
There can have been little else in Thomas’s mind when he received the ball on the left than curling an outswinging cross to the far post. However, he overhit the delivery, with the result that the ball looped over McCormick’s backpedalling attempts to tip it over and droped into the only part of the goal that the Argyle custodian could not reach.
The Pilgrims’ disbelief turned to frustration when a free-kick on the right, taken by Graham Carey, was handled by Lewis Hawkins as it zipped across the penalty area. Only referee Gavin Ward and his assistant did not see it as an offence.
Carey, who had provided a helpful guide to taking free-kicks in the match-day programme, then nearly gave a demonstration of his method after Thomas had been booked for a handball that no-one could miss. His left-footed curler over a skewiff defensive wall was clawed to safety by goalkeeper Trevor Carson.
Argyle, who had not looked their sparkling best, grew into the game as the half progressed, offering plenty to suggest that a second-half comeback was very much possible.
Adams is never slow to shuffle his hand and Argyle emerged after the break without Yann Songo’o and Jordan Slew, who was subbed at the interval for the second game running. Jervis was his replacement again, and Connor Smith entered the fray.
They found themselves facing a big pink wall, one that Adams felt needed the added introduction of Jimmy Spencer to help break down, and the Yorkshireman arrived before the hour.
His countyman Sonny Bradley policed away an Alessandra led break as Hartlepool fancied sewing things up on the counter with the Pilgrims pressing high against their deep defensive line.
The two half-time substitutes were either end of a move which nearly realised the equaliser, Smith setting up Carey and Ben Purrington for some interplay which ended with the latter crossing for Spencer to send a glancing header just wide of the post with Carson beaten.
Spencer looked as likely as anyone to grab an equaliser, with another shot, after a space-making shimmy, being beaten away, but Carson was well protected by a side that had collapsed in front of him like a house of cards four months earlier.
Spencer’s willingness to put himself about saw him draw a foul from Toto Nsiala with six minute to go, at which point Hartlepool imploded: Nsiala was booked; manager Craig Hignett was sent from the dugout; and Scott Harrison was sent off before the final whistle.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington; 24 David Fox, 4 Yann Songo’o (6 Connor Smith half-time); 10 Graham Carey, 27 Craig Tanner (9 Jimmy Spencer 59), 8 Jordan Slew (14 Jake Jervis half-time); 7 David Goodwillie. Substitutes (not used): 11 Ryan Donaldson, 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 22 David Ijaha.
Booked: Miller 67.
Hartlepool United (4-5-1): 1 Trevor Carson; 33 Liam Donnelly, 22 Aristote Nsiala, 26 Scott Harrison, 3 Jake Carroll; 15 Lewis Alessandra, 18 Lewis Hawkins (19 Jordan Richards 90), 4 Nicky Featherstone (capt), 28 Josh Laurent, 17 Nathan Thomas (17 Nicky Deverdics 78); 9 Padraig Amond (10 Billy Paynter 81). Substitutes (not used): 13 Adam Bartlett (gk), 20 Jake Orrell, 32 Bradley Fewster, 34 Tom Heardman.
Sent off: Harrison 90.
Booked: Thomas 41, Harrison 73, Paynter 82, Nsiala 84, Donnelly 85, Deverdics 90.
Referee: Gavin Ward.
Attendance: 7,591 (69 away)