Lameiras 25, Taylor 37
Blackburn Rovers 0
BLACKBURN Rovers arrived at Home Park unbeaten in 18 Sky Bet League One matches and left a well beaten side. Argyle’s rapid improvement this season is no longer the division’s best kept secret.
First-half goals from Ruben Lameiras and Ryan Taylor crowned a fine team performance from a side that was bottom of the table when these two met in mid-October but who are on such a run of form that an outside tilt at the play-offs is not merely whimsical.
For different reasons, both goalscorers have come late to the Pilgrims’ party this season, as has Antoni Sarcevic, who continued a run of form so fine that there is surely no midfielder in League One for whom Pilgrims’ manager Derek Adams would swap him.
Argyle had showed one change from the side that had achieved a fine 2-1 victory at Oldham Athletic the previous week. On-loan Bristol City centre-back Zak Vyner, who had missed the trip through illness, returned at the expense of Yann Songo’o.
To further illustrate the sheer strength in depth of the Pilgrims’ squad, Vyner’s fellow loanee, West Ham United’s Moses Makasi, started life as a Pilgrim on the substitutes’ bench.
Blackburn, whose 1-1 draw with Argyle on October 17 was the first game of their long unbeaten run coming into Saturday, made one like-for-like alteration to the team that had beaten Walsall 3-1 at Ewood Park, with Craig Conway coming into midfield for Jack Payne.
A tight opening saw little to distinguish which of the two sides was heading for a quick return to the Championship and which had been promoted from League Two the previous season.
Blackburn gave the merest indication of the considerable talent at their disposal when Richard Smallwood’s inswinging free-kick was dropped perfectly on to the head of Paul Downing around about the penalty spot. Downing’s header was not up there with the most powerful, though, and Remi Matthews pouched the ball.
The Pilgrims progressed from giving as good as they were getting to one better midway through an engrossing first half.
David Fox had toiled through the mud at Oldham for little personal reward but, back on Home Park’s green acre, he was in his element and his passing had carried a threat even before he teed up the opener.
His free-kick to Sonny Bradley was meat and drink to the Pilgrims’ Player of the Year and allowed him to pick out Lameiras with a header back to the edge of the area that invited the lashing that it got from the Portuguese midfielder. Blackburn goalkeeper David Raya heard the netting riffle while he was still working out where the ball was.
Twelve minutes later, Argyle extended the lead with a sweet counter-attacking goal. It was scored by Taylor, from Carey’s pass that was exquisite in timing and weight, but really the goal was all about Sarcevic.
Maybe it is the geography of the opposition that the Pilgrims have faced in recent weeks that inspires the proud Mancunian, but he was man of the match against both the Athletics of Wigan and Oldham, and was in even better form against Blackburn.
The move that provided Taylor’s goal began when Sarcevic won a less than 50-50 ball just outside his own penalty area, and, in one sweeping movement, drove through the heart of the midfield before laying the ball off to Carey, lurking on the left.
Taylor knew what was coming. So, for that matter, did a Blackburn defence that was nevertheless powerless to deal with the accuracy of Carey’s pass in behind. There is no such thing as a simple finish, but Taylor’s acumen in reading the move made his execution a formality.
Blackburn came out for the second-half determined to redress the balance, a little too keenly in the case of half-time substitute Dominic Samuel, who was booked for a foul within 30 seconds of the restart, and Bradley Dack, who followed into referee Charles Breakspear’s notebook for deliberate handball.
Rovers, though, relentlessly pressed forward, probing away for an opportunity which nearly arrived when captain Elliott Bennett’s deep diagonal ball into the penalty area was headed goalwards by Samuel. Again, it was no issue for Matthews.
Before the hour, Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray played out his hand with a double substitution, introducing Joe Nuttall and Corry Evans.
Their search for a goal naturally left holes for Argyle to exploit, going forward, and Jamie Ness’s ball into space behind the back four saw Sarcevic just win a race to the dropping delivery ahead of Raya.
However, the goalkeeper forced him wide enough to deal with the danger and, when Sarcevic retrieved the ball and laid it back to complete possibly the most protracted one-two in Home Park history, Ness’s shot was only just off target.
The direction of travel was one-way enough for Argyle to enact a tactical change, though, and on came Songo’o and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair for Fox and Lameiras. Songo’o’s impact was nearly immediate as he just failed to get his head to a Carey free-kick from the left.
Songo’o was soon back to doing what he does best, dogging away with his disciplined team-mates as Argyle dug in for the duration, seeing out the game without any undue concern.
Argyle (4-3-3): 34 Remi Matthews; 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 24 David Fox (4 Yann Songo'o 70), 6 Jamie Ness; 11 Ruben Lameiras (17 Aaron Taylor-Sinclair 70) 19 Ryan Taylor, 10 Graham Carey (16 Joel Grant 88). Substitutes (not used): 8 Lionel Ainsworth, 9 Simon Church, 14 Moses Makasi, 31 Michael Cooper (gk).
Blackburn Rovers (4-2-3-1): 1 David Raya; 2 Ryan Nyambe, 25 Paul Downing, 3 Derrick Williams, 17 Amari'i Bell; 31 Elliott Bennett (capt), 6 Richard Smallwood (29 Corry Evans 58); 18 Adam Armstrong, 23 Bradley Dack, 32 Craig Conway (38 Joe Nuttall 58); 10 Danny Graham (9 Dominic Samuel half-time). Substitutes (not used): 13 Jayson Leutwiler (gk), 16 Paul Caddis, 35 Lewis Travis.
Booked: Samuel 46, Dack 47, Bennett 75.
Referee: Charles Breakspear.
Attendance: 11,801 (1,226 away).