Scunthorpe United 2
Adelakun 32, Toney 60
AFTER 45 often mad, sometimes frustrating, but never, ever, dull games, it has come to this: for Argyle to qualify for the Sky Bet League One play-offs they must win at Gillingham on Saturday; rivals Charlton Athletic must lose to Rochdale at the same time; and there must be at least a six-goal swing towards the Pilgrims in the two sides’ goal difference.
Tuesday night’s defeat at Glanford Park, to goals from Hakeeb Adelakun and Ivan Toney either side of half-time, finally brought the Pilgrims’ 2017-18 destiny into sharp focus.
There will be a big Argyle presence at Priestfield, in the hope of witnessing part of a footballing miracle, for sure, but also to pay tribute to one of the greatest sides ever to wear the Mayflower on their chest. Maybe not the most talented, maybe not the most prolific, but the greatest in terms of heart, belief, character and sheer bloodymindedness. Led by the most bloodyminded manager of all.
If, at the beginning of December, anyone had suggested that Argyle’s season would come down to their final game, most in the Green Army would have bitten that proffered hand off right up to armpit, delighted that the bottom-placed Pilgrims would be still fighting to avoid relegation.
That they managed to haul themselves into the promotion picture and remain there until game 46 is nothing short of astounding.
And worth celebrating.
Argyle had been obliged to make one change to their increasingly anaemic looking side, with midfielder Jamie Ness having been added to those Pilgrims whose season has ended prematurely following his collision with team-mate Aaron Taylor-Sinclair during the previous Saturday’s dramatic 2-1 home win over play-off qualified Rotherham United.
The ever reliable Yann Songo’o, something of a fiddler’s elbow of a choice this season, was called up for his first start for seven matches, and his first in midfield since the 2-2 draw at Blackpool at the end of December.
Scunthorpe, protecting a record of five successive wins over Argyle at Glanford Park, were unchanged, having won their three previous matches without conceding a goal. It is worth remembering that when this game was originally scheduled, on Easter Monday, they were on a ten-match winless run.
The first alarm for Argyle came after some indecision on their left hand side allowed Toney some freedom. Toney broke but could not cash in on the opportunity, with some sterling Pilgrims’ defensive work preceding Adelakun’s wild off-target slash.
Another break in the same area, this time by Toney’s diminutive forward partner Duane Holmes, required goalkeeper Remi Matthews to get down and dirty and signalled the start of a small passage of home-side possession and pressure.
When they did get the ball, Argyle found the Iron’s press restrictive and had to work hard to retain and recycle it. They have never been found wanting in that commodity, though, as the false nine front three of Ruben Lameiras, Graham Carey and Joel Grant sought to open things up for their team-mates.
Basically, though, neither side was getting anywhere until Adelakun picked up the ball midway inside the Argyle half, took a couple of long strides towards the Pilgrims’ goal and let fly with a grubber that beat Matthews’ for pace and snuck inside his right-hand post.
Argyle responded immediately, as if the goal had released them from an obligation towards caution. Carey played a one-two with Grant before firing off a shot that was destined for the top corner until United goalkeeper Matt Gilks flung out an arm to deflect it away.
Scunthorpe broke from the corner, with Holmes setting free Josh Morris in splendid isolation. As Glanford Park rose in anticipation of a killer second goal, Matthews raced from his line to make yet another one-on-one block that is rapidly becoming his signature save.
United with something to hold on to were as daunting a prospect as they had been when they had been seeking for something to hold on to, but Argyle dogged away and occasionally threatened to breach the Iron curtain, most notably when Grant wriggled free and had a shot blocked.
The Pilgrims changed things at the break, obliged to because of more injury concerns. Oscar Threlkeld, who had suffered a blow during the first 45 minutes, was replaced by Gary Miller, and Antoni Sarcevic, who has probably not fully recovered from a groin problem that interrupted his season, gave way to Alex Fletcher.
Now attacking the Green Army in the AMS Stand, Argyle started the second half positively and a raid down the left by Grant led to a goalmouth scramble which eventually saw the ball crash off Fletcher and balloon over the crossbar.
Argyle were clearly not going to die wondering. When they got the ball, they kept it and moved it, pegging Scunthorpe back. Fletcher, in particular, was a thorn in the United side, wriggling free on the right bye-line for a deflected shot, and then volleying over at the opposite post.
Just as it seemed that parity might be possible, Scunthorpe broke and scored a crucial second. Left-back Conor Townsend joined the attack and drove in a cross to which Toney snuck in front of Sonny Bradley to deflect the ball across Matthews and into the corner of the goal.
From that moment, the result never appeared in doubt, and neither did Argyle’s fighting spirit. Matthews saved brilliantly, clawing away a header by Rory McArdle from a corner, and Songo’o cleared Ryan Yates’ effort from the goal-line.
So Scunthorpe claim their place in the play-offs for the second successive season and well done to them.
Argyle’s chances of joining them are about as likely as a team bottom of the division just before Christmas mounting a serious promotion challenge.
It has been wonderfully crazy season for the Pilgrims. Would anyone really, 100%, rule it out from being more wonderfully crazy still?
Scunthorpe United (4-2-3-1): 1 Matt Gilks; 2 Jordan Clarke, 23 Rory McArdle (capt), 5 Murray Wallace, 3 Conor Townsend; 24 Ryan Yates, 6 FunsoOjo; 16 Hakeeb Adelakun,19 Duane Holmes (14 Tom Hopper 90), 11 Josh Morris (26 Cameron McGeehan 85); 9 Ivan Toney. Substitutes (not used): 12 Neal Bishop, 17 Lee Novak, 18 MarnickVermijl, 21 Cameron Burgess, 31 Rory Watson (gk).
Booked: Holmes 45.
Argyle (4-3-3): 34 Remi Matthews; 18 Oscar Threlkeld (2 Gary Miller half-time), 22 Zak Vyner, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 4 Yann Songo’o, 7 Antoni Sarcevic (27 Alex Fletcher half-time), 24 David Fox; 10 Graham Carey, 11 Ruben Lameiras, 16 Joel Grant (8 Lionel Ainsworth69). Substitutes (not used): 17 Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, 25 Kyle Letheren (gk), 33 Cameron Sangster, 36 Dan Rooney.
Referee: Ben Toner.
Attendance: 4,712 (500 away, est.)