Fleetwood Town 2
Hiwula 63, Bell 90
ARGYLE’S tough introduction to life in Sky Bet League One continued against last season’s play-off semi-finalists.
The Pilgrims did not do much wrong in their fifth successive home defeat – in fact, they did a whole lot right – but they were ruthlessly punished for the slightest of slips.
Midway through the second half of an even contest, former Fleetwood man Antoni Sarcevic missed his footing 25 yards from his goal on a surface greased by hours of drizzle. Bobby Grant was on the loose in a flash and he fed Jordy Hiwula to score with ease.
A late strike by Amari’i Bell deep into stoppage-time, as Argyle were gamely chasing a leveler, was brutal and undeserved.
The Pilgrims soldiered on and scored an even later goal which will be remembered for being the first of many League goals from substitute Alex Fletcher.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had talked a lot about continuity in the build-up to the game: continuity of selection was what prompted him, in midweek against Exeter City in the Checkatrade Trophy, to field 10 of the 11 that had lost at Bristol Rovers the previous Saturday, and the continuity theme continued against Fleetwood, with the same 10 again on duty.
The one position that varied in all three matches was right-back. Gary Miller was sent off playing that role at Bristol, and subsequently suspended; Jakub Sokolik, normally a centre-back, had given it a go against Exeter but found the demands of an unfamiliar position taxing; and Oscar Threlkeld was recalled for his first home appearance of the season to face Fleetwood.
Threlkeld had been hors de combat since fracturing his tibia in early August’s Carabao Cup tie at Bristol City and it was possibly an indication of how necessary his return was deemed that he lined up without so much as a minute of an enlivening non first-team game. Needs must when the Derek drives.
Gregg Wylde had been missing from the starting line-up nearly as long as Threlkeld when he was selected at Bristol Rovers a week previously but his good form since was another thread of continuity as he strode forward and fired off a 25-yard shot that was dipping under Fleetwood goalkeeper Alex Cairns’ cross bar before the custodian’s timely intervention.
There had been suggestions that Graham Carey may not pass muster after being munched by Troy Archibald-Henville in the midweek derby, but he was able to continue and was pretty soon at the heart of another good Argyle attack, picking up an astute Jamie Ness pass and crossing to the near post where Nathan Blissett was just shepherded away by Ashley Eastham.
With Fleetwood lining up 3-5-2, while Argyle enjoyed decent possession in the centre, their opponents’ early threat came down the flanks. Joint-leading scorer Ryan Edwards showed that there is more to his game than goals with some vital interceptions as the crosses came flying in. Yann Songo’o, too, made sure his radar was working.
Not everything Carey did met with approval. After the Irishman went to round twice in quick succession, Fleetwood manager Uwe Rossler strode towards the fourth official, shaking a hand which, in his imagination, held a card.
Edwards’ intervention policy continued when Hiwula snuck in behind the Argyle defence and poked the ball past Kyle Letheren. The Argyle defender’s huge gait got him to the ball just before the ball got to the goal-line.
Something other than Edwards’ heroics displeased Rossler, however, and this preceded a lively touchline debate involving the two managers and the fourth official, the latter of who probably contributed the least.
Unfortunately, Threlkeld, who had put himself about in his usual all-action style in the first half, failed to make it for the second, and so a fourth right-back in three games was required. Step up, skipper. Gary Sawyer switched from left-back with Aaron Taylor-Sinclair coming on for his Argyle EFL debut.
The Pilgrims attacked the Devonport end with purpose and won a free-kick when one-time Town hero Antoni Sarvcevic skipped away from the already booked George Glendon. Carey’s left-footer was heading in before Cairns’ flying save denied him.
Most of what was happening either went through Carey or went on around him in the Argyle midfield, which looked as comfortable as they had in any game this season. Ironic, then, that the Fleetwood goal should come from an unforced error.
A slip by Sarcevic – not even that, half a slip, really – and Fleetwood latched on the unexpected opportunity. Grant fed Hiwula, who finished well against an exposed Letheren.
Before the restart, Argyle sent on Ruben Lameiras for Jake Jervis. The Pilgrims were winded and it showed but they soon found a second breath and went seeking an equalizer for the fifth time in a week.
Fleetwood, though, gave them few opportunities to even find a position which they could attempt to exploit, even though young Fletcher was sent on to boost the forward line.
Fletcher opened his EFL account with virtually the last touch of the game, by which time the Pilgrims had paid the price for seeking the equalizer by being exposed to a late counter attack that Bell maxed.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 25 Kyle Letheren; 18 Oscar Threlkeld (17 Aaron Taylor-Sinclair half-time), 5 Ryan Edwards, 4 Yann Songo’o, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 7 Antoni Sarcevic (27 Alex Fletcher 83), 6 Jamie Ness; 14 Jake Jervis (11 Ruben Lamieras 64), 10 Graham Carey, 21 Gregg Wylde; 13 Nathan Blissett. Substitutes (not used): 9 Nadir Ciftci, 16 Joel Grant, 24 David Fox, 31 Michael Cooper (gk).
Fleetwood Town (3-5-2): 21 Alex Cairns; 6 Nathan Pond (capt); 12 Cian Bolger, 5 Ashley Eastham; 2 Lewie Coyle, 8 Kyle Dempsey, 11 Bobby Grant, 18 George Glendon (4 Aiden O'Neill 55), 3 Amari'i Bell; 44 Devante Cole, 7 Jordi Hiwula (9 Wes Burns 76). Substitutes (not used): 1 Chris Neal (gk), 22 Ashley Hunter, 23 Marcus Schwabl, 28 Jack Sowerby, 38 Baily Cargill.
Booked: Glendon 42, Pond 60, Bolger 68, Dempsey 75.
Referee: Craig Hicks.
Attendance: 8,064 (139 away).