MK Dons 1
A FAMILIAR mix of encouraging signs but fatal flaws saw Argyle's losing run extend to three games.
When analysed, one can find another Pilgrims performance filled with endeavour, heart and courage, with an admirable never-say-die attitude.
On the surface, though, it is a defeat without scoring, with a canny League One side on hand to capitalise on Argyle failing to convert pressure into goals.
Aidan Nesbitt scored an early goal for MK Dons, which would turn out to be their winner, and Argyle's cause was hardly helped by the 33rd minute dismissal of Graham Carey. That said, although the playmaker's indiscretion was a poor tackle, the red card he got for it seemed on the harsh side.
A man down, Argyle still dominated the play, but were kept at arms length from finding a precious equaliser.
Derek Adams named an unchanged starting 11 from the team that had lost at Walsall the previous Saturday. On that occasion, as so often this season, the Pilgrims had started very brightly, lost a goal against the run of play, then found matters difficult.
Perhaps a more positive sign going in to this game was that Milton Keynes' season to this point had mimicked Argyle's: one win, one draw, three defeats, four games out of five conceding the first goal.
Argyle did start the brighter of the sides, from the opening whistle. With the strong wind at their backs, Joel Grant's press down the left led to a half-clearance falling to David Fox, who shot over from long range. Soon after, Graham Carey won a free-kick, which he slid to Jake Jervis in a neat move, but the latter fired far too high.
It was the visitors, though, that shrugged off their albatross the quicker, scoring in the ninth minute of the game, from their first real attack. Right back Callum Britain advanced down the flank, and cut inside Grant. Britain's cross to the far post evaded all but Aidan Nesbitt, who controlled and slotted home via a glance off of the near post.
Carey sent another rasping long-ranger over the bar in a move that probably purged a small amount of pent up frustration, before the biggest blow to the Dons to this point came in the form of an injury that caused Ed Upson to limp off, replaced by Conor McGrandles on 16 minutes.
Excellent work by Carey - and decent refereeing by Charles Breakspear allowing play to go on as Carey was fouled - saw Ciftci have an effort blocked, then Sawyer's follow-up was deflected wide.
Carey was soon at it again, evading challenges on the left-flank, but his cut-back found only a red shirt.
On the subject of cut-backs, Milton Keynes nearly got it right, when Scott Golbourne beat the offside trap on the left wing, and set the ball back well to Gboly Ariyibi. His scuffed shot looked like it would be turned home by Osman Sow, but the forward realised he was in an offside position, let the ball run, and it trickled wide.
At the other end, Ciftci was squashed by a challenge by George Williams, but the Turk picked himself up to strike a gorgeous 25-yard free-kick against the crossbar, with goalkeeper Lee Nicholls beaten.
He was not the only number 9 showing long-distance prowess, though, Sow let rip from a long way out. Luke McCormick watched it comfortably wide, but the shot was powerfully struck, for sure.
Getting a sense of deja vu? Argyle playing well, punished by a rare attack, but unable to get back into the game? How about the sending off of an influential midfielder, just like two weeks ago?
After Antoni Sarcevic's red card against Scunthorpe at Home Park, two games previous, with the score at 0-1, this time it was a red card for Carey that put Argyle a man down, and a goal down.
Carey saw red after he had been nudged in the back by Ousseynou Cisse and chased the loose ball, which had fallen for Ariyibi. His tackle was, at worst, mistimed, and not at all malicious.
A red card? One feels that more times than not, a referee would have decided a yellow card would be sufficient.
So Argyle were forced to knuckle down and try to play themselves into the game better than they had against Scunthorpe. Against the Iron, Argyle barely broke stride, continued to apply pressure on Scunthorpe, but could not really land a glove, and eventually tired, losing 4-0.
Dons had little of the ball after Carey's dismissal. Argyle, often with Grant as a danger man, continued to press. In fact it was MK who almost let it slide; slack marking and a malfunctioning offside trap let Ciftci get beyond the defence, but a combination of alert keeping by Nicholls and an underhit chip saved Dons from going into the interval on level terms. At least goal-wise.
After the break, Ryan Edwards picked up a quick booking for a trip, before Ariyibi sent a curling shot not far wide.
The industrious Grant was the first to show for Argyle in the second half, getting released down the left, driving forwards, performing a few stepovers, then shooting on goal. Sadly, the weakest of the four steps above was the last, and Nicholls gratefully gathered the shot.
Edwards headed a free-kick not far wide, although Nicholls was never panicked by it, as Argyle continued to show healthy signs of life. However, Grant's caution for a needlessly late tackle was a blot on an otherwise eye-catching afternoon for the Argyle winger.
Which is why it felt that bit more agonising when Grant shot over the bar when in a glorious position to equalise. Argyle had a free-kick, central and 40 yards out, which it seemed Jamie Ness would flick into the area. Instead, he went short, to David Fox, who slid Grant in between defenders. It was, frankly, easier to score, but Joel got his angles wrong, and curled into the Devonport end.
Adams was already about to make two changes, bringing off Jake Jervis and Ciftci, with Lionel Ainsworth and Alex Fletcher coming on. Teenager Fletcher nearly told another fairy-tale story, getting a diving header on to a sumptuous Gary Sawyer cross, but seeing it fly just over.
Dons replaced Sow with Robbie Muirhead, and Argyle brought on Ruben Lameiras for Gary Miller. For the visitors, it was replacing a forward with fresh legs. For Argyle a right back, and an attacking player on.
Argyle continued to push. Ainsworth's left-wing corner was glanced on by Sonny Bradley, but fell wide. By the time six minutes of injury time had been signalled, Bradley was an auxillary front-man, and nodded down to Lameiras, who fired over.
The stoppage time was played almost exclusively in Milton Keynes territory, but no equaliser could be found.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller (11 Ruben Lameiras 80), 5 Ryan Edwards, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 24 David Fox, 6 Jamie Ness; 14 Jake Jervis (8 Lionel Ainsworth 69), 10 Graham Carey, 16 Joel Grant; 9 Nadir Ciftci (27 Alex Fletcher 69). Substitutes (not used): 1 Robbert te Loeke (gk), 4 Yann Songo'o, 13 Nathan Blissett, 21 Gregg Wylde.
Sent Off: Carey 33.
Booked: Edwards 48, Grant 63, Lameiras 90.
MK Dons (4-3-3): 1 Lee Nicholls, 25 Callum Britain, 2 George Williams (capt), 5 Scott Wootton, 2 Scott Golbourne; 6 Ed Upson (18 Conor McGrandles 16), 8 Ousseynoy Cisse, 26 Alex Gilbey; 7 Gboly Ariyibi, 9 Osman Sow (16 Robbie Muirhead 77), 21 Aiden Nesbitt (14 Kieran Agard 83). Substitutes (not used): 3 Dean Lewington, 13 Wieger Sietsma (gk), 15 Ryan Seager, 31 Brandon Thomas-Asante.
Booked: Williams 68, Sow 73, Muirhead 82, Cisse 90.
Referee: Charles Breakspear.
Attendance: 8,566 (211).