Accrington Stanley 5
Kee pen 20, McConville 36, 43, 51, Armstrong 66
Rodgers og 90
WITH one match of the Sky Bet League One season to go, we know at least two things about Argyle’s destiny: it is still to be decided, and it is no longer entirely in their own hands.
Defeat at the Wham Stadium, where they were initially undone by two set-piece strikes – a penalty by Billy Kee and a deflected free-kick from Sean McConville – leaves them inside the bottom four relegation places going into next Saturday’s home game with Scunthorpe United, who also need to win that contest to have a chance of surviving the drop.
Because of Argyle’s large negative goal-difference, realistically, three other clubs remain in the dogfight to avoid the drop – AFC Wimbleon, Southend and Walsall – and only two can extricate themselves from it. There are many permutations remaining but Argyle will have to look after themselves on May 4 and hope their rivals at the wrong end of the table do them a favour.
The Pilgrims arrived at the Wham Stadium in good heart but troubled by injuries, including to some in the starting 11 who have been playing through the pain barrier for some time.
The score, which did nothing for the Pilgrims’ goal-difference, was somewhat freakish, based on the balance of play, but Accrington made the most of their breaks for the first two goals to kick on. McConville added two more sweet counter-attack goals, either side of half-time, to complete his hat-trick, and Luke Armstrong joined the party midway through the second half.
An injury-time own goal for the Pilgrims by Harvey Rodgers was the absolute definition of ‘meaningless consolation.'
Argyle had made two changes to their starting 11 from the side that lost 3-0 to Barnsley at Home Park on Easter Monday, with Matt Macey and Jamie Ness returning to the starting 11.
Goalkeeper Macey, who made his EFL debut during a four-game loan spell at Accrington in 2015, replaced the injured Kyle Letheren, with first-year professional Mike Cooper coming on to the bench.
Ness took over from Ruben Lameiras in midfield, with the boggy state of the Wham Stadium pitch almost certainly a contributory factor in the selection.
Striker Freddie Ladapo, who had trained only lightly in the days leading up to the game, returned from injury as substitute, leaving Ryan Taylor as the Pilgrims’ main option up front.
Accrington, whose surprise 2-1 win at Doncaster the previous Tuesday had all but guaranteed League One safety, made one change, up front, where Armstrong replaced one of the goalscorers at the Keepmoat, Paul Smyth.
Veteran Tony Warner, goalkeeping coach at the Wham Stadium these days, was again named as replacement custodian.
Argyle, with Fox withdrawn behind a four-man midfield, elected to play up the slope and against the wind in the first half and it soon became clear this was not a day for too much football of finesse.
There may have been nerves on the terraces and back home in the Westcountry but, on the pitch, Argyle settled to their task and created the first chance of note when Ness teased his way to the bye-line and crossed for Yann Songo’o to head just over.
Ness enjoyed a storming start to the game, rampaging forward in a manner redolent of David Friio in his pomp, and came close to making a breakthrough when he seized on Taylor’s flick-on to drive into the box, brush off a challenge and fire off a shot that forced a save out of goalkeeper Jonny Maxted.
Accrington had offered no threat when they were handed an opportunity to take the lead after former Argyle trialist Jordan Clark was a fraction of a second quicker than Ness to a ball played into the penalty area. After the inevitable collision, referee Craig Hicks awarded a penalty that Kee converted.
The concession seemed to knock Argyle out of their stride, for they were certainly and suddenly on the back foot as Accrington, aided by the considerable wind at their backs, worth an extra 10-20 yards, sought a second.
Argyle almost got back into it after half an hour, with Songo’o and Graham Carey both sending in shots on Maxted’s goal that cleared the bar.
Immediately, Accrington extended their lead in not dissimilar circumstances. Gary Sawyer was penalised for a foul on McConville on the edge of the penalty area after being beaten to the ball by a fraction of a second. McConville’s free-kick took a massive deflection off the defensive wall, wrong-footing the unlucky Macey.
Accrington’s third arrived just before half-time, and a lovely goal it was, too, as they took advantage of Argyle pushing up to sweep quickly from their defensive end to Argyle’s penalty area, with McConville finishing off the move.
The Pilgrims showed enough heart to create an opportunity before half-time, with Carey crossing to the far-post, where Oscar Threlkeld’s header was blocked on its way to goal.
Needing to chase the game and then some, Argyle introduced Lameiras and Ladapo at half-time, withdrawing David Fox and Ness, and immediately went on the attack. After winning a corner, Carey’s delivery found Songo’o at the far post for an on-target header that Maxted pouched.
Just like the first half, Argyle had plenty of the ball and looked threatening, only to be undone the first time that Accrington ventured forward, McConville, making the most of the space afforded him, sent in a perfect curled shot past Macey for a third goal in 14 minutes.
Still the Pilgrims did not lie down and Carey came close to mimicking McConville’s hat-trick goal with a shot that drifted just wide of the post. Meanwhile, at the back, there was no little passion shown as bodies went on the line to keep Accrington at arm’s length.
The strange pattern of the match continued, with Argyle dominating possession and field-placing but being picked off ruthlessly by the home side, such as when Armstrong added a fifth midway through the second half.
Like Weebles, Argyle bounced up, and Ryan Edwards saw his powerful downward header cleared off the goal-line; Carey saw a free-kick saved by Maxted; and Ladapo had a shot deflected off target.
Then, in injury-time, something – small, and inconsequential – to celebrate for the 800-plus Green Army at the Wham Stadium, an own goal by substitute Rodgers.
Accrington Stanley (4-4-2): 1 Jonny Maxted; 4 Janoi Donacien (12 Danny Williams 80), 15 Ross Sykes (18 Harvey Rodgers half-time), 3 Mark Hughes, 5 Ben Richards-Everton; 7 Jordan Clark, 26 Daniel Barlaser, 28 Seamus Conneely (capt), 11 Sean McConville; 39 Luke Armstrong, 29 Billy Kee (38 Paul Smyth 79). Substitutes (not used): 6 Liam Nolan, 9 Offrande Zanzala, 17 Erico Sousa, 34 Tony Warner (gk).
Argyle (4-1-4-1): 1 Matt Macey; 26 Oscar Threlkeld, 5 Ryan Edwards, 20 Lloyd Jones, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 8 David Fox (19 Freddie Ladapo, half-time); 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 4 Yann Songo’o, 6 Jamie Ness (11 Ruben Lameiras half-time), 10 Graham Carey; 9 Ryan Taylor (29 Alex Fletcher 85). Substitutes (not used): 14 Niall Canavan, 13 Paul Anderson, 23 Ashley Smith-Brown, 31 Mike Cooper (gk).
Referee: Craig Hicks.
Attendance: 3,134 (825 away).