Coventry City 1
Bakayoko pen 43
IF the Argyle theme of the early part of last season was Red Cards, then this campaign’s developing motif is Penalties.
Amadou Bakayoko’s spot-kick just before half-time which secured victory for Coventry City completed a Pilgrims’ hat-trick of having conceded a penalty in each of their opening three Sky Bet League One matches.
All three have resulted in goals – two scored directly, including Bakayoko’s – and have arguably cost Argyle four points, even though they have scored a penalty themselves.
Not that 2017-18’s malaise has disappeared altogether. The Pilgrims had to play the last half-hour, and then some, at the Ricoh with ten men after captain Jamie Ness was dismissed for two bookable offences.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had named the same starting 11 – and, indeed, substitutes – that had served so well in the previous Tuesday's Carabao Cup giantkilling at Bristol City: Ness skippered the Pilgrims for the first time in a league game; Niall Canavan made his Argyle league debut; and Freddie Lapado made his first league start for the Greens.
The knock-on effect from that was that the Pilgrims fielded one of their strongest benches for years, including club captain Gary Sawyer and last season's Player of the Season runner-up David Fox; Ryans Taylor and Edwards; former Coventry Johnstone's Paint Trophy winner Ruben Lameiras; Gregg Wylde and Kyle Letheren.
The home side brought back four players that had missed their midweek cup defeat at Oxford United: captain Michael Doyle – who, Adams had revealed earlier in the week, had once been a transfer target of the Argyle manager; French playmaker Tony Andreu; Brandon Mason and Jordan Willis, one of four Jordans in a City squad that also included a Jordy. Sky Blue training sessions must be fun.
It was Andreu who had the game’s first shot on target, a low dive easily pouched by Matt Macey, after 15 minutes. That is not to say that Argyle had been dilatory in the opening sixth of the match, patiently putting together some slick passing moves, the best of which ended with the overlapping Tafari Moore putting in a cross that promised much more than that which eventually resulted.
Largely, though, the game settled into a battle for midfield supremacy with both sides enjoying moments of one-upmanship but neither wresting more momentary control.
Another 15 minutes passed before the match’s second meaningful shot on target. This time, Andreu was the provider, threading a pass behind Argyle’s previously impenetrable defence for Bakayoko to try to divert the ball past Macey. The Argyle No.1’s quick reaction and long left leg combined to see out the attempt.
Argyle responded with another of those pass-and-move moves which involved half the team taking half a minute to go halfway up the pitch and ended with Coventry blocking a halfway decent strike from Graham Carey.
Not for the first time this season, the hard work and discipline was undone by a referee pointing to the penalty spot. This time, Darren Drysdale took his time before deciding that Carey’s challenge on Jordy Hiwula was (a) a foul; and (b) inside the penalty area.
Carey received a yellow card; Bakayoko stepped up; Macey guessed right. However, the shot was so well placed into the corner of the goal that the ball just evaded his dive.
Lameiras replaced Conor Grant at half-time, starting the second period playing off Ladapo as Argyle rejigged their shape to some more approximate to their hosts’ 4-2-3-1.
They started well, too, with Ladapo snatching at a half-chance and sending the ball over the crossbar and that was followed soon afterwards by a deflected shot from the clearly pumped-up Lameiras which required the attention of City goalkeeper Liam O’Brien.
Taylor was introduced in the 53rd minute, and received treatment for a knock on his ankle before last season’s familiar Achilles heel resurfaced when Ness instinctively shot out a hand, as the ball passed him, making the merest contact. Already booked for a foul, after having unsuccessfully attempted to prevent a Coventry breakaway, he was shown on his way by Drysdale.
Carey took the captain’s armband and adopted a more central role as Argyle attempted to chase the game with ten men, one of which soon became Fox, in place of Songo’o.
If Argyle’s indiscipline had cost them a team member, Coventry’s threatened to cost them their lead – pursuing an unnecessary second goal, they left big spaces which the Pilgrims were not slow in trying to exploit and Ladapo found space for a shot which was blocked before Fox forced O’Brien to save at his near post.
A couple of substitutions later, Coventry reverted to defending deep and, better organised, coped with Argyle’s Lameiras-prompted incursions as the ten man fared better than the full complement had in the first half.
Still, though, the breakthrough would not come as the Greens failed to enjoy the rub of the green in a more frantic final ten minutes.
Macey saved well from substitute Jordan Shipley, twice, either side of Drysdale booking Taylor for diving in the penalty area.
Shipley’s flicked lob, when clean through on to Luke Thomas’s pass, cleared Macey but, almost inevitably, went over the crossbar, too.
Argyle were therefore left to reflect on a start to the season which has seen them claim one point from three games in which they have not conceded a goal from open play.
Coventry City (4-2-3-1): 13 Liam O'Brien; 17 Dujon Sterling, 15 Dominic Hyam, 4 Jordan Wills, 3 Brandon Mason; 8 Michael Doyle (capt), 16 Abu Ogogo; 20 Tom Bayliss, 22 Tony Andreu (23 Luke Thomas 73), 11 Jordy Hiwula (26 Jordan Shipley 80); 21 Amadou Bakayoko (9 Maxime Biamou 73). Substitutes (not used): 1 Lee Burge (gk), 2 Jack Grimmer, 19 Jordan Ponticelli, 27 Jordan Thompson.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Matt Macey; 22 Tafari Moore, 25 Scott Wootton, 14 Niall Canavan, 23 Ashley Smith-Brown; 15 Conor Grant (11 Ruben Lameiras half-time), 4 Yann Songo’o (8 David Fox 71), 6 Jamie Ness (capt); 10 Graham Carey, 18 Freddie Ladapo, 16 Joel Grant (9 Ryan Taylor 53). Substitutes (not used): 3 Gary Sawyer, 5 Ryan Edwards, 20 Gregg Wylde, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk).
Sent off: Ness 58.
Bookings: Ness 32, Carey 42, Taylor 84.
Referee: Darren Drysdale.
Attendance: 11,453 (1,800 away, estimate).