Accrington Stanley 3
Finley 61, McConville 65, Clark 77
ARGYLE’s frustratingly stop-start season continued, as they followed up last week’s encouraging victory at Rochdale with a disappointing 0-3 loss at home to Accrington Stanley, despite dominating for significant portions of the match, particularly in the first half.
The visitors had been on a winless run of seven matches, but goals from Sam Finley, Sean McConville and Jordan Clark were enough to ensure that Argyle’s Christmas got off to a cheerless start.
Derek Adams saw no reason to change a winning team, retaining the same starting XI that had only just finished thawing out after their stint in the Rochdale deep-freeze last weekend. That meant a home debut for academy product Luke Jephcott in a tweaked 4-2-3-1 formation (not quite Terry Venables’ Christmas tree, but then, it’s not quite Christmas).
On the bench, Ruben Lameiras returned after illness to replace the injured Jamie Ness, while Tom Purrington took the place of Lionel Ainsworth.
Having flown out of the traps following their promotion from Sky Bet League Two, Stanley’s season had been in danger of getting into another fine mess, having failed to win in the league since October 20th. Even so, manager John Coleman made just the one change to his starting line-up from their 3-0 defeat at Southend, promoting Seamus Conneely from the bench to swap places with Offrande Zanzala.
A very open start to the game saw Freddie Ladapo test Connor Ripley in the visitors’ goal, while Argyle were indebted to Gary Sawyer’s fearless block of a fierce Clark drive.
Clark was then on the wrong end of a sliding tackle from David Fox that earned the Argyle midfielder a yellow card, but from the resultant free kick, it was the home side that almost broke the deadlock. A good advantage by referee Kevin Johnson after a clear foul on Jephcott as he cleared the ball enabled Argyle to break away, and Ladapo almost found Graham Carey arriving late at the far post.
The chances kept coming. Sean McConville’s clever lobbed-volley might have defeated a lesser (and shorter) ‘keeper than Matt Macey, and a defender less intrepid than Nick Anderton might have flinched at putting his head in the way of a Carey blaster.
The closest either side came in the first quarter was a superb curling 25-yarder from McConville that this time had the beating of Macey, but not the crossbar. The fact that the shot came in the wake of a hotly-disputed corner could have proved a talking point if the ball had been two inches lower.
Stanley threatened again when Clark was through one-on-one with Macey, but the Argyle ‘keeper was equal to the challenge. From the rebound, an opener for the visitors looked a certainty, but that was to reckon without the indomitable Yann Songo’o, who produced a sensational block.
The diminutive pair of Finley and Clark were a constant menace for the visitors with their pace and directness, but the same could also be said of Carey for Argyle, who induced panic in the visitors’ rearguard every time he received the ball.
Ladapo almost broke free following that rarity in the modern game – a contested drop-ball – and Songo’o had the ball in the net from the resultant corner, but the whistle had gone well before for a push by Sawyer. Fox even attempted to lob Ripley from inside the centre circle and Ladapo was inches away from the opener with a curled effort that just cleared the crossbar as an absorbing half came to a close.
The restart saw more of the same, with Jephcott clipping the post within the first minute, after a tenacious run by Joel Grant. Multiple corners and two minutes of mayhem in the Stanley penalty area ensued, but finished product came there none.
Even Ashley Smith-Brown tried his luck with a 25-yarder that was deflected behind.
However, this was far from attack v defence. McConville tested Macey again, Anderton saw his well-struck effort blocked and McConville’s superb low cross found no takers, as Stanley sensed that they were still well in the game.
Lameiras replaced Grant on the hour mark as Argyle looked for a way to get their noses in front, but before the substitute had had time to touch the ball, a cross from Callum Johnson on the right was flicked on at the near post, and Finley was able to head home unchallenged at the far.
Within five minutes, the lead was doubled and the match turned on its head. McConville was released in the inside-left channel, and from almost the exact spot from which Ladapo had missed in the first half, he made no mistake with his curler into the far corner.
The goal prompted Adams to change personnel again, with Ryan Taylor replacing Ladapo in a like-for-like swap. Almost immediately, the substitute managed an on-target effort, but with insufficient power to threaten an immediate reply.
Lameiras fired over the bar from close range after being perfectly set up by Antoni Sarcevic, and then had a goalbound effort deflected wide as he sought to make immediate amends.
Carey almost pulled out one of his specials, but Ripley flung himself to his right to save, then in the twinkling of an eye, Stanley broke away, Clark was facing Macey one-on-one and he didn’t blink.
From being the better side, Argyle were suddenly three goals adrift in the space of quarter of an hour.
Despite further attempts by Jephcott, Taylor and Lameiras, Argyle could not reduce the arrears, leaving all present scratching their heads at the way the second half had unfolded.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 1 Matt Macey; 2 Joe Riley, 4 Yann Songo'o, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt), 23 Ashley Smith-Brown; 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 David Fox; 35 Luke Jephcott, 10 Graham Carey, 16 Joel Grant (11 Ruben Lameiras 60); 19 Freddie Ladapo (9 Ryan Taylor 66). Substitutes (not used): 5 Ryan Edwards, 20 Gregg Wylde, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 22 Tafari Moore, 42 Tom Purrington.
Booked: Fox 8.
Accrington Stanley (4-5-1):30 Connor Ripley; 2 Callum Johnson, 3 Mark Hughes, 4 Michael Ihiekwe, 24 Nick Anderton; 7 Jordan Clark, 14 Sam Finley, 26 Daniel Barlaser (8 Scott Brown 85), 11 Sean McConville, 28 Seamus Conneely; 29 Billy Kee Substitutes (not used): 1 Jonny Maxted (GK), 5 Ben Richards-Everton, , 9 Offrande Zanzala, 10 Connor Hall, 15 Ross Sykes, 22 Piero Mingoia.
Booked: Hughes 21, Conneely 25, Barlaser 81.
Referee: Kevin Johnson.
Attendance: 10,193 (102 away).