McGeady 53, pen 78
TWO goals from Aiden McGeady – the first piece of individual skill; the second a penalty which was at least debateable – left the Black Cats purring and Argyle spitting.
McGeady, a man who, remember, was transferred for £9.5m not too long ago, opened the scoring early in the second half, after a tight and even first 45 minutes, with a quality solo strike.
Argyle came straight back and deserved more than to find Black Cats’ goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin in impassable form before their momentum was halted by a McGeady penalty 12 minutes from full-time.
Argyle had reverted to the line-up that paved the way to a 4-1 Sky Bet League One victory at Scunthorpe United seven days earlier after manager Derek Adams rested five players for the midweek Checkatrade Trophy tie against Chelsea Under-21s Home Park.
The quintet – goalkeeper Matt Macey, defender Conor Grant, and forwards Graham Carey, Joel Grant and Freddie Ladapo – all returned as the Pilgrims fielded the same opening 11 for the third successive league match.
Joel and Ladapo had both scored in the impressive victory at Glanford Park, with Ladapo notching for a third successive match to emulate a feat last achieved by Reuben Reid five years earlier.
The only change was on the substitutes' bench, where Calum Dyson replaced the injured Gregg Wylde.
After a cagey opening quarter in which neither goalkeeper was tasked with anything more than fielding pass-backs, the game was sparked into life by a long-range shot from opposition midfielder Chris Maguire that Matt Macey had to go full length to touch away for a corner.
The shot across the bows of the good ship Pilgrim galvanised Argyle into an immediate response as their quick, fluid, pass-and-move game clicked through the gears.
Joel Grant’s twinkling feet saw him reach the bye-line on the left-hand side before he tried a shot from an acute angle that McLaughlin did well to keep out at his near post.
A little later, Jamie Ness trod the same path, with only slightly less shimmer, and crossed low and hard into the danger area, from where Sunderland cleared.
Having tried the flanks, Argyle’s next incursion came straight down the middle, with Ladapo latching on to a ball over the top and running from halfway with only centre-back Tom Flanagan for company.
The defender, who generally looked a lot more composed than the kitten-nervous youngster who played four times for the Pilgrims on loan from Milton Keynes nearly five years ago, won the race and prevented the division’s most in-form striker from getting off a shot.
At least Argyle were succeeding in getting near to their opponents’ goal. For all their undoubted talent and obvious enterprise, Sunderland were kept largely at arms’ length by the Pilgrims’ front-to-back defending.
Not that arms’ length was a totally safe range for Argyle as the Black Cats’ fondness for shooting from distance saw Macey again tested, this time by Lynden Gooch, whose shot he tipped effortlessly over the crossbar.
The Pilgrims’ control was wrested from them eight minutes after half-time, when McGeady produced the something special you always felt it would take to unlock the defence, the mood that they were in.
There seemed little danger when the winger got the ball wide on the right, nor even when he cut inside; there appeared enough of a green screen to snuff out the danger. However, McGeady kept the ball, rode his way across the top of the penalty area, and loosed off a shot back across Macey that gave the goalkeeper no chance.
Argyle’s response was superb.
Firstly, Adam Matthews kept the Black Cats’ goal intact by clearing Yann Songo’o’s header from Graham Carey’s corner off the line.
Then, after Flanagan had followed Dylan McGeouch into referee Carl Boyeson’s notebook inside a minute, Carey curled in a free-kick that was destined to be the leveller until McLaughlin dived to turn the ball around the post.
More still. Ladapo, looking to become the first Pilgrim to score in four successive league games for more than nine years, spun in the area and shot. He, too, found McLaughlin unbeatable.
The search for the equaliser continued with a relentlessness that looked likely to deliver. Then, the buoyancy was taken out of the Pilgrims by a harsh penalty call from Boyeson after Tafari Moore and Gooch tangled on the left.
McGeady stepped up and sent Macey the wrong way.
That was, effectively, that. A shame that the Pilgrims were prevented from attempting to get something – something that their efforts inarguably deserved – not by a piece of skill that had hallmarked McGeady’s first goal, but by the disputable opinion emanating from the man in the middle.
The sense of injustice was more keenly felt still when Ladapo’s subsequent shot was blocked by Flanagan with what looked like an arm. A penalty would have been hard on Sunderland, though, and especially Flanagan, whose return to Home Park was an impressive one.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 1 Matt Macey; 22 Tafari Moore, 4 Yann Songo'o, 14 Niall Canavan, 15 Conor Grant; 8 David Fox (capt, 11 Ruben Lameiras 73), 6 Jamie Ness; 10 Graham Carey, 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 16 Joel Grant; 19 Freddie Ladapo. Substitutes (not used): 13 Stuart O’Keefe, 18 Calum Dyson, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 23 Ashley Smith-Brown, 24 Peter Grant, 35 Luke Jephcott.
Booked: Sarcevic 49, Joel Grant 79.
Sunderland (4-2-3-1): 1 Jon McLaughlin; 2 Adam Matthews, 12 Tom Flanagan, 15 Jack Baldwin, 16 Reece James; 8 Dylan McGeouch, 10 George Honeyman (capt); 19 Aiden McGeady; 7 Chris Maguire (13 Luke O'Nien 75), 11 Lynden Gooch (37 Bali Mumba 88); 20 Josh Maja (17 Jerome Sinclair 73). Substitutes (not used): 4 Glenn Loovens, 5 Alim Ozturk, 25 Robbin Ruiter (gk), 48 Benjamin Mbunga-Kimpioka.
Booked: McGeouch 60, Flanagan 61, O’Nien 84.
Referee: Carl Boyeson.
Attendance: 12,065 (1,305 away).