Cooper 43, Sarcevic pen 45, Conor Grant 90
THE opening of the new Mayflower Grandstand for an EFL game for the first time was officially a test event, designed, in part at least, to examine the capabilities of the magnificent new addition to the Theatre of Greens.
On the pitch, Argyle passed their own examination by an obdurate, but limited, Morecambe side, providing the 50%- full grandstand with a 100% return in the Pilgrims’ final Sky Bet League Two home game before the tinsel and turkey.
The Shrimps kept in the swim of things up until a few minutes before half-time, after which they were washed away by a Green tide.
George Cooper opened the scoring with a delicious free-kick curled over a defensive wall and away from goalkeeper Mark Halstead’s dive, the set-piece coming after goalbound Dom Telford was fouled by Ritchie Sutton, who was duly dismissed.
Two minutes later, Antoni Sarcevic obtained redemption for his recent unmemorable Memorial Stadium last-minute penalty by converting from 12 yards after Joel Grant had been fouled by Morecambe captain Alex Kenyon.
Morecambe dug in after the break and were finally undone a third time as the game entered time added on, when substitute Conor Grant claimed his second goal of the season.
Argyle went into the game with six players in their starting line-up who could probably reasonably classify themselves as attackers, including Cooper and Byron Moore at left and right wing-back respectively.
Cooper came in for Conor Grant – himself a stand-in for the injured Callum McFadzean at Cambridge United the previous week – while Moore replaced the suspended Joe Edwards.
Moore's place in attack was filled by Joel Grant, who went into the game as one of the Pilgrims’ three joint-leading goalscorers this season on five goals, alongside McFadzean and Sarcevic.
Morecambe, under the tutelage of former Argyle manager Derek Adams, of course, included ex-Pilgrim Lewis Alessandra – who played exactly 100 times for Argyle between 2013-15 – in their initial 11.
As the two sides’ lines-ups and respective league positions indicated might happen, Argyle had Morecambe under the pump form the moment they kicked off, having been turned around to face the Devonport end.
The Shrimps were, not unexpectedly, well organised, though, and threw themselves with commendable appetite into the path of everything that left an Argyle boot bound for goal.
The most notable of the early repulsions was provided by Halstead, who turned around the post Sarcevic’s powerful low, but rising, drive.
Halstead was flat-footed when Mayor then unleased a shot from the edge of the penalty area after Moore’s dangerous cross from the bye-line had been headed half-clear to the Pilgrims’ predatory midfielder.
Argyle continued to stretch their opponents the entire width of Home Park but had less use for the full length of it – when Alex Palmer fielded a pass back midway through the first half, it was about his first meaningful action since the warm-up.
By then, Argyle had already enjoyed 75% possession and won seven corners, with Sarcevic shooting just wide across the goal from distance following one of them. The first 25 minutes of the game must have felt like 225 to Morecambe’s overworked defenders.
Football is rarely one-sided for an entire match, and Morecambe then had a few moments when, unlikely as it had seemed up until then, they came at Argyle with some intent, sparked by Sarcevic’s under-hit pass back to which Palmer just pipped A-Jay Leitch.
The previous pattern soon resumed, though, with Moore and Cooper, often ably supplied by Niall Canavan, not only creating chances, but also getting on the end of them, each of the wide men having a shot that was just wide of the target.
The breakthrough came as half-time loomed and not from out wide, but Canavan’s straight ball from deep that saw Dom Telford jostling with Sutton for possession and only Halstead between them and the goal.
Telford fell five yards outside the area; the assistant linesman flagged; referee Brett Huxtable showed Sutton a red card; and Cooper immediately picked up the ball before extracting the maximum from Sutton’s indiscretion by curling the free-kick over the wall and out of Halstead’s reach.
Morecambe’s resistance crumbled and they were two down within two minutes through more clumsy play. This time, Alex Kenyon got the wrong side of Joel Grant in the penalty area, leaving Huxtable with an easy decision to award a spot-kick.
Sarcevic was, you felt, never going to miss.
Ten-Man Morecambe emerged for the second half intent largely on damage-limitation and they had plenty with which to contend.
Cooper continued to be at the epicentre of Argyle’s most menacing moves, nearly repeating his first-half free-kick trick with another that flicked the wall to go safe, then setting up Telford for a run on goal that ended with a shot that beat Halstead but drifted wide.
From the other flank, Moore had a shot well saved by the overworked Morecambe custodian after driving in from the right.
Argyle’s dominance was such that Palmer’s biggest threat was catching hypothermia through inactivity and manager Ryan Lowe used the opportunity to rotate his many forward players and give some game-time to Zak Rudden and Conor Grant.
Another Grant – Joshua – came close to opening his Argyle account with a low shot to which Halstead just got a hand, before Rudden, sliding in, could not find a finish to another Moore cross that was begging to be bundled home.
Rudden, who looked lively, then saw a shot deflected on to a post, and Conor Grant tried a curler from the left that Halstead read well.
Billy Clarke came on for the final ten minutes before Conor Grant gave the Green Army the grandstand finish in front of the new Mayflower that they craved.
Man of the match Cooper provided the assist as Argyle posted a fourth successive home league win to maintain what is looking like irresistible momentum.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer (gk); 5 Scott Wootton, 6 Niall Canavan, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 17 Byron Moore, 7 Antoni Sarcevic (15 Conor Grant 72), 25 Josh Grant, 10 Danny Mayor, 32 George Cooper; 16 Joel Grant (39 Zak Rudden 67), 11 Dom Telford (18 Billy Clarke 82). Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper (gk), 2 Joe Riley, 9 Ryan Taylor, 20 Adam Randell.
Booked: Josh Grant 19.
Morecambe (4-3-3): 21 Mark Halstead; 27 George Tanner, 12 Ritchie Sutton, 5 Steven Old, 3 Luke Conlon; 7 John O'Sullivan, 4 Alex Kenyon (capt), 14 Tom Brewitt; 19 Carlos Mendes-Gomes (11 Kevin Ellison 85), 10 A-Jay Leitch-Smith (9 Cole Stockton 82), 8 Lewis Alessandra (33 Jordan Cranston 78). Substitutes (not used): 2 Adam Buxton, 24 Shaun Miller, 28 Andre Da Silva Mendes (gk).
Sent off: Sutton 42.
Booked: Brewitt 9.
Referee: Brett Huxtable.
Attendance: 9,474 (62 away).