Macclesfield Town 1
STICKING to the plan is a demand that Ryan Lowe makes of his players, who, in return, are happy to respond to his request.
Sticking to the plan at the Moss Rose on Tuesday night earned the Pilgrims a precious point in their pursuit of promotion from Sky Bet League Two.
A goal down to Shilow Tracey’s first-half strike, Argyle were obliged to break down a stubborn home defence to win a point, but kept their nerve, and kept to the manager’s plan, refusing to compromise in the search for an equaliser.
They were rewarded with six minutes to play when Antoni Sarcevic levelled, having won, and missed, a penalty, but staying super calm to stroke home the rebound from goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell’s save.
Argyle’s line-up had shown one change from the side that came from behind the previous Saturday to beat title-rivals Crewe Alexandra 2-1 in a Home Park thriller, captain Gary Sawyer returning from suspension to lead the Pilgrims.
Sawyer came in for Callum McFadzean on the left-hand side of the central defensive trio, the latter having had a hectic return after injury, playing two and a half games in eight days on stamina-sapping surfaces.
Sawyer is approaching his 300th appearance in the green shirt of his boyhood club and would probably be three games closer to that mark had he not been sent off in the 1-0 home victory over Newport County 17 days earlier.
Macclesfield, struggling on the field and off it, as Argyle know from experience, made a myriad of changes from the team that had lost 3-2 to a last-minute Exeter City goal at home three days earlier, tweaking their shape in an attempt to combat the Pilgrims’ omnipresent attacking threat.
A sudden sharp downpour before the start of the warm-ups further scarred an already saturated pitch and gave the Pilgrims another winter’s surface to test their resolve.
They do not fail many tests these days, though, and weathered not only the underfoot conditions well, but also some early hard pressing from the energetic home side, whose intent foundered on Alex Palmer’s unflustered goalkeeping and the steady defence in front of him.
Argyle gradually assumed a measure of control and Luke Jephcott stung the fingers of Mitchell with a zinger from long range.
Jephcott’s strike partner Byron Moore caused some concerns when he cut in from the left and drove into the six-yard box, and George Cooper’s curled cross from the left wing was destined for the head of Sarcevic before home captain Fiacre Kelleher’s brave intervention.
Argyle suffered a double setback around the half-hour mark, their initial misfortune leading indirectly to a second blow.
First came the loss, through injury, of central defensive midfielder Josh Grant, who had been unable to run off an earlier knock. He was substituted by Tyreeq Bakisnon, who was still understandably working his way into the pace of the game when he lost a centre-circle challenge to Danny Whitehead.
Whitehead broke quickly and unloaded to Tracey, who managed to squeeze the ball home despite Palmer forcing him out wide and staying big.
Argyle’s resilience saw them respond positively, as if a Ryan Lowe side would do anything less, and Cooper nearly picked out Sarcevic’s excellently timed run into the penalty area, this time with his right foot.
The first half ended with Cooper again at the centre of things, this time firing a free-kick up and over the Macclesfield defensive wall with the ball riffling the netting on the wrong side of the post.
Cooper picked things up at the start of the second half, sending in a teasing low cross after coming in off his flank that Joe Edwards nearly got something on, coming in at the far post.
Argyle stuck to the plan, with Bakinson playing a slightly more withdrawn role, positionally, which saw him much more on the ball and driving forward.
The Pilgrims’ relentlessness saw most of the early part of the second half played exclusively in the Macclesfield half, much of it in the opposition penalty area.
After one such period of pressure, Bakinson went down as he shaped to shoot. Corey O’Keeffe had a hand on his shoulder; referee Neil Hair decided the contact was not enough to merit a penalty.
The decision allowed to Macclesfield to break the Pilgrims’ stranglehold for a while, but Argyle were soon back at it. Jephcott linked well with Bakinson to work the ball wide, and Cooper’s cross was another panic-inducer.
Ryan Hardie came off the bench to partner Jephcott – Moore moving to right wing-back – with around half an hour to play, and immediately injected another level of oomph into the Pilgrims’ endeavours.
Argyle’s seemingly inexhaustible pursuit of a leveller occupied the Silkmen to such an extent that the home side was reduced to playing on the break, and occasionally they hit the Pilgrims hard and fast. Palmer was impassable, standing up especially well to deny Theo Archibald.
Largely, though, the action increased in intensity the nearer play got to the Town goal, with some of the Silkmen’s defending the epitome of bodies-on-the-line resistance.
Dom Telford was sent on for the last ten minutes, increasing the Pilgrims’ attacking options.
Eventually, inevitably, Argyle’s persistence reaped its rewards, Sarcevic being felled in another piece of desperate defending. He took the penalty, naturally, and although Mitchell saved well, had the presence of mind to stroke home the loose ball.
Another point in the right direction.
Macclesfield Town (5-3-2): 1 Jonathan Mitchell; 16 Corey O'Keeffe 25 Nathan Cameron, 5 Fiacre Kelleher (capt), 15 Fraser Horsfall, 11 Theo Archibald; 14 Connor Kirby, 19 Danny Whitehead, 8 Ben Tollitt (6 Harry Hamblin 90); 7 Arthur Gnahoua, 22 Shilow Tracey (23 David Fitzpatrick 72). Substitutes (not used): 9 Joe Ironside, 18 Jacob Blyth, 20 Donovan Wilson.
Booked: Archibald 70, O’Keeffe 85.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer; 5 Scott Wootton, 6 Niall Canavan, Gary Sawyer (capt); 8 Joe Edwards (18 Ryan Hardie 65), 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 25 Josh Grant (14 Tyreeq Bakinson 32), 10 Danny Mayor, 32 George Cooper (11 Dom Telford 79); 17 Byron Moore, 31 Luke Jephcott. Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper (gk), 15 Conor Grant, 16 Joel Grant, 21 Callum McFadzean.
Booked: Sarcevic 85.
Referee: Neil Hair.
Attendance: 1,887 (747 away).
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