Forest Green Rovers 0
ANTONI Sarcevic’s fourth goal of the campaign dislodged the Sky Bet League Two leaders from their perch, capping the kind of result and performance that suggests it is not fanciful to suggest that Argyle may yet regain the summit themselves this campaign: new dawn at the New Lawn?
Sarcevic scored midway through the first half of a game that Argyle controlled well, with a scorching shot that took a healthy deflection to delight the massive away crowd.
To no-one’s great amazement, Argyle manager Ryan Lowe had sent out the same starting line-up that he had done for the previous week’s impressive Emirates FA Cup first-round victory at League One Bolton Wanderers.
Josh Grant, man of the match at the University of Bolton Stadium, maintained his place in the centre of the Pilgrims' midfield, with Joe Edwards continuing at right wing-back in place of Joe Riley.
The game also saw central defender Niall Canavan become only the fifth member of the Argyle first-team squad to reach a 50th Pilgrims' start, after Gary Sawyer, Sarcevic, Joel Grant and Ryan Taylor.
After a pootling first 12 minutes or so, the game suddenly crashed through the gears when Callum McFadzean and Danny Mayor combined for the latter to tee up Byron Moore for a shot that needed a deflection from Ebou Adams to see the ball to safety.
Sarcevic’s corner was a good one, arrowed in under the Rovers’ bar, but goalkeeper Joe Wollacott punched the ball to safety and, in doing so, set off a break that saw Forest Green pair Aaron Collins and Matty Stevens two-against-one with Joe Edwards.
Edwards performed magnificently to, first, jockey Collins wide of the exposed Alex Palmer, and, then, when the Rovers’ man had selfishly declined to use his team-mate, block his unconvincing shot. Having made a pig’s ear of the good opportunity, Collins flopped to the ground, with all the conviction of an amateur dramatic production at Nailsworth Town Hall, presumably hoping to win a penalty, and was perhaps lucky not to be cautioned.
The somewhat end-to-end nature of proceedings then saw Moore and Sarcevic link up well down a right-hand side populated along its entire length by the Green Army – that is the genuine Green Army, not some Johnny-come-lately limeys – from which the former forced a corner.
Sarcevic took the flag-kick and worked a one-two with Danny Mayor just outside the left-hand side of the penalty area. Mayor’s pass was a sweet, subtle invitation to his colleague to take a stride and try his luck with a sweetly-struck effort that deflected off a Forest Green back to give Wollacott not even a puncher’s chance.
The rest of the first half was a bitsy affair with some robust challenges and no little gamesmanship from both sides. Arguably, the most effective performers in that were the pair’s central defensive midfielders: Adams, for Forest Green, and Josh Grant – again – for Argyle.
Grant and his colleagues showed the same control that had thwarted Bolton a week earlier and, when Rovers did breach the black wall, Palmer was on point, most notably in dealing with a looping cross to his far post from Joseph Mills.
Byron Moore went down the tunnel for the break on about one and a half yellow cards – questionably cautioned after a challenge on Walcott and later dealt with more leniently by referee Sam Purkiss for a late one on Bernard – but returned for the second period, although both sides did make a change.
Riley came on for Argyle in place of the injured McFadzean, with Edwards swapping from right to left wing-back; Nathan McGinley replaced Mills for Rovers, who tinkered their shape temporarily to match Argyle’s 3-5-2.
Whether by design or not, the game settled down after its slightly frantic first 45 minutes, and the more patient, ball-on-the-floor passing game that we had been promised before kick-off was more in evidence from both sides.
Argyle again looked threatening from a Sarcevic corner, with his delivery reaching the far post, from where Canavan found enough space for a free header that he tried, and only just failed, to steer inside Walcott’s right-hand post.
Rovers, though, were making the most headway and Argyle needed every ounce of the game-nous that they have apparently discovered lately.
Riley’s involvement lasted only 23 minutes before he gave best to a knee injury moments after Rovers had finally found a way to get a clear sight on goal, from which Stevens shot not that far over. Byron Moore slotted into the right wing-back role, with Dom Telford being introduced from the bench to partner Joel Grant.
Telford came close to making an immediate mark, heading another fine Sarcevic set-piece – this time a free-kick won by Joel Grant – only just wide of Wollacott’s goal.
The game opened up as the clocked ticked down, with Rovers having the lions’ share of possession but unable to make too much of what they had. The game management that Lowe had praised a week previously must have again pleased the manager.
Rovers switched to banging the ball long and brought on big defender Matt Mills in an attacking role to aid the process.
They came close to forcing an equaliser through sheer will when an injury-time corner flashed across the face of the goal but centre-back Liam Kitching could not connect, and kept on peppering away, winning a succession of flag-kicks that Argyle, by similar dint of resolve, conspired to keep out.
They were carried to victory by the Green Army, having swelled the population of Nailsworth by 20% and comprising 30% of the 3,896 crowd at the New Lawn.
Forest Green Rovers (4-5-1): 13 Joe Wollacott; 3 Dom Bernard (5 Matt Mills 86), 6 Farrend Rawson, 20 Liam Kitching, 23 Joseph Mills (capt, 19 Nathan McGinley half-time); 2 Liam Shephard, 9 Matty Stevens, 14 Ebou Adams, 7 Carl Winchester, 29 Jack Aitchison; 10 Aaron Collins. Substitutes (not used): 15 James Moron, 18 Kevin Dawson, 22 Udoka Godwin-Malife, 24 Lewis Thomas (gk), 28 Kyle Taylor.
Booked: Kitching 30, Barnard 45.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer (gk); 5 Scott Wootton, 6 Niall Canavan, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 8 Joe Edwards, 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 25 Josh Grant, 10 Danny Mayor, 21 Callum McFadzean (2 Joe Riley half-time; 11 Dom Telford 68); 16 Joel Grant (9 Ryan Taylor 84), 17 Byron Moore. Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper (gk), 20 Adam Randell, 32 George Cooper, 39 Zak Rudden.
Booked: B Moore 31, Edwards 83.
Referee: Sam Purkiss.
Attendance: 3,896 (1,224 away)