JV Grant 22, Sarcevic 90
Carlisle United 0
JOEL Grant’s third goal in three games set Argyle on their way to a first home win in four Sky Bet League Two games, the first-half strike helping to overcome stubborn opponents who clearly had not travelled 338 miles merely for the ride.
It was one of those games where ‘how?’ was slightly less important that ‘how many?’, with the three points that were confirmed by Antoni Sarcevic’s injury-time strike taking Argyle to the fringe of the play-off places in an important week for the Pilgrims.
George Cooper – without the protective face-mask that he had been wearing since taking a boot to the face at Mansfield – had been recalled to the Argyle starting line-up in place of Danny Mayor, who was serving a suspension after having picked up a fifth caution of the season in the previous week's 1-1 draw at Swindon.
New signing, experienced forward Billy Clarke, started his life as a Pilgrim on the substitutes' bench.
Cooper, who laid on the Pilgrims' equaliser at the County Ground after coming on as a second-half substitute, was one of two changes to the Argyle side, with centre-back Niall Canavan replacing Will Aimson in the middle of the defence, as he had done at half-time against Swindon.
There was no place in the Argyle squad for the injured Jose Baxter, Conor Grant, Ryan Taylor or Dom Telford, but former Ipswich, Blackpool, Crawley and Bradford forward Clarke, signed on a short-term contract on Friday, was among the replacements, along with the returning Byron Moore.
Carlisle's line-up included Gethin Jones, who played seven times for Argyle on loan from Everton at the end of the 2015 League Two season – including in the play-off semi-final against Wycombe Wanderers – while Nathan Thomas, who scored one memorable goal in 24 games as a Pilgrim between 2013-15, was on the Cumbrians' bench.
Argyle appeared determined not to fall into the malaise that had affected them on their previous Home Park outing, an initially turgid affair against Scunthorpe, and they zipped the ball around at a pleasing tempo.
Rudden, like Joel Grant, was a willing runner up front and came close to profiting from Sarcevic’s delivery from deep, to which he beat the Carlisle cover before a first-time thump from a Rangers’ blue right boot that swerved off target.
The Argyle pair involved in that move then reversed roles as Rudden’s ball into the six-yard box found Sarcevic whose flying stab was blocked by goalkeeper Adam Collin on the line, then mopped up by Jack Bridge.
It was Bridge’s second important intervention of the half, having earlier lunged to get a crucial touch on the ball and take it away from Cooper as he lined up a shot from the right-hand side of the penalty area.
Bridge’s team-mates could have done with some of his defensive nous when Cooper picked the ball up halfway into the Carlisle half on the right-hand side.
Cooper had anticipated what seemingly none of the blue-shirts had foreseen, Joel Grant’s perfectly timed run towards goal. The close-range volley on Cooper’s dropping pass so caught Collin unawares that he rather helped the ball into the net.
Argyle had the cushion, and the taste for more. It would be presumptuous to call Ryan Lowe’s brand Total Football, but an instance when, in open play, Scott Wootton sent over a fine cross that was headed over by Gary Sawyer was illustrative of his desire to make the most of his players’ talents in sometimes previously unfamiliar areas of the pitch.
There was an apparent momentum shift at half-time as Carlisle came out with an intent that nearly paid dividends when centre-back Byron Webster muscled his way to Stefan Scougall’s corner and sent a header against the crossbar, with Pilgrims’ goalkeeper Alex Palmer among those left stranded by the set-piece delivery.
Canavan then effected a timely cover tackle to thwart the run of Olufela Olomola against a relatively deep-sitting Argyle defence that found itself having to answer plenty of questions.
Through such application, the tide was turned and Argyle produced a spell of pressure of their own that resulted in a succession of corners and crosses without truly troubling Collin.
Rudden, booked early in the game and maybe lucky not to receive a second after a late challenge on Jon Mellish, had a claim for a penalty when he went down in the area before he was withdrawn in favour of Moore.
The renewed Argyle effort brought roars of approval from the Green Army, who maybe sensed their team’s need for buoyancy as the game entered the vital final period.
Carlisle, though, benefiting from the Pilgrims’ difficulty in making anything stick up front, sensed their opportunity and sent on Thomas to try to exploit a game which was becoming increasingly less fluid all round.
Clarke came on for his debut but found as little joy as his new team-mates before persistence paid and Sarcevic’s late strike, after being set up by Moore, ended an afternoon on perhaps the most sublime moment of the game.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer; 5 Scott Wootton, 6 Niall Canavan, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 2 Joe Riley, 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 Joe Edwards, 32 George Cooper (18 Billy Clarke 80), 21 Callum McFadzean; 16 Joel Grant (25 Josh Grant 87), 39 Zak Rudden (17 Byron Moore 68). Substitutes (not used): 1 Michael Cooper (gk), 4 Will Aimson, 20 Adam Randell, 33 Rubin Wilson.
Booked: Wootton 11, Rudden 29, Edwards 41.
Carlisle United (3-4-3): 1 Adam Collin (capt); 23 Jarrad Branthwaite, 17 Byron Webster, 5 Jon Mellish; 19 Jack Bridge (7 Nathan Thomas 80), 8 Mike Jones, 10 Stefan Scougall (28 Mohammed Sagaf 72), 3 Jack Iredale; 14 Gethin Jones, 24 Olufela Olomola (31 Elias Sorensen 58), 9 Hallam Hope. Substitutes (not used): 2 Christie Elliott, 22 Louis Gray (gk), 25 Ryan Loft, 27 Nat Knight-Percival.
Booked: Branthwaite 40, Iredale 70.
Referee: Alan Young.
Attendance: 8,446 (139 away).