Cheltenham Town 2
Varney 40, Aimson (o.g) 90.
IN a tale growing painfully familiar this term, Argyle fell to narrow defeat in a game they dominated against high-flying Cheltenham Town at Home Park.
The Greens enjoyed vast swathes of possession and territory against the third-placed Robins but could not convert their commanding position into goals. Instead, it was the visitors who maintained their impressive start to the season, through goals from Luke Varney, five minutes from half-time, and an unfortunate Will Aimson own goal in the dying seconds, as the Greens chased a leveller.
Argyle generated a host of opportunities; with Joel Grant hitting the bar and Danny Mayor peppering the visitors’ goal with a number of efforts that, on another day, could have seen him depart the stadium with the match-ball, but it was not to be.
The Pilgrims put in arguably their best performance of the season against Crawley in midweek and were very unfortunate to miss out on their second away win of the season. Given the strength of the Greens’ second-half effort in West Sussex, it was no surprise that Lowe made only two changes to his starting eleven – both enforced through injury.
Dom Telford replaced the injured Byron Moore up front, while George Cooper came in for Jose Baxter; prompting a reshuffle that allowed Cooper to play right wing-back, with two-goal Joe Edwards moving to his preferred position in the engine room.
The visitors arrived at Home Park buoyed by a late winner over Bradford on Tuesday night, which elevated them to the lofty position of third in Sky Bet League Two. The winner was scored by captain and former Argyle Academy prospect Ben Tozer, who stated in midweek that the Greens’ results are the first he looks for in the dressing room.
Another former Pilgrim, Reuben Reid, signed in the summer from Forest Green Rovers, missed out on selection through injury – although he was present in the stands.
First up, the Greens suffered an early scare on a balmy autumn afternoon, as the Robins, buzzing from three wins on the bounce, threatened Alex Palmer’s goal. Veteran striker Varney snuck in behind the defensive ranks to fire off a shot from inside the area, which Palmer thwarted expertly. The rebound worked its way to Chris Hussey on the left wing, and his intended cross caught the wind, looping dangerously towards the far corner. Fortunately, it kissed the crossbar on its way over.
It was the only attempt on either goal in an opening ten minutes that had otherwise been controlled by Argyle, who probed through the ubiquitous duo of Mayor and Callum McFadzean down the left channel. It was from the right, though, that Argyle would trouble Scott Flinders’ goal for the first time.
Cooper, playing at right wing-back, cut inside on his favoured left and curled a dangerous ball towards the penalty spot. Although it narrowly cleared the head of Telford, the ball ricocheted off defender Charlie Raglan, with a hint of arm, into the path of the Greens’ diminutive striker, whose snapshot was well held by the experienced stopper.
Argyle pressed again shortly afterwards, and, after Telford’s curling drive was tipped away by Flinders, Mayor collected the scraps, advanced on his right foot and struck towards goal. His effort took a wicked deflection off Tozer, who grimaced as the ball span narrowly wide of the near post. The irony was not lost on the Robins skipper, who had probably dreamt of scoring a goal at Home Park as a young lad.
The attacks kept coming. McFadzean and Grant both went close again before Cooper, receiving the ball from a short corner, waltzed towards the edge of the area and curled one, right-footed, that whipped viciously past the far corner.
Next, Grant left Tozer for dead, latching on to a Mayor through ball before firing at goal. Flinders got a hand to it, but not a firm one, and looked mightily relieved to see the ball sail on to the crossbar. Sarcevic hooked the rebound into the box, but a Green toe could not get on the end of it.
As the half wore on, it began to feel like Groundhog Day once more for Lowe’s side. Argyle Bingo cards at the ready; dominance of possession – check, opposition yellow card for a lunge on Mayor – check. A line was awarded on 26 minutes when Lowe was forced into another early substitution up front, as Telford was forced off with a recurrence of a hamstring injury - Ryan Taylor replacing him.
As the Greens grew more dominant, the visitors went to greater lengths to stop them. Fouls in advanced areas on Cooper, Grant, and a body-check from Raglan on Mayor, went without caution in front of an increasingly frustrated Green Army. Jake Doyle-Hayes, the only Town player adjudged to have passed the cynicism threshold worthy of a yellow, could arguably have seen a second yellow before 35 minutes.
The Argyle Bingo full house was complete on 40 minutes, when Cheltenham took the lead. Sean Long, given space to operate on the right wing, crossed to Varney at the far post. The Robins’ striker was unmarked, six yards out, and could barely believe his fortune as he cracked his header mercilessly into the back of the net.
The Pilgrims, whose attacks had grown increasingly staccato as the foul count reached double figures, thought they had drawn level just before half-time. Aimson headed a corner past Flinders at the Barn Park End, only for referee Oldham to rule it out for a push on Tozer. The defender, felled by Aimson, remained grounded for treatment; ensuring that the Robins would return to the dressing room with a 1-0 lead.
Argyle began the second-half with intensity, and thought they had a penalty within five minutes of the restart. Mayor was afforded the privilege of advancing into the box, before a tangle of legs saw him hit the deck. The referee deemed there to be no foul, and Cheltenham survived as Sarcevic’s effort from the resultant melee was hacked clear. It was beginning to feel like one of those days.
The game was nearly put beyond them on 55 minutes, as Gavin Reilly, known to Argyle fans for the last-minute headed goal in Bristol Rovers colours that proved so costly last season, got in a similar position, glancing a cross on to the top of the crossbar.
At the other end, Mayor and McFadzean combined once again, with the latter’s right-footed strike parried away at the near post by the Cheltenham ‘keeper. Next, Mayor fed off a Taylor flick-on to fire straight at Flinders from 10 yards.
Argyle continued to probe, and Mayor and McFadzean both shook off their markers once again to have a go from inside the area, but their efforts whistled past the post.
With a goal not forthcoming, and striking options limited by injury, Lowe shuffled his deck by introducing first-year pro Adam Randell for the tiring Joel Grant. Randell took Edwards’ place in holding midfield, with Edwards reprising the right wing-back role and Cooper joining Taylor up front, before the Peterborough loanee made way for Klaidi Lolos.
With the game stretched in stoppage time, the visitors broke, and Ryan Broom’s off-target shot was swiped beyond Palmer via Aimson’s shin, summing up our afternoon.
Our luck is not in, and it’s Cheltenham who are off to the races.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer (gk); 25 Josh Grant, 4 Will Aimson, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 32 George Cooper (19 Klaidi Lolos 84), 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 Joe Edwards, 10 Danny Mayor, 21 Callum McFadzean; 11 Dom Telford (9 Ryan Taylor 26), 16 Joel Grant (20 Adam Randell 72). Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper (gk), 5 Scott Wootton, 6 Niall Canavan, 15 Conor Grant.
Cheltenham Town (3-5-2): 1 Scott Flinders (gk); 4 Ben Tozer (capt), 26 Jacob Greaves, 5 Charlie Raglan; 2 Sean Long, 11 Ryan Broom, 7 Conor Thomas, 21 Jake Doyle-Hayes (8 Chris Clements 45), 3 Chris Hussey; 20 Gavin Reilly (16 Alex Addai 62), 32 Luke Varney (27 Jonte Smith 90). Substitutes (not used): 6 Dan Bowry, 15 Will Boyle, 19 George Lloyd, 22 Rhys Lovett (gk).
Booked: Doyle-Hayes 18, Varney 50, Raglan 88
Referee: Scott Oldham
Attendance: 8,956 (250 away)