Bristol Rovers 1
by RICK COWDERY
CONOR Hourihane’s spectacular first Home Park goal was not enough to deliver Argyle’s second home victory of the npower League 2 as the Pilgrims let a first-half lead at home slip from their grasp for the second time in four days.
This time, the damage was not as great as it had been against Port Vale, and, as a former incumbent of the PL2 3DQ hotseat was fond of saying, every point is a prisoner.
The Pilgrims took the lead ten minutes before half-time when Hourihane finally delivered the goal that his constant foraging this season had promised, driving home Luke Young’s pass from distance.
In a game that neither side dominated, Argyle could not build on their advantage and Rovers equalised mid way through the second half when defender Tom Parkes lashed the ball home from close range following a succession of corners.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher had made two changes to his starting line-up from the one that had begun the previous weekend’s home defeat by Port Vale, both in attack.
Guy Madjo, on loan from Aldershot, was given a full debut after cameo roles against Vale and at Torquay United, while Matt Lecointe was promoted from the substitutes’ bench.
The England Under-18 international swapped places with Warren Feeney, rested after leading the line in sterling and lonely fashion for much of the previous four and a half hours.
The other absentee from the weekend was veteran midfielder Paul Wotton, who had limped out of the Vale game with a groin problem.
Former Pilgrim Jim Paterson was among the Rovers’ substitutes, the subject of one of four changes made by manager Mark McGhee to the Pirates’ team that had lost 4-0 to npower League 2 leaders Gillingham.
Matt Harrold, a bogeyman striker for Argyle in recent seasons, was replaced by German Fabian Broghammer after damaging cruciate ligaments so badly at the Priestfield that he might not play again this season.
Gary Kenneth, Matt Lund and Ollie Norburn were also recruited from the Pirates’ reserve crew as Michael Smith and Eliot Richards missed out on a start.
The Pilgrims were under the pump early on, and Cole was called upon to demonstrate further his confident early-season form when Dave Clarkson found space for a shot that was at a comfortable height but required an athletic stop.
The first half was a far cry from the opening 45 minutes against Port Vale, when the Pilgrims’ play had been embarrassingly good, with some of the passing worthy of teams of much higher standing.
That slick Green machine was replaced by one that spluttered and stuttered and barely got out of second gear. The brightest thing about the opening 20 minutes was the new digital advertising hoardings in front of the Lyndhurst – no danger of those that had paid to have their name put up in lights being disappointed.
Then, something clicked. And it was not the lid of an aspirin bottle to get rid of the migraine.
Madjo bullied his way through the middle of the Rovers defence, taking a long ball with his back to goal and letting off an ambitious long-range lob that beat goalkeeper Sam Walker and dropped on to the crossbar.
The woodwork was still reverberating from that effort when Madjo pulled his marker wide before playing in Lecointe, who took a touch before letting fly with a shot that narrowly missed the target despite being deflected.
The quick one-two woke everyone up, and the subsequent openness of the play contributed to a lively game, which took on a distinct local-derby flavour.
This taste was enhanced by some zesty tackles, one of which left Clarkson well and truly pursed in the centre-circle and the Argyle skipper booked on the say-so of the fourth official.
After the break while the Bristol Rovers forward was resuscitated, Argyle took the lead.
Credit should go to Young for the deception with which he slid in Hourihane, and for the young Irishman for having the confidence – after trying and failing plenty in recent weeks – to let loose from distance. Walker never had a chance.
With Young beginning to play a significant in the centre of midfield, Argyle eased their way to the interval, and the question when they re-emerged was whether they would show any similar second-half vulnerability to the Vale game.
They did when Broghammer broke down the left and nailed a firm shot that Cole grasped to his chest just inside his near post.
Both sides sensed the importance of the next goal and added to a compelling encounter in which the midfield battlefield saw a particularly gripping contest.
From it, Norburn emerged to drill a low shot that a beaten Cole was never truly sure was going wide until it whistled past his outstretched arm and the post.
Third time lucky. Bristol kept up the pressure and found reward for their persistence when, following several corners, Parkes found the space for a shot that gave Cole no chance.
Stick or twist? Argyle kept trying to play their way to victory, while Bristol attempted the more direct options in pursuit of their first win of the season. Neither truly held sway.
Robbie Williams prevented Clarkson’s powerful low shot from snakng through a thicket of legs before Cole was required.
Man of the match Hourihane went for a repeat of his first-half strike but, this time, could not find a way past Walker from what was the last chance of the game.
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse (capt), 4 Maxime Blanchard, 3 Robbie Williams; 32 Alex MacDonald (11 Warren Feeney 85), 6 Conor Hourihane, 8 Luke Young, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 18 Guy Madjo, 21 Matt Lecointe (7 Paris Cowan-Hall 66). Substitutes (not used): 13 Ollie Chenoweth (gk), 17 Curtis Nelson, 19 Joe Lennox, 27 Andres Gurrieri, 28 Johnny Gorman.
Booked: Young 2, Purse 29, Madjo 88.
Bristol Rovers (4-5-1): 28 Sam Walker; 19 Adam Virgo (2 Michael Smith 60), 5 Gary Kenneth, 6 Tom Parkes, 14 Lee Brown; 26 Matt Lund (10 Eliot Richards 55), 21 Wayne Brown (16 Joe Anyinsah 68), 8 Matt Gill, 15 Ollie Norburn, 11 Fabian Broghammer; 7 David Clarkson. Substitutes (not used): 3 Jim Paterson, 20 Conor Gough (gk), 24 Ollie Clarke, 25 Seanan Clucas.
Booked: W Brown 55, Parkes 71, Norburn 84.
Referee: Darren Deadman.
Attendance: 6,303 (361 away).