by RICK COWDERY
NO quarter asked. None given. No goals. No shortage of Derby day effort and commitment. No reward for Argyle from a game in which they created more chances than their hosts.
The contest was a compelling one which the Pilgrims played just right. Carl Fletcher might be new to managerial game, but his tactical nous is fashioned on a wealth of playing experience and beginning to gain the attention it deserves.
He is growing into himself as a gaffer, and taking confidence from some ambitious and thoughtful decisions that have positively helped shape recent matches. Oxford, Burnley and, notably, Northampton, come to mind.
At Plainmoor, the Pilgrims were set up to soak up the homes side’s initial pressure, which they did, before turning up the gas as the game went on, which they also did.
All that was missing was a goal. The clean-sheet against a side that had scored six times in their previous two home games is maybe compensation for that, though.
Both managers had been unable to field a first-choice side, with injuries and – in the case of Pilgrims’ left-sided midfielder Onismor Bhasera – international duty taking a toll.
Argyle forward pair Rhys Griffiths and Paris Cowan-Hall failed to pass muster after suffering injuries in the previous weekend’s 3-2 first win of the season at home to Northampton.
The two joined longer-term absentees Nick Chadwick, Jamie Lowry and Rene Gilmartin on the sidelines, and left the Pilgrims with a bench that included five teenagers and a 20-year-old, as well as new loan signing Guy Madjo.
Argyle boss Carl Fletcher gave Joe Lennox only the second start of his fledgling Argyle career in place of Cowan-Hall on the right of midfield, with Alex MacDonald filling Bhasera’s spot on the left.
Torquay were again without injured Craig Easton, Damon Lathrope, Lloyd Macklin and Saul Halpin but were able to include 5ft 5in winger Danny Stevens for the first time this season.
Manager Martin Ling also welcomed back Australian centre-back Aaron Downes after a one-match suspension following his sending-off in United’s victory over Rochdale.
There was no accusing Argyle of not being up for the fight, with Durrell Berry and Conor Hourihane picking up yellow cards in the opening ten minutes for enthusiastic challenges which lacked a certain finesse.
Torquay were not shrinking violet, either, and Argyle captain Darren Purse was left writhing on the turf after being poleaxed following the close attentions of Rene Howe.
From the heat of battle emerged few chances. Billy Bodin found space in the Pilgrims’ penalty area to turn for a shot that Purse deflected for a corner, while MacDonald fired over at the other end after a twee corner routine.
The first real chance, doubled, was fashioned by the home side. Ian Morris, who had been extremely bullish in the build-up to the game, put his boots where his mouth had been and fired off shot from close range that Jake Cole beat out.
When the ball ricocheted sweetly for Lee Mansell, Robbie Williams put his body in the path of the ensuing low drive.
Argyle soaked it up and sucked it in and nearly hit the home side on the break when, three-on-three against the Gulls’ back line, Feeney had goalkeeper Michael Poke at full stretch with a low zipper from long range.
As is probably to be expected from derbies, such clean sights of goal were at a high premium and neither goalkeeper would have been required to hand in an overtime sheet.
Of the two custodians, Cole needed to have the sharper concentration, not least of all when Stevens dribbled a shot towards the Argyle goal following some goal-area pinball.
Stevens’ forte is not his shooting, but his quicksilver running, and, when given space, he whistled around Purse and Hourihane in quick succession before an ambitious shot was blocked by the recovered Argyle skipper.
The Pilgrims nearly sneaked back into the dressing-room with a cheeky lead after Williams, who had been imperious in defence, curled a 30-yard free-kick around Torquay’s defensive wall only to be thwarted by Poke’s flying save.
Argyle opened the second half, now attacking the end containing the bulk of their 1,500-plus supporters, equally promisingly.
Berry raided down the right, and skipped in between two challenges to drive into the penalty area. His final delivery fell somewhere between a cross and a shot, with Feeney unable to get any sort of touch.
The physicality of the contest showed no signs of letting up and Howe again threw his weight around without punishment, this time dropping Cole.
Before the hour, Matt Lecointe was introduced from the substitutes’ bench in front of Bristow’s Bench, the quaint name that the Gulls have bestowed on their impressive new grandstand, replacing Luke Young in midfield.
Williams was again to the fore soon afterwards, teeing up Feeney after some trickery on the left bye-line for a good header that was poked away by the Gulls’ goalkeeper for a corner.
A decent spell for the Pilgrims also saw MacDonald roll a ‘hit-me’ pass into the patch of Hourihane for a low shot that Poke beat away at his near post.
With the game getting stretched, both managers turned to their cast of extras. Torquay brought on young speed-merchant Niall Thompson for Stevens, while Madjo was given his Argyle debut in place of Feeney, whose tireless attitude could not compensate for his tiring legs.
Before either had a chance to make an impact, Morris headed a corner wide, his finish not matching the endeavour it had taken to get in position for the opportunity.
Gulls’ chances were few and far between, however, and Argyle were making all the significant moves.
MacDonald’s raking crossfield ball to the third Pilgrims’ substitute, Andres Gurrieri, came close to providing the breakthrough, with the Argentinean teeing up Hourihane for a shot which curved away and wide.
Still, the pilgrims sought the winner their second-half showing deserved. A well-worked free-kick saw Paul Wotton – and who would have loved to score at Plainmoor more than the Plymothian? – fire over the crossbar into the increasingly expectant and hopeful Green Army.
An injury-time flurry from the yellows was agonising, but dealt with.
Torquay United (4-3-3): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downs (capt), 3 Kevin Nicholson; 7 Lee Mansell, 20 Nathan Craig, 11 Ian Morris (8 Ryan Jarvis 78); 15 Billy Bodin, 9 Rene Howe, 19 Danny Stevens (29 Niall Thompson 66). Substitutes (not used): 12 Daniel Leadbitter, 13 Martin Rice (gk), 21 Thomas Cruise, 23 Ashley Yeoman, 30 Kirtys Mackenzie,
Booked: Craig 44, Howe 84.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse (capt), 4 Maxime Blanchard, 3 Robbie Williams; 19 Joe Lennox (27 Andres Gurrieri 76), 8 Luke Young (21 Matt Lecointe 57), 15 Paul Wotton, 6 Conor Hourihane, 32 Alex MacDonald; 11 Warren Feeney (18 Guy Madjo 66). Substitutes (not used): 13 Ollie Chenoweth (gk), 17 Curtis Nelson, 23 Jamie Richards, 28 Johnny Gorman.
Booked: Berry 5, Hourihane 9.
Referee: Roger East.
Attendance: 4,932 (1,514 away).