ROB McNichol takes an alternative look at Tuesday night's memorable win over Chesterfield at the Proact Stadium...FROM the away end at Chesterfield’s Proact Stadium you can see a big illuminated sign that reads: ‘Casa’.
For John Sheridan, this was indeed home for a time. Now, as far as we are concerned, John’s home is at Home Park. Mi Casa, su Casa, if you like.
On Saturday’s trip to Staffordshire, there were a few ‘old club’ revisits, on either side of the divide.
Andres Gurrieri spent last season at our opponents Burton Albion, even after a pre-season trial at Home Park, before returning to Devon in the summer; lining up for the Brewers was Alex MacDonald, who, as recently as December, was still turning out for the green and white. He was noticeably beaming at the positive reception the Green Army afforded him.
Even Jason Banton (remember him?) had had one previous appearance in the yellow and black of Burton. Homecomings all round.
To Tuesday, and this time the returning figure was not on the pitch, but stood for much of the evening in a technical area, arms folded, approximately three feet from where he used to dwell. John Sheridan began this season with Chesterfield, a side with whom he experienced the high of promotion and the low of relegation. And the even lower of being removed from his position. Their loss…
It is often hard to gauge the reaction from a home crowd towards a former manager. He does not have his name read out from the teamsheet; he doesn’t get a touch of the ball in the early stages. Add to this a jazzed up version of Ring of Fire blasting out around the ground as tonight’s gladiators entered the fray, and it was tricky to detect their emotions towards Our Shez.
We know what his emotions would have been, though, in the opening twenty minutes. It would have been, firstly, focus on the job in hand and, secondly, pride in his current team’s start to the game.
With Reuben Reid a focal point, Argyle completely dominated the first quarter of the game, inspiring their fans towards whom they were playing, and audibly frustrating all in Chesterfield blue. The sound of the home fans catcalling and groaning at their own players – when you are the away side that is – is one of the sweetest sounds in football.
Reid appeared to be on what those in the horse racing game tend to call a ‘going day’. Patterns of games tend to either fall for big Reuben or they do not. This seemed to be the former; a game where he got the measure of those patrolling him early on and stubbornly refused to cede the ground back.
Ten minutes in, he manoeuvred in front of marker Neal Trotman and glanced into the path of Conor Hourihane, who was blocked when looking very dangerous. Within seconds, Reid had the ball, was cutting inside and firing just over the bar.
Accompanying him, in the withdrawn role, was Andres Gurrieri. Andres has spent the last few weeks playing from the right flank, but now slotted in behind Reuben. Call it a second striker, playing in the hole, a false nine, or whatever you want. I’ll simply call Gurrieri’s performance in the first half “outstanding”and be done with it.
The Proact pitch was far from a carpet – or, if it was one, it was one of those that you tried to fit yourself – but some of the football played by the Pilgrims was sumptuous. The men in yellow looked so comfortable to stroke the ball around despite the close quarters of their opposition, and frequently zig-zagged their hosts so often they were in danger of rendering them as twisted as the town’s famous spire.
On 20 minutes, came the reward for the endeavour. At the time of writing I do not know whether Joe Bryan intended to bend a right-footed strike into the far corner of the Chesterfield net. Some will argue a cross, others a shot; I suspect that the correct answer lies in between the two, most likely a cross aimed at the far post with the knowledge that such deliveries sometimes go in. What was undisputed was that Argyle deserved this lead.
And it was soon doubled. Reid was mugged just inside Spireite territory, yielding a free-kick. Wotton’s clip found Branston, whose knock-down in turn found Curtis Nelson, ghosting into the six-yard area. A delicate flick later and it was 2-0. Argyle heaven.
Boos greeted the half-time whistle; in the ensuing 20 minutes between Nelson’s goal and the referee signalling the interval the home side had nothing of note to get excited about.
Who is ready for a cliché? No, not the one about 2-0 being a dangerous lead. I am thinking about the one that says beware of a team that get to hear exactly what their gaffer thinks of them at half-time.
Chesterfield did not exactly burst from the second-half blocks, but they showed a little more willingness and endeavour in the first two minutes than in the entire first half. The warning signs were surely there. Full-back Townsend evaded a pair of Argyle trackers then crossed to Richards, whose deft flick was pushed wide by a vigilant Jake Cole. It was on.
When is the last time you can remember sitting back and enjoying a second half? Well, it may have been a little more possible had Joe Bryan fully capitalised on a Chesterfield defensive lapse five minutes after the break.
JB was gifted the ball from a stray backpass, and would dance pass the goalkeeper before rolling it goalwards and...hitting the side-netting. No doubt I would have been way too scared to type anything along the lines of ‘Game Over’ with more than a third of the game remaining, but surely, in hindsight, we could have enjoyed the remainder of the game without the now familiar dual feeling of dread and panic.
Not so. A third goal followed, but it was at the other end. An Argyle player scored it, but, unfortunately for Branston, it was he who unwittingly assisted Chesterfield on this occasion.
The home team had just brought on two substitutes, and what an impact they had. Armand Gnanduillet was almost as much of a nuisance to Argyle’s back four when he came on as he is to the people who print the replica shirts with his name on the back. Alex Henshall, introduced onto the Chesterfield left flank, was an instant revelation. He brought the verve that Chesterfield had previously lacked – on the pitch and in the stands – and, as he replaced Richard Brindley, Sheridan must have known that the home side were rivals for the points.
Henshall skipped to the byline and fizzed in a cross which caught Brano in several minds. He had about 0.7 of a second to contemplate trapping the ball, hooking it clear or flicking out for a corner. An amalgamation of all ideas let to the implantation of none, and the ball trickled feebly over the line. One of Those Things™.
Cue the 33 minutes (plus stoppages) of one’s heart and various other vital organs being lodged in the back of our collective throats.
To be honest, it was not a Chesterfield barrage. Of course, every time they approached Argyle territory was like a mini torture session, but it was not like Cole was forced to be a hero. He and his back four, and indeed those protecting them, stood up to everything asked of them.
Argyle still looked able on the break, and when substitute Nick Chadwick grabbed a loose ball and set Gurrieri away, a clincher looked on. Andres fired a shot, then grasped his head in disbelief as it sailed wide.
The home crowd reacted as to greet a great save. Judging by Andy’s reaction when a goal-kick was given, I think he thought the ’keeper had denied him, too. No clincher. Continue clenching.
Moments came and went for Chesterfield. Gnanduillet danced past grasping legs but could not get a shot away. Henshall continued to mesmerise for a time, but Durrell Berry manfully stuck to his task and began to get the best of his thorny foe.
The fourth official’s board signalled four minutes remaining. Approximately three minutes into that, the ball fell to Drew Talbot on the edge of the box. When his shot found its way into the rapturous Green Army behind the net, it was celebrated as if Argyle had scored a winning goal. Relief on top of gratitude on top of elation.
The whistle went shortly afterwards, and Argyle players – and staff – celebrated with the Green Army.
Not one person either side of the hoarding was in any doubt of the magnitude of the victory. It could be three points that proves vital, proves the salvation of another troubled campaign.
We are nearly there.
But there are two games to yet be played.
And a roof to be raised on Saturday.