Report: Argyle 2 Barnet 1
by CHRIS PARSONS
ARGYLE claimed three valuable points in their fight for survival with a determined victory over fellow strugglers Barnet.
As those who have followed the Pilgrims for the last few seasons will know, Argyle never make it easy for themselves and this game was no different.
Argyle had been well in control of the game when Jake Hyde fired Barnet in front against the run of play but the Pilgrims were back in it 15 minutes later through a magnificent Conor Hourihane strike.
Ronan Murray then made sure just three minutes after half-time and bar some somewhat stressful injury time long balls, never really looked like relinquishing their lead.
A change of system and personnel had been promised in the build up to the game and Argyle manager John Sheridan duly delivered.
Lining up in an as yet unseen 4-3-3 formation, Andres Gurrieri was recalled to the side for the first time since December 15, replacing Gozie Ugwu to join a midfield three with Lee Cox and skipper Hourihane.
The same back four that had started the previous two games remained intact whilst a pacey three-pronged attack in the form of Jason Banton, Reuben Reid and Murray started up top.
Since his arrival, Sheridan has preached insistently about the Pilgrims’ need to take the game to their opponents at home and therefore will have been pleased with his side’s start to the game.
Argyle looked sharp and could have taken the lead as early as the fifth minute had Onismor Bhasera’s wayward curling effort crept inside the post.
Retaining most of the possession, the Pilgrims knocked it around with ease; controlling the tempo of the match and ensuring that play remained in their opponents’ half.
But, as the old adage goes, it is goals that count and against the run of play, it was Barnet who took the lead when got himself in front of Guy Branston to convert Elliot Johnson’s low cross from close range.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Argyle who took several minutes to regain their composure and again resume their assault before Gurrieri fired Murray’s cut back over the bar.
The Home Park crowd was getting restless, even falling silent when the Pilgrims were without the ball.
What you need in those moments is a piece of excellent. Something to lift everybody; the crowd, the bench and even the players. Cue Conor Hourihane.
It looked like the attack would come to nothing when a Reid found himself boxed in by three Barnet defenders on the edge of the box, but somehow, he found his captain.
Conor, who has taken his fair share of stick of late, latched on to the lay-off, took a step inside and then curled a magnificent left foot screamer across Graham Stack and into the top corner.
Now Argyle were back in the driving seat, keeping possession with relative ease until half-time.
Having fallen behind in the first-half, Argyle were not going to be caught out that way again and took the lead after just three minutes.
It all began from an excellent Branston long ball that found Hourihane in Zoo Corner. The Irishman held the ball up well before laying it off to the onrushing Bhasera whose first time cross found Reid.
Reid, still in search of his first ever Pilgrims goal, saw his shot blocked but the ball fell to Murray who, with Stack already grounded, picked his spot to fire home.
Argyle continued their dominance, winning corner after corner thanks largely to the tenacity of the midfield.
Barnet had a couple of forward offensives but could not find their way inside the Argyle area. Only once was Jake Cole bothered and that was for a fairly routine save.
But with 15 minutes remaining, the arrival of Iffy Allen caused momentary problems for Cole, forcing him into a save at his back post.
Five minutes from time, Paris Cowan-Hall and Gozie Ugwu provided some much needed fresh legs as the Pilgrims looked to see out the game.
A dangerous corner from the visitors in injury time had hearts in mouths all around the ground but Argyle stood strong to record what could be an very important victory.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 5 Guy Branston, 26 Anthony Charles, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 27 Andres Gurrieri (7 Paris Cowan-Hall 85), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 10 Lee Cox (8 Luke Young 82); 19 Jason Banton, 24 Reuben Reid (18 Gozie Ugwu 85), 28 Ronan Murray. Substitutes (not used): 9 Nick Chadwick, 13 Ollie Chenoweth (gk), 15 Paul Wotton, 23 Jamie Richards.
Barnet (4-4-2): 29 Graham Stack; 2 Barry Fuller, 45 Bondz N'Gala, 30 David Stephens, 26 Elliot Johnson; 15 Andy Yiadom (22 Iffy Allen 76), 4 Clovis Kamdjo (20 Curtis Weston 54), 38 Edgar Davids, 8 Mark Byrne; 19 Jake Hyde (12 Luke Gambin h-t), 40 Dani Lopez. Substitutes (not used): 3 Jordan Brown, 34 Chiro N'Toko, 35 Dillon Barnes (gk), 43 Dominic Vose.
Attendance: 8,210 (151 away)
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Pictures by Dave Rowntree