Argyle 1 Hartlepool 1 - ReportArgyle 1
Hartlepool United 1
by Rick Cowdery
JASON Banton is back.
One of the many mysteries of Argyle’s recuperation season has been the difference between the impact made by the former Crystal Palace forward this season and last.
Twelve months ago, Banton’s productive loan spell was quite possibly the main factor why the Pilgrims retained their Football League status; this year, he has struggled to replicate that form since returning to Home Park on a permanent deal in January.
It took until the final home game of the season for Banton to remind the Green Army of his undoubted talents…and have them licking their lips for the 2014-15 campaign.
He opened the scoring after half an hour as the Home Park curtain fell on what will, in hindsight, be remembered as a decent season for Argyle, netting with a sublime finish after a composed run.
Hartlepool, though, replied with another well-taken goal, midway through the second half, as on-loan Manchester United midfielder Jack Barmby profited from a defensive error by Durrell Berry.
Both sides had chances to settle the game, but the end result was an amicable draw to conclude matters at Home Park for the season.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had made a sweeping five changes of personnel and a system-switch from the starting line-up in Monday’s dream-killing home defeat by Wimbledon.
The defence was totally reshaped, from a back-three-with-wing-backs to a back four. Max Blanchard, who had been on the bench five days earlier, and Neal Trotman and Berry – who did not even make the Easter 18 – were recalled, allowing Andres Gurrieri to move from right wing-back to right midfield. The injured Dominic Blizzard made way, along with Paul Wotton and Matt Parsons.
Rommy Boco came in on the left of midfield, while forwards Reuben Reid – who had been revealed as the fans’ player of the season before the game – and Lewis Alessandra were rested in favour of Banton and Enoch Showunmi, with the former playing in the hole behind the latter.
Going into the penultimate game of the campaign without the season’s top two scorers had little effect on Argyle’s attacking ambitions, and Boco had an early sight at goal for a shot that bounced into the ground before looping over Scot Flinders’ crossbar.
Luke Young then fired off a shot from distance that Flinders pouched before Hartlepool responded with a shot from even further out by Connor Oliver that skidded wide of Jake Cole’s right-hand post.
The positive start seemed to relax Argyle and they fashioned a chance for Showunmi, who volleyed Conor Hourihane’s precise cut-back from the bye-line high and wide from the centre of the goal.
Oliver tried the distance route for the visitors again before the moment that the Green Army has been waiting several months for: Banton collecting the ball on the left, skipping inside, looking up and slotting the perfect shot past Flinders.
The goal further galvanised the Greens. Andres Gurrieri picked out the not entirely unmissable figure of Showunmi, but Flinders bravely got in his way enough to put him off his gigantic stride.
Then Hourihane nearly claimed his second wonder strike of the week, following his opener in Easter Monday’s 2-1 defeat by Wimbledon, but the overworked Flinders was equal to his cultured shot.
Banton limped off early in the second half, just after Durrell Berry’s left-wing cross had picked out Showunmi at the far post for a cushioned header that Gurrieri nodded over the crossbar. Had the move’s final two participants been the other way around, it surely would have been a goal.
Hourihane fired wide, with Flinders at full stretch, after being teed up by substitute Alessandra, and saw the ’keeper spill another drive following Gurrieri’s perceptive pass.
Hartlepool were allowed back into the game when Berry misjudged a header to Cole just outside his own penalty area. He did not get enough on the attempted passback and Barmby nipped in between the two Pilgrims to coolly lob the ball home.
Reid replaced Showunmi before the restart and Tyler Harvey followed him soon afterwards, but the early Argyle domination was quickly diminishing and they were nearly punished by Darren Holden’s shot from the left that flashed across the face of the goal.
Darren Holden, put in by a tremendous pass by Oliver, had Pools' next chance to be the latest team to mug Argyle after the Greens were in a winning position, but he stabbed the ball just wide. Jack Compton came closer, hitting a post after running much of the length of the field. In between times, Reid worked Flinders after turning his man ten yards out, and in injury time, Hourihane struck an upright from a direct free-kick, but the deadlock was not for breaking.
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Max Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 2 Durrell Berry; 27 Andres Gurrieri, 14 Luke Young, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 8 Rommy Boco (18 Tyler Harvey 73); 20 Jason Banton (7 Lewis Alessandra 68), 29 Enoch Showunmi (9 Reuben Reid 68). Substitutes (not used): 11 Dominic Blizzard, 19 Nathan Thomas, 25 Ben Purrington, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
Hartlepool United (4-4-2): 1 Scott Flinders; 21 Michael Duckworth; 5 Sam Collins (capt), 24 Scott Harrison, 22 Darren Holden; 26 Connor Oliver, 38 Brad Walker, 11 Andy Monkhouse (14 Jack Compton 35), 12 Jack Barmby (19 Jordan Richards 81); 7 Jonathan Franks (10 James Poole 60), 9 Marlon Harewood. Substitutes (not used): 13 Andy Rafferty (gk), 16 Josh Rowbotham, 20 Dan Jones, 28 Lewis Hawkins.
Referee: Gary Sutton.
Attendance: 6,617 (246 away).