Portsmouth 3 Argyle 3 - ReportPortsmouth 3
Hollands 32, 38, 47
Reid 35, Hourihane 41, 89
by Rob McNichol
ARGYLE and Portsmouth shared the points in a six-goal thriller to conclude the season.
On three occasions midfielder Danny Hollands put the home side in the lead, but Reuben Reid and then Conor Hourihane, twice, would level things up for the visitors. Portsmouth’s, and Hollands’, third came with only 90 seconds having elapsed in the second half. With the same amount of time remaining in the 90 minutes though, Hourihane equalised again.
The day felt like the end of a season should, it many ways. The sun was shining, as is the law for the final day of the season, and Pompey dished out their Player of the Season awards, apparently being introduced by Davros from Doctor Who. Balloons bounced, (occasionally Hawaiian) shirt-sleeves abounded and there was just a general air of congeniality from two clubs who have had a tumultuous recent past.
The mood was in stark contrast to the awful air of dread that was felt in travelling to Rochdale this time last year, when one could not help but fear the worst. That was averted, and our gaze had to be forward, and not back. Even so, the feeling this time around was certainly one of noticeable more relaxation.
A few weeks ago, Portsmouth were teetering and worrying about a further plunge down the football structure, but a late rally has seen them dismiss relegation worries with a slow wipe of the brow. After several demotions and a pair of periods of administration, this is a place desperate to stabilise themselves.
Of course, Argyle fans know all about that. Having experienced their own era of frustration and suffering in a football sense, a chance to finish in the top half makes a welcome change, even if it did promise for a time to be an even more substantial season.
You could actually make a fair argument for these two teams to be those that have closest to extinction in the last two decades. To simply exist could be seen as an achievement, but neither will be thinking in those terms next season.
There was still the matter of the 2013-14 season to wrap up, and the magnitude of these two clubs – and indeed the fixture – was pressed home by the sheer size of the crowd. Over 18,000 for essentially what amounted to a dead rubber in the bottom division of English League football is staggering.
Argyle returned to the 3-5-2 they have employed for much of the campaign, but with a twist. Captain Conor Hourihane has played more minutes for Argyle than anyone else this season, but almost exclusively in the centre of the field. It was a surprise, therefore, to see him line up on the left of a five-man midfield, operating as a wing-back. Luke Young, Tyler Harvey and Jason Banton comprised the central trio, their average age a shade over 20.
It was Portsmouth, backed by their noisy home contingent, who had the first chance of the game, in less than three minutes. Striker Ryan Taylor headed powerfully after a left-wing cross to force Jake Cole into some early business at his near-post.
Portsmouth started the game by far the brighter– perhaps more confident – side, and in John Sheridan’s mind this necessitated a change after just fifteen minutes. It was shape, as opposed to personnel. The Hourihane Experiment was ended after just a quarter of an hour, with the skipper shifting to his more familiar role, and Argyle’s shape reverting to more of a 4-3-3 variant, with Lewis Alessandra and Jason Banton either side of Reuben Reid.
There was nearly a very early dividend paid out on the shift. Banton glided past right-back Adam Webster, then cut back for Hourihane. However, the Irishman’s usually trusty left wheel let him down, and the ball sliced into the delighted home end.
While the game now resembled a more even affair, Portsmouth still carried the greater threat, and keep Argyle alive with a pair of corners, one from either side, that found centre-back Jack Whatmough. Both missed the target, although the second was a little closer than the first.
Pompey’s aerial threat led to them breaking the deadlock just after the half hour, with this time Taylor playing provider, whipping in an excellent left-wing cross that was met by a flying Hollands. The header whizzed past Cole and the hosts had a lead that would have been tricky to complain about.
It was a lead, though, that lasted barely four minutes. A long, well-directed pass from Curtis Nelson set Reid away, and though he was halted well by Whatmough, Argyle kept up the pressure until Banton forced a corner. Argyle took it short and quickly, clipping the ball into the area where Reid controlled it with his back to goal and spun in an instant to fire past Trevor Carson.
It was soon Pompey’s turn to puncture Argyle’s elation. Ricky Holmes did well to get to the bye-line on the right flank, and his centre was swallowed up into a crowded penalty area. In the end Hollands, popping up in the right place at the right time once more, shovelled the ball out of the crowd and past Cole.
In turn, Argyle again hit back. Reid was bundled to the ground just a few yards outside of the penalty area, and when Young and Hourihane lined up to take the dead ball, it was the latter who got the nod. A low, firm drive was too good for Carson, and once again Argyle had parity. The four goals had come, evenly spaced, in a ten-minute period.
Both sides had further chances to add to the goalfest before half-time came, with Neal Trotman heading a corner wide of the target at one end, with Hollands’ attempt to nab a hat-trick with a shot from twenty yards finding Cole’s chest at the other.
It only took 90 seconds of the second half to elapse before Portsmouth were in front for the third time. And, for the third time, it was Hollands who got the goal. The midfielder, who is on loan at Fratton Park from Charlton Athletic, once again timed a run into the box to perfection. It was Holmes again who found him, crossing from the left where Hollands’ acute sense of timing saw him meet it and fire past Cole.
Pompey had their tails up, and very nearly added to their lead when Wes Fogden stole in at the back post to meet a cross that had evaded everyone in the middle. Leaning back, though, he could not keep his effort grounded and it sailed over.
Argyle had a series of chances to get their third equaliser, and curiously they all fell to Hourihane. The first was a free-kick from long range easily pouched by Carson, and the second a burst into the area by the skipper, halted by an excellent challenge by Danny East.
The third was the best, though. Trickery from substitute Nathan Thomas, who had replaced an injured Jason Banton shortly after the break, saw him make an incursion into the Portsmouth box and cut back for Hourihane, but his shot was high and over from twelve yards.
Good work by Fogden got East away on the left flank, and his well-lifted ball to the far post was met powerfully on the volley by Jed Wallace, although it flew just over the bar.
Sheridan sent on Enoch Showunmi for Tyler Harvey, moving to 4-4-2 and giving Argyle some additional physical presence. The substitute must have thought he was about to have the perfect opportunity to open his Argyle account with twenty minutes remaining, as Reid was played in over the top by Young. As Reid bore down on the goalkeeper, Showunmi came alongside him and seemed beautifully placed to execute a tap-in, but Argyle’s top goalscorer got caught in two minds, and ended up dragging the ball wide.
The game continued to be exceedingly open. Fogden put one over the bar for Pompey, while the lively Thomas skipped effortlessly past two defenders, but could only shoot straight at Carson with his weaker right foot. Showunmi then headed a corner from the left well wide.
As Argyle pressed for an equaliser, Reid galloped at blue shirts in his familiar style that we dearly hope we have not seen the last of, but got the ball tangled in his feet and saw the danger dissipate.
At the other end, the impressive Holmes danced around a flurry of green legs but remained vertical, eventually sending a ball right across the face of the Argyle and beyond those trying to convert the attack.
With five minutes to go Argyle living legend Paul Wotton came on to the cheers of the Green Army to notch up his 491st appearance for the Pilgrims, matching the tally of Sammy Black and placing him joint second in the all-time Plymouth Argyle appearances list.
Argyle’s quest for an equaliser would ultimately be successful, with once again Hourihane coming to Argyle’s rescue. Before scoring the goal, he had raised the ire of the home fans by needing to be repeatedly told to place a corner kick in its appropriate quadrant. When he eventually obliged and sent over his cross, it was partially cleared, but only in Hourihane’s direction. The captain showed great desire to meet the ball first and thump the ball past Carson and into the net in front of the Green Army.
As the Argyle players left the field after a prolonged recognition of their supporters at the final whistle, they were sportingly clapped off by the home fans, too. Even the Argyle and Pompey faithfuls applauded one another. It was fitting, and heartwarming, end to the season.
Roll on August 9.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): 40 Trevor Carson; 22 Adam Webster, 36 Jack Whatmough, 26 Ben Chorley (capt), 17 Nicky Shorey; 4 Danny East (13 Johnny Ertl 74), 29 Danny Hollands; 35 Jed Wallace (28 Michael Drennan 78), 19 Wes Fogden, 11 Ricky Holmes; 20 Ryan Taylor. Substitutes: 1 Phil Smith (gk), 3 Bondz N'Gala, 5 Joe Devera, 23 Patrick Agyemang, 33 Ben Close.
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Max Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman (15 Paul Wotton 86), 17 Curtis Nelson; 2 Durrell Berry, 14 Luke Young, 20 Jason Banton (19 Nathan Thomas 52), 18 Tyler Harvey (29 Enoch Showunmi 62), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt); 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 27 Andres Gurrieri, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
Booked: Trotman 22, Berry 36.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
Attendance: 18,026 (1,594 away).