Argyle 3 Swindon 2 - ReportArgyle 3
Alessandra 4, 44, Smalley 23
Smith pen 72, Gladwin 87
by Alex Wood
THESE days, when cup ties occur at Home Park, you are guaranteed goals and drama. This was no exception.
The last two cup ties that PL2 has staged saw a 3-2 defeat against Port Vale in the FA Cup and a 3-3 draw in the Capital One Cup against Leyton Orient that ended in Argyle losing on penalties.
This time, in the Johnstone’s Paint second round. the goals came and the entertainment flowed – and the night concluded with an Argyle victory. The perfect trifecta.
The first half was astonishing; Argyle possession of the ball was at a premium, but boy did they make it count. From Lewis Alessandra’s fourth minute opener to his second just before half-time – via a Deane Smalley rocket in between – Argyle were clinical on the counter attack.
Swindon – second in Sky Bet League 1 and seemingly able to score goals at will – were always like to fire back after the break. Three subs were made and all made an impact. George Barker earned a penalty from which Michael Smith scored, before Ben Gladwin’s deflected late effort put Argyle so far on the back foot it is a miracle they have a working Achilles between them.
Luke McCormick had to be at his very best – and trust us, the late saves he made were among the best you will ever see at this ground – and Argyle clung on.
On a cold and wet Tuesday evening at Home Park, with the floodlights beaming down, Argyle welcomed an in-form Swindon side that were aiming to secure their fifth successive away win.
As John Sheridan had promised, he brought in a quintet of players who have of late been on the periphery of matters. Smalley, Lee Cox, Ollie Norburn, Tyler Harvey and Nathan Thomas all came into the starting eleven. Top goalscorer Reuben Reid, who returned from an injury at the weekend, dropped the bench, as did Anthony O’Connor. They were joined by Aaron Bentley and a returning Jason Banton, who had missed several games due to a groin injury.
Swindon themselves rested several first-team regulars, including marksman Michael Smith. The big number would start the game on the bench – but he would not end it there.
Despite the Robins dominating the possession of the ball during the game’s opening minutes, they found themselves a goal down after some sloppy play in the middle of the park was intercepted by Carl McHugh.
A ball forward split two Swindon centre-backs, and Alessandra was able to apply a cool finish to slot the ball past the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Tyrell Belford.
Minutes later, Tyler Harvey looked to double the Pilgrims advantage but his volleyed effort was blasted over the bar.
The Town’s best effort of the half came after striker Andy Williams intercepted a back pass on the edge of the Argyle box. After stealing the ball from McHugh, the forward took a heavy touch that allowed the on-rushing McCormick to gather.
While huge sighs of relief rang out among the Pilgrims fans, the Robins looked to continue their dominance of possession in the middle of the park. Stringing a series of passes together among the midfield trio of Jack Reeves, Anton Rodgers and Louis Thompson, Swindon were able to stretch their opponents yet lacked any conviction in the final third.
With 22 minutes played, Swindon were caught in possession once again by Harvey. As the Town backline rushed to retrieve the ball, Harvey was able to find Smalley languishing on the edge of the back in acres of space.
Smalley looked to fire a shot but took an extra touch before dispatching a low shot into the bottom left of the goal in similar fashion to Alessandra’s opener. Belford had every right to be frustrated at the players in front of him who had twice gifted Argyle with goal scoring opportunities.
As Nathan Thomas departed the field to be replaced by midfielder Anthony O’Connor after suffering an asthma attack, a shell-shocked Robins side tried to claw their way back into the game.
A goal-bound free kick by Anton Rodgers certainly tested McCormick who was forced to make a save on 34 minutes.
Just as the first half drew to a close, Alessandra notched Argyle’s third goal and his second of the night, after some great play on the edge of the Town box. After leaving Swindon’s Louis Thompson on the floor, Alessandra shifted the ball onto his left foot as the keeper rushed forward before side footing the ball into the back of the net.
Swindon boss Mark Cooper introduced midfielder Ben Gladwin and striker George Barker after half time as the rain continued to fall at Home Park.
For all their possession of the ball and ability to thread passes together, Swindon struggled to break down a resolute Argyle defence that seemed content to allow the Robins to press in midfield. Sheridan’s men started the second half in much the same fashion as they had finished the first.
Organised in defence and packed in midfield, Argyle were able to contain Swindon’s attacking duo despite a few half chances by substitute Michael Smith.
Smalley, who had been lively throughout the tie, was replaced on the 66th minute by Argyle’s top goal scorer Reid – there are worse subs to be able to call upon.
Moments later, however, the Robins were awarded a penalty after Kelvin Mellor, who was operating in a left wing-back position after Thomas’ withdrawal, mistimed his tackle on the lively Barker in the box. Michael Smith stepped up and, despite slippery conditions, placed his shot into the right side of the goal.
Cue a nervy final twenty minutes. The visitors continued to plough higher up the pitch, firing a number of teasing crosses into the box that tested the aerial presence of Argyle defenders Cutis Nelson and Peter Hartley.
With minutes left in the game, Swindon’s Jack Stephens – a former Pilgrim - was able to find half time substitute Ben Gladwin in space who turned and fired a 25-yard shot into the middle of the Argyle goal that seemed to stun everybody. McCormick was left sprawling by a deflection as Swindon made it 3-2.
Gladwin very nearly levelled the tie after poking the ball towards McCormick, who was able to parry his powerful effort. The ball fell to the feet of Stephens who, from three yards out, smashed the ball onto the left post, via the hand of the recovering Argyle goalie. It was much to the relief of the Argyle fans, much to the chagrin of Swindon’s players and to the astonishment of all. It was perhaps one of the best saves any of us will ever see.
As referee Carl Berry blew his final whistle on what was a highly entertaining second round tie, Argyle will be hoping they can maintain tonight’s attacking prowess as they progress to the next stage of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
And we all hope cup-ties continue to be as exciting as this.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 4 Lee Cox, 6 Ollie Norburn (25 Aaron Bentley 90), 14 Tyler Harvey, 19 Nathan Thomas (28 Anthony O’Connor 33); 22 Deane Smalley (9 Reuben Reid 66), 7 Lewis Alessandra. Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 8 Jason Banton.
Booked: Harvey 90.
Swindon Town (3-5-2): 25 Tyrell Belford; 5 Jack Stephens, 2 Nathan Thompson (capt), 6 Jordan Turnbull; 23 Jack Barthram (9 Michael Smith 54), 12 Amari’i Bell, 14 Jack Reeves, 19 Louis Thompson (7 Ben Gladwin half time) 26 Anton Rodgers; 10 Andy Williams, 16 Connor Waldon (18 George Barker half time). Substitutes (not used): 1. Wes Foderingham (gk), 3 Nathan Byrne.
Booked: N Thompson 85.
Referee: Carl Berry.
Attendance: 2,668 (323)