Jervis 48, Brunt 70
By Rob McNichol
ARGYLE got their third win in a row and remained top of the league with a 2-1 victory at Newport County that was permeated with poignant flashbacks.
Much was made - perhaps too much, it could be argued - of the fact that John Sheridan had a distinctly poor record as Argyle manager when it came to winning a game from behind, so the fact that his current County side led via a Scott Boden then surrendered all three points to his old club will not be lost on many.
The more important stat is that Argyle notched their eighth win from 12 away games this season via a superb second half performance that followed a lacklustre opening 45.
Goals from strike pairing Jake Jervis and Ryan Brunt were enough to see resurgent Argyle turn the game on its head and leave Derek Adams the happiest manager around.
There seemed to be a pair of script points running parallel to the actual action in the build-up to this game. One off the pitch, one of the pitch, if you like.
Newport's pitch, shared with a pair of rugby teams, has for several years been a point of discussion. When the South Walian climate becomes inclement and fixtures pile-up, so the pitch has a tendency to deteriorate. However, despite a televised Newport Gwent Dragons fixture 24 hours taking place on the Rodney Parade turf 24 hours previously, things looked adequate enough for football. Not a flat, green carpet, but then neither is Home Park right now.
Since the fixtures were announced there were eyes on this game from a managerial point of view, as Derek Adams had plenty of history with Terry Butcher, who was the Exiles boss back in June. When he lost his job and was replaced by former Pilgrims manager John Sheridan, dugout matters took on an ever more important tone.
Undoubtedly, if asked, each manager would deny their presence as a factor, especially Adams, who would be wishing to plough his own furrow. Sheridan - who, let us place on record, did a more-than-admirable job as Argyle boss, converting a team from League 2 strugglers into play-off contenders in little more than two years - allowed the veneer to slip a little in an interview with the local south-east Wales press corps, admitting that he did not think all of the Green Army had appreciated the job he did.
Some certainly did - among the hoopla of two sets of players walking onto the field from one end, along with flag waving and music blaring, Sheridan quietly tagged along at the back. A section of the Green Army saw him, applauded, and the Newport manager showed his appreciation with a thumbs up.
Now, it was onto the matter of the actual football.
Incidentally, the line-up included five players Sheridan had signed for Argyle. Five represented Adams acquisitions, and the other was captain Curtis Nelson, who preceded both bosses.
It was nearly a perfect start for Argyle and Adams as Newport mysteriously presented the ball to Ryan Brunt, in space, 25 yards out. He slipped in Craig Tanner, making a well timed run, but the ball got stuck under him, and with his weaker, right foot he shot tamely into the hands of Joe Day in the home goal.
At the other end, Lenell John-Lewis - "his name is a shop" sang the County fan; a Christmassy one, too - saw a flashy overhead kick drop wide of the post. Not close enough to trouble Luke McCormick, but closer than the man on the moon.
Fittingly, in rugby country, Newport were doing a good job of getting up the field and winning territory. That is not intended as a slight; on the contrary, the home side should be commended for their battling qualities from the outset of the game, getting the ball moving in the direction they desired. Argyle, though, have made a virtue this season of allowing a little pressure but defending with steel. As such, Newport continually got to Argyle's area - and no further.
When County abandoned their gradual progression tactic and went route one, they took the lead.
Goalkeeper Day launched a ball right up the middle, which was flicked on by John-Lewis. Boden snuck round the back, and as McCormick advanced the County forward lifted the ball over the onrushing Argyle keeper and into the net.
Argyle looked to respond quickly, and had a chance when Oscar Threlkeld was brought down around 40 yards from the Newport goal. Craig Tanner lofted a ball towards the right hand side of the goal, and Brunt met it with his head. From the vantage point from the press box the ball looped out of sight before dropping into Day's six-yard area. Day, though, seemed to have lost sight of it too, as he hurriedly flapped at it as it dropped. He got a hand to it - enough to flick it against the bar - before the ball bounced around close the goal, begging to be knocked home.
Unfortunately, it was an amber toe that reached it first, and Newport could breathe easily.
Only a minute or two, though, as the goal seemed to have woken the slumbering Pilgrims. First Jake Jervis' cross into a dangerous area was well headed away, then Tanner clipped one in that Brunt reached first, but defender Matt Partridge got enough on it to allow Day to gather gratefully.
Newport looked to repeat the dose that saw them get in front, with Boden knocking back for John-Lewis, who shot wide. At the other end Tanner latched on another late Newport present, but his well hit shot went just wide.
As the half concluded, Threlkeld went into the book for a challenge that seemed to encapsulate Argyle's half. It was committed, honest, and not that bad - but it was not quite right.
At half-time, Adams made a change, bringing on Josh Simpson for Gregg Wylde, and switching Argyle's system. Early in the first-half Argyle had matched their hosts' 4-4-2, but Adams abandoned that in favour of lop-sided diamond formation that Argyle played for much of pre-season, but that has not had many outings since.
Consisting of McHugh deepest; Simpson narrow to his right and Threlkeld similar on the opposite side; and Tanner just off of a front two of Brunt and Jervis, it totally revitalised Argyle.
They scored almost immediately, with Brunt picking up a ball in the right channel, and pivoting to cross. Jervis had evaded all available radar, and flicked home for his 11th goal of the season.
Within a minute, Jervis was off again. This time Tanner had threaded him through, and it took Day to push wide a near post effort to prevent the most sudden of turnarounds.
The Pilgrims did not let up. They were soon building a fresh attack, this time down the left, where Gary Sawyer crossed to the near post. Threlkeld's header put the ball closer to goal, but somehow Brunt's grasping toe managed to turn the ball wide of the opposite post.
Simpson, yet to notch his first Argyle goal, nearly did it in style just after the hour. Picking the ball up in midfield, he ghosted forward, showing tremendous control, until reaching the edge of the box. A sudden flick of the right foot sent the ball goalwards, and took an excellent, full-length diving save from Day to maintain parity.
Reminiscent of Hartlepool, Argyle's first 20 minutes after the interval had been more fruitful than anything created by either side in the first half. Brunt had a 20-yard effort whistle not far wide, before Curtis Nelson headed a second ball from a corner not far past the same post.
Then came the richly deserved second goal, scored by Brunt following a long throw from the right. His first attempt was blocked - possibly handled? - but before the referee had completed the familiar, defiant waving-away gesture that accompanies an official denying a spot-kick, Brunt had seized upon the loose ball and whipped it, on the turn, left-footed, past Day and into the net.
Cue not only rapturous scenes in the away end, but a serious Newport comeback. Within minutes of Brunt's goal, County had brought the very best out McCormick twice. First John-Lewis, whipping in a near-post effort that McCormick saw late but made, then seconds later captain Mark Byrne clean through and odds-on to score, could not get the better of the Argyle stopper.
County kept up the pressure, forcing ball after ball into the Argyle area, more than once causing palpitations in the Pilgrims ranks, but each time Argyle conjured clear, or McCormick gratefully grabbed the loose football.
Adams' response was the reunite the back three that Sheridan had used so effectively in his tenure. McHugh joined Hartley and Nelson, with Sawyer and Mellor as wing-backs, with Purrington replacing Tanner and slotting into midfield.
It quelled much of the Newport pressure, but not in the stands, where County fans became apoplectic at the officials not giving a penalty after Hartley made a block in the area. At the other end, Janoi Donacien had hold of plenty of polyester when Brunt was trying to turn in the area, but pointing to the spot was not in the referee's chosen list of activities.
After some brief late worries, Argyle had seen it through. After celebrations with the Green Army, the last person off the pitch, to cries of his name, was Derek Adams.
Newport County (4-4-2): 30 Joe Day; 24 Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, 21 Matt Partridge, 12 Janoi Donacien, 16 Andrew Hughes; 4 Tommy O'Sullivan, 33 Mark Byrne (capt), 18 Scot Bennett, 3 Scott Barrow (39 Aaron Collins 71); 19 Scott Boden, 10 Lenell John-Lewis. Substitutes (not used): 2 Danny Holmes, 6 Matt Taylor, 14 Seth Nana-Twumasi, 15 Joe Green (gk), 20 Tom Owen-Evans, 22 Kieran Parselle.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Carl McHugh, 26 Oscar Threlkeld; 14 Jake Jervis, 27 Craig Tanner (16 Ben Purrington 80), 11 Gregg Wylde (8 Josh Simpson half-time); 17 Ryan Brunt. Substitutes (not used): 9 Reuben Reid, 15 Tyler Harvey, 18 Deane Smalley, 24 Louis Rooney, 31 Christian Walton (gk).
Booked: Threlkeld 44, Hartley 54, Nelson 83, Jervis 86.
Referee: Fred Graham.
Attendance: 4,314 (1,074 away).