Eyes to the Left

CHRIS Groves takes an alternative look at Tuesday night's 2-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers - with a particular eye on a certain flank...

October 21st, 2014: Plymouth Argyle travel up to Kingsmeadow on a chilly Tuesday night to take on AFC Wimbledon. After sitting on the substitutes’ bench for the Greens’ previous fixture against Carlisle United – a 1-0 win at Home Park – a young and prosperous talent, Andy Kellett, finds himself starting at left wingback against the Dons, making his Argyle debut.

The match finishes goalless, as two highly-touted, potent strike forces are outdone by opposing, underrated defences. Curtis Nelson, Carl McHugh and Peter Hartley continued to forge a partnership at the heart of Argyle’s back line, as both sides saw a draw as a point gained, rather than two lost.

The two-and-a-half months that have passed since that game have been nothing if not eventful for anyone of a green persuasion. Sheridan’s men continued an unbeaten run to go seven league games without experiencing defeat, temporarily holding the Football League’s finest defensive record. They travelled to Northampton and played the most dominant 65 minutes of football the Green Army have seen in quite some time, before nearly surrendering a three-goal lead and having captain Curtis Nelson insist on returning to the field after dislocating – and promptly relocating – his elbow and taking on a hefty amount of laughing gas.

Half of the squad suffered some sort of injury over the Christmas and New Year period, which played a big part in the Pilgrims going seven games without a win and seeing a comfortable playoff position slip out of their grasp. Two loan stars came to the club, left and came back again. Kellett, though, left Home Park with every intention of coming back by the end of the January transfer window, until his return from Bolton Wanderers was interrupted by the interest of the 20-time champions of England.

So, after all that, Plymouth Argyle travel up to Adams Park on a chilly Tuesday night to take on Wycombe Wanderers, where a young and prosperous talent, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, finds himself starting at left wing back, making his Argyle debut.

The more things change, and all that.

That being said, Holmes-Dennis and the ten other green shirts seemed intent from the get-go to make sure this game wasn’t the goalless affair we saw in October against the Dons. Both teams, in fact, defied their recent inability to run up the score on their opposition by pushing forward in the opening stages. Tareiq himself visibly grew more confident in stretching his legs down the left wing as the minutes ticked by. Whilst his first assignment for the club was a tough one, keeping an eye on both Fred Onyedinma and Sido Jombati on the Chairboys’ right side, there were glimpses of the ability many League 2 sides had already seen when Tareiq plied his trade on loan at Oxford United earlier in the season.

Indeed, the hosts’ ambition down their right-hand side was replicated across the park, with central midfielders virtually turning into centre forwards when the ball came into the Argyle half, whilst the Wycombe defence deployed the sort of high line that just begs for a strike partnership to take them on.

Lewis Alessandra and Reuben Reid linked up as often as they have in a number of weeks, and it was the former that made sure that this midweek clash wouldn’t be a goalless one. A short Wanderers corner on the left was read by Drew Talbot, who began a blistering counter attack that ended in Alessandra cutting into the box and lifting his shot past Matt Ingram, into the net. Argyle were ahead away from home against one of the league’s best teams – a fact they haven’t been able to brag about since Sky Sports watched them see off Luton Town in early September.

Perhaps more surprising than the scoreline, though, was the lack of change in style of play or demeanour from either side after the goal. Sheridan’s men stuck to their guns boldly and looked capable of withstanding the heavy pressure Wycombe insisted on bringing. As ever, though, with ambition comes complication, and another corner proved to be the hosts’ downfall on the half-hour mark. Bobby Reid’s pinpoint corner found Peter Hartley at the back post, who instinctively turned the ball home.

0-2, then. The classic Green Army humour bellowed from the 522 bodies in the away stand, in apparent disbelief that they were comfortably ahead against a team in the automatic promotion places. ‘What is going on?’ they sang – and we are paraphrasing a little.

The less audible chatter during the half time break and into the second half must have been on a more positive note, as their team were on course to record successive victories for the first time since mid-December. The expected Wycombe onslaught came in the form of attacking substitutions and plenty of possession close to Luke McCormick’s goal. But on a pitch that was rapidly becoming a browner shade of green, Gareth Ainsworth’s side found it increasingly harder to get a literal and metaphorical foothold in the game, with plenty of frustrating stoppages, head tennis and a less than favourable run of the ball… just how we like it.

Holmes-Dennis, tutored expertly by Hartley alongside him, handled the majority of his tasks easily enough, but fulfilled the equally important task of advancing his team up the field on many occasions towards the end, staying calm in congested areas and easing the Wycombe pressure.

Sheridan made the point after last weekend’s victory over Accrington that games such as these – where his side are not expected to take much from a game – are the games he prefers. With that in mind, the Pilgrims appeared to play with a level of confidence throughout the 90 minutes against the Chairboys that we haven’t seen in quite some time; perhaps since a certain Manchester United wing-back was marauding down the touchline week after week.

Perhaps then, the arrival of Tareiq Holmes-Dennis will have inauspiciously kicked off a similarly positive chapter in Argyle’s season, hopefully with a slightly more fruitful conclusion.