Shrewsbury 0 Argyle 2 - ReportShrewsbury 0
B Reid 3, Mellor 45
by Rob McNichol
Well, we're there - but we did not expect to get there like that.
It was going to take an extraordinary set of circumstances to prevent Argyle taking a spot in the Sky Bet League 2 play-offs, including an Argyle defeat and a monstrous Luton win, but Argyle chose not leave their fate in the Hatters' hands, instead producing perhaps their finest away performance of the season to win 2-0 at Shrewsbury Town, who were already promoted.
In fact, Shrewsbury could have won the title with a win, but Argyle saw them off thanks to a quick-as-a-flash goal by Bobby Reid, and Kelvin Mellor's first of the season.
Lewis Alessandra was ruled out with illness prior to the game, joining his usual strike partner Reuben Reid in missing out - the latter sitting out the game to help heal his foot injury. Ryan Brunt and Zak Ansah formed a new front two for Argyle in the absence of the Pilgrims' top two goalscorers, while the rest of the line-up stayed unchanged.
Shrewsbury were entirely unchanged from their previous starting line-up, and had a goal of their own - win the game, and hope Burton slipped up at Cambridge. This set of circumstances would enable Micky Mellon's men to finish the season as Sky Bet League 2 champions.
It was to no-one's surprise that the decibel level within the sold out Greenhous Meadow was high from the outset, and Shrewsbury's Plymothian defender Mark Ellis tried to raise spirits even higher by striding forward and letting fly from range. The shot was deflected wide and Argyle were safe, but it seemed to be a early warning to the visitors that this was Shrewsbury's day.
The warning was not heeded.
Two minutes into the game, Anthony O'Connor picked up a loose ball in midfield, and did a great job in setting Kelvin Mellor away down the right flank. His clipped cross fell into the path of Bobby Reid, who finished beautifully on the run. It was a stunning goal, for more than one reason. Not only was the sleek, flowing move poetry in motion, it was also something no-one expected to see so early in the game.
Shrewsbury, stung, looked to hit back and went on a sustained period of attack, but it was Argyle who had the next big chance of the game. It was another terrific passing move from the back, which eventually saw Dom Blizzard release Ansah. The Charlton loanee's quick feet were too much for a pair of Shrews defenders, and his ball across the area was only centimetres in front of an onrushing O'Connor just in front of goal.
The promoted hosts were straight back on the offensive, with James Collins' shot on the spin forcing Luke McCormick to make a save with his feet. Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro then found the the net after running into the left-hand channel, but he had already been flagged offside.
Argyle continued to look a threat on the break, with Ansah again dancing round flailing legs and curling a 20-yard shot wide. Blizzard also had a shot from just outside the area, which goalkeeper Jayson Leutweiler gathered.
Suddenly, Argyle seemed to be buzzing. More great work by Ansah set Bobby Reid away, and the goalscorer showed outstanding close control to weave through defenders and shoot. The shot was deflected over, but it was another sign of Argyle looking not to coast to a point or more, but to try to pull away.
Shrewsbury's right wing-back Cameron Gayle pulled up lame on the half hour, and when replaced by Scott Vernon, it signalled a change for the home side in two ways. The new man went straight into a forward position, and a reshuffle elsewhere saw Town settle into a narrow 4-4-2 formation, as opposed to the 3-5-2 variant that they began with.
It did little for them; Shrewsbury seemed to be on a beach in their mind, not ascending to the top of the table. Argyle, hopeful of extending their season by another three weeks, not knocking off by 5pm today, were by now well on top, and doubled the lead, deservedly, right on half-time.
It came from an unlikely source.
Going in to this game there were very few members of the Pilgrims' squad that were yet to register a goal during the season. In fact, all ten outfield members had notched before this game, with one exception.
Kelvin Mellor has frequently been a threat going forward for Argyle this season, as evidenced earlier in the game when laying on Bobby Reid's opener - but he had not opened his Argyle account. This all changed in the final minute of the first half, as he set off on one of this trademark galloping runs forward. A flicked ball through to Reid did not come off, but the ball ended up back at Mellor's feet, and he kept his calm to take another stride and poke under Leutweiler with his left foot.
Mellor was mobbed by his team-mates, to a man grinning from ear to ear - not just for the pleasure of having a second goal on the board, but for the scorer. The hugely likable wing-back is as nice a man as you will meet in football - it is hard to think of anyone you could be happier for to get his goal.
At half-time, not only were Argyle 2-0 up, but so were Luton, facing Stevenage. The Hatters were in pursuit of the thumping of their rivals that they needed to notch, but found themselves in the position of needing Shrewsbury to bang in three, as well as adding another five to their tally.
With boarding shorts and suntan lotion packed, Shrewsbury came out for the second half intent on trying to enjoy their last 45 minutes of football before their party got started, and set about trying to get back on terms. Bobby Grant's header well saved by McCormick was their best chance of an opening ten minutes in which they also shouted loudly for a penalty on more than one occasion.
Ryan Woods, heartbeat of the Shrews midfield and a nominee for the Sky Bet League 2 player of the season, then hit an outside-of-the-boot curler than looked goalbound. He did not account, though, for Argyle's own player of the year, McCormick, who made a terrific save to turn the ball round the post.
Shrewsbury took off Ellis, a defender, and replaced him with another striker in Tyrone Barnett. Meanwhile, Argyle withdrew Brunt and Blizzard, replacing them with Tyler Harvey and Gethin Jones. With a little over 20 minutes to go, the Shrewsbury fans chanted '2-1 to the Cambridge' in an attempt to let their lads know that rivals Burton were losing. '2-0 to the Argyle' responded the Green Army. Touche.
Ollie Norburn replaced Ansah on 74 minutes, signalling Argyle taking a step to protect their lead. Luton meanwhile, had scored no more - this game was more about seeing out a morale-boosting victory.
There was nearly a glorious piece of poetry, as Tyler Harvey, who scored Argyle's first league goal of the season with a glorious free-kick against Exeter, nearly scored a better one here. It took a magnificent save by Leutweiler to prevent it.
At the other end, McCormick saved from Bennett preserve a precious 21st clean sheet of the campaign.
Right then, now the season REALLY starts....
Shrewsbury (3-5-2): 1 Jayson Leutweiler; 5 Mark Ellis (23 Tyrone Barnett 63), 6 Connor Goldson, 2 Jermaine Grandison; 12 Cameron Gayle (10 Scott Vernon 30), 4 Ryan Woods, 11 Liam Lawrence, 24 Bobby Grant, 3 Mickey Demetriou; 9 James Collins (19 Andy Mangan 69), 26 Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro. Substitutes: 21 Mark Halstead (gk), 22 Jordan Clark, 28 Mikael Mandron, 31 Dom Smith.
Booked: Woods 60, Goldson 73, Lawrence 84
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh , 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 17 Bobby Reid, 19 Anthony O'Connor, 11 Dominic Blizzard (20 Gethin Jones 67), 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 27 Zak Ansah (6 Ollie Norburn 74), 28 Ryan Brunt (14 Tyler Harvey 66). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 3 Ben Purrington, 8 Jason Banton, 25 Aaron Bentley.
Booked: O'Connor 62
Referee: Darren Bond.
Attendance: 8,963 (1,094 away).