ALEX Fletcher has been with Argyle since he was eight.
In the ten years between first coming to Home Park and his dramatic full first-team debut on this week, he has dreamed about scoring in front of a full Devonport end.
On Tuesday, his dream came true – twice – and then some. Argyle were trailing Chelsea Under-21s 2-0 in their first Checkatrade Trophy group game with two minutes of normal time to play. Twenty minutes later, they had not only drawn the match 2-2 thanks to two Fletcher goals, but also secured an extra point by winning a penalty shoot-out, in which Fletcher also scored.
“To bang a couple of goals in was in my mind, definitely,” said eighteen-year-old Fletch, “but it’s one thing thinking it and one thing actually doing it. The fact that they both came so late in the game proves it’s not over ’til it’s over – you have just got to keep going; anything can happen in football.”
Both goals had the hallmark of a born striker: the first was a poacher’s finish at the far post after Chelsea ’keeper Jamie Cumming had pushed out Ruben Lameiras’ shot; the second, an instinctive hip-high strike following Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s half-cleared cross.
“Foxy [David Fox] slipped Ruben through,” said Alex, about his opener. ”I knew he was going [to shoot] across the ’keeper and I’ve always been told ‘Follow everything in’ so, as soon as it goes across, you know it’s going into your path when the ’keeper parries it. Luckily, I was there and managed to put it in.
“It was good to get it in front of the Devonport end, as well; it was packed out. It is something I have been thinking about for a long time. For it to actually happen on my full debut was a great experience. It meant a lot.
“We just kept on going and the first goal definitely gave our lads a bit of a lift. Although there were only five minutes left, we did come at them all guns blazing.”
The second goal came four minutes later and was down to reaction, as much as action.
Alex said: “I didn’t think too much about it. They are the best ones, aren’t they, when you are not thinking too much about it? Before I knew it, it was in the back of the net. I just hit it; you’ve got to take your chance.”
The Pilgrims completed their comeback from 12 yards, with a naturally buoyant Fletch netting the second of their successful five penalties in the shoot-out
“My confidence was up a bit after the two goals, so I did back myself a bit,” he said. “Strikers have got to take penalties, in my opinion; it is just part and parcel of being a striker.
“It was important I put that penalty away because the work wasn’t done until I scored that penalty and the whole team had taken them and finished the job.
“We did want to win that penalty shoot-out. They are huge club. Regardless of whether it’s their development squad or first-team, it’s down that Plymouth beat Chelsea that night on penalties.”
So a day that began with anxiety about playing against some of the best young defenders in the competition end on the highest of highs.
Alex said: “To be in the match-day squad, you have got to have a bit of confidence about yourself – you know you are good enough to be there and that the manager trusts you enough for you to be there – but, with it being my full debut, I still had the butterflies.
“Obviously, I wanted to make a good impression for the manager and everyone watching so I was trying to ease my way in, do everything right that I could.
“I wasn’t trying to beat the world in the first ten minutes. I thought it was important to find my feet. I think I did that quite well and, as you settle into the game, you get more confident.
“The quality of the player that I was playing against was very high – they are the champions of England – and I’ve never come up against an Academy set-up as well regarded as Chelsea.
“It was a big thing for me to play against the best in the country – for my age-group, anyway – but the more experienced pros around me helped me in what would usually be a very tough game for me. I held my own against some very good quality opposition.”