Diagouraga 3, Carey 6, Edwards 59, Jervis 72
Oldham Athletic 1
ARGYLE sent Plymouth into the party season singing and dancing all the way to Christmas Day with a convincing and thoroughly enjoyable victory over Oldham Athletic that took them out of the Sky Bet League One relegation places.
They made a flying start against opponents who had jetted down to the Westcountry, and were two goals up and well on their way to their biggest win since clinching promotion against Newport eight months previously thanks to goals from Toumani Diagouraga and the peerless Graham Carey inside the opening six minutes.
Oldham very briefly threatened to spoil one of the best months in the club’s history when Anthony Gerrard (cousin of) headed home shortly after half-time. However, an immediate riposte from Ryan Edwards settled uneasy stomachs and substitute Jake Jervis put the bows and tags on a welcome Christmas gift to the Green Army with a fourth.
After fielding a relatively settled line-up for the past few weeks – apart from in the goalkeeping department, naturally – Argyle showed three changes from the side that had been deprived of a win at Rotherham seven days earlier only by a stoppage-time equaliser.
One was enforced, with Aaron Taylor-Sinclair the victim of a training-ground injury. Gary Sawyer reverted to his natural left-back position with Oscar Threlkeld coming in for only his third start of the season on the right.
The other switch saw Jervis and Joel Grant, supporting attackers to Ryan Taylor recently, benched in favour of Yann Songo'o and, more surprisingly, Ruben Lameiras. It was not simply the fact that Lameiras was making only his second start of the campaign that raised an eyebrow – in recent weeks, the Portuguese had not only failed to make Argyle's 18-man squad but he also had a trail...with Oldham.
The Pilgrims' bench included two of the club's Under-18 side that knocked Manchester City's prestigious Academy out of the FA Youth Cup, apprentice goalkeeper Michael Cooper and midfielder Cameron Sangster.
The surprise selections carried over to the opposition, who were without the division's third-highest scorer – and former Argyle target – Eoin Doyle and named only six substitutes, one of who was former Pilgrim Tope Obadeyi.
In the time it takes to whip up decent eggnog, Argyle were two goals to the good.
Indeed the first six minutes of the game were a microcosm of Home Park life under derek Adams’ management: a Carey goal and a Carey assist.
To be accurate, the Irish midfielder’s involvement in the first goal was what analysts these days refer to a ‘pre-assist’, a driving run towards the edge of the Oldham penalty area before smart ball into the feet of Taylor.
The big man slipped in Diagouraga, whose run behind the opposition defence appeared out of sync with the pass, a little on the early side, but the linesman’s flag stayed down and Toums took the ball around goalkeeper Johny Placide before slipping it home.
A 1-0 lead after three minutes became a 2-0 lead three minutes later when another perceptive run into space, this time from Carey, was equally expertly picked up by David Fox.
A long pass over Oldham’s back line was placed precisely into the Carey’s path with just enough enticement on the ball to lure Placide from his goal-line. Having won the race, Carey got out the lob-wedge to lift the ball into the net with technique that made the execution look far easier than it actually was.
The goalscorers came together a little later and came as close as Christmas Eve to making it three.
Carey skinned Gerrard on the byline, right in front of Oldham’s travelling support and waited until the ideal moment before playing what looked like the ideal delivery to another well-timed Diagouraga run into the six-yard box.
Latics’ midfielder Ryan McLaughlin had not bowed to the apparent inevitable and deprived Toums of his third goal in three games with a remarkable interception. Even he could probably not tell you precisely how he pulled it off.
Argyle throttled back and stuck the Green Machine in cruise control, feathering the accelerator now and again, notably when Fox began and ended a liquid move that saw him flying in at the far post to get on the end of Carey’s cross.
Sonny Bradley was the next Pilgrim to benefit from Carey’s promptings when Argyle’s unplayable No.10 found him with a free-kick. Bradley’s header was firm and flicked goalwards but a little bit too high.
Oldham re-organised at the interval, abandoning their three-at-the-back experiment and introducing Aaron Holloway, previously a thorn in the Pilgrims’ side when at Wycombe, to their attack.
It was a defender, however, who reduced the deficit eight minutes after the reshuffle, Gerrard getting on the end of Byrne’s corner (rather to easily for Derek Adams’ liking, one suspects) to power home a header past Kelle Roos from close range.
In keeping with the first-half goal timings, Argyle’s anxieties lasted three minutes before they were awarded a free-kick 25 yards from goal, over which Carey stood.
What happened next was virtually slow-motion. A perfect delivery (of course) was perfectly timed for Edward’s perfect run and the inevitability of the ball ending up in the back of the net was evident before the Pilgrims’ No.5 had even made contact.
Oldham, a side that had recently smacked five past Northampton and previously been involved in a 4-4 draw with Milton Keynes, sent on Obadeyi to chase the game, and Roos needed to be alert to keep out a shot after Holloway set up Craig Davies in move in which both players appeared to be offside.
No matter. Adams sent on Jervis and within a minute, possibly half that, of him having come on, he had scored Argyle’s fourth, toe-poking the ball past Placide after Taylor’s flick-on of a ball from deep.
Sangster was handed a brief taste of what he should experience a lot more of in his career, when he was came on as substitute for Fox, and that was that until after the festivities.
Up next, on Boxing Day, a trip to Milton Keynes who, tantalisingly, sit two points above the Pilgrims in the League One table.
A very happy Christmas to all our readers.
Argyle (4-3-3): 29 Kelle Roos; 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 5 Ryan Edwards, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 4 Yann Songo'o, 24 David Fox (33 Cameron Sangser 89), 32 Toumani Diagouraga; 10 Graham Carey 16 Joel Grant 77), 19 Ryan Taylor, 11 Ruben Lameiras (14 Jake Jervis 71). Substitutes (not used): 2 Gary Miller, 8 Lionel Ainsworth, 21 Gregg Wylde, 31 Michael Cooper (gk).
Booked: Diagouraga 88.
Oldham Athletic (3-5-2): 19 Johny Placide; 4 Brian Wilson, 5 Anthony Gerrard (capt), 2 Cameron Dummigan; 11 Ryan McLaughlin (10 Aaron Holloway half-time), 29 Jack Byrne, 24 Ousmane Fane (23 Rob Hunt half-time), 6 Dan Gardner, 27 Gevaro Nepomuceno (30 Tope Obadeyi 66); 7 Ryan Flynn, 9 Craig Davies. Substitutes (not used): 12 Ben Wilson (gk), 26 Peter Clarke, 28 Paul Green.
Booked: Wilson 40, Byrne 43.
Referee: Lee Collins (Richard Hulme half-time).
Attendance: 10,017 (289 away).