Barnet 1 Argyle 0 - Match Report
by Rick Cowdery
THIS was not the result, nor the outcome, that Argyle wanted before what can be simultaneously viewed as the biggest match in their recent history and an unwanted sideshow to their promotion ambitions.
A second Sky Bet League Two defeat this season to mid-table Barnet sees them go to Liverpool for next weekend’s eagerly-anticipated Emirates FA Cup tie having suffered a first defeat in seven matches and no longer top of the table.
A lacklustre first-half performance at the Hive, during which they conceded a set-piece header to Mauro Vilhete, contributed to only a third defeat from 11 away EFL matches.
A strong second-half showing wrested control from single-minded hosts, who nevertheless clung on for grim death to deny the Pilgrims even the consolation of a single point.
Argyle manager Derek Adams began the game with the 11 that had started the second half of the Pilgrims' 2-0 home victory over Crawley Town 48 hours and 200-odd miles previously.
Gary Miller stood down, as he had during the interval at Home Park on New Year's Eve, with Craig Tanner, the second goalscorer against Crawley, included in a formation brimful of attacking intent. Man-for-all seasons, and fellow scorer, Oscar Threlkeld again took over at right-back, allowing Tanner a midfield berth.
Barnet's starting line-up showed four changes from the one that had lost 3-1 at Luton Town on the last day of 2016 and included transfer-window signings Ricardo Santos and Simeon Akinola.
The Bees might be managerless but that has not prevented them paying League One Peterborough £100,000 for central defender Santos, nor £40,000 to National League Premier Division Braintree Town for attacking midfielder Akinola.
A third window deal saw defender David Tutonda join on a two-year contract from Championship side Cardiff City, and he was included on the Barnet bench. He had been a York City substitute against the Pilgrims in their 2-1 victory at Bootham Crescent last season.
Argyle’s 4-2-3-1 formation and personnel might have been relatively familiar, but there were some early tweaks to the recent norm, with Tanner and Jake Jervis on corner-kick duty, and the later provided a delivery which reached Sonny Bradley at the far post for a shoveled shot that Barnet goalkeeper Jamie Stephens grabbed relatively comfortably.
Barnet had not showed much up until then but took the lead with their first attempt on target. Curtis Weston’s inswinging corner from the left saw Argyle tight on the Bees’ big men – and Santos dwarfs Bradley – but they neglected to attend the diminutive Vilhete as closely and he headed home.
Nana Kyei tested Luke McCormick with a curler from range that the Pilgrims’ custodian made light of before the same player asked more of the Argyle skipper, dropping his shoulder to drive into the penalty area but finding McCormick had rushed from his line to make a textbook block.
It was a rare incursion by the home side, who seemed content to sit in as they attempted to register only a fourth EFL home win of the campaign but Argyle’s best efforts to find a breakthrough – which included reshaping to 4-4-2, with Jordan Slew joining Arnie Garita up front – were smothered by a black blanket.
As on Saturday, Adams made a change during the interval, with Miller coming on for Ben Purrington; Threlkeld moved across from right-back to left – his third position in four halves of football – to accommodate the returning Scotsman.
Argyle immediately looked more purposeful, but their forward-looking approach inevitably left them more vulnerable than they had looked in the opening 45 minutes. McCormick again had to be quick off his line before spreading himself to deny John Akinde, while Kyei clipped the top of the Pilgrims’ crossbar with a measured shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Argyle responded with Miller finding a fine delivery from the right to pick out Garita at the far post, but the big striker elected to try to bring the ball down with his chest, rather than head it, and the opportunity squirmed away.
As the game opened up, and Argyle replaced Jervis with Smith, both sides made inroads and Threlkeld made significant contributions at both ends, blocking a shot from Michael Nelson before teeing up Garita for an attempt that was forced wide.
That move, in front of a packed away end, preceded a period of sustained Pilgrims’ pressure as Barnet dug deep to preserve their increasingly slender looking lead.
Argyle’s urgency and the home side’s backs-to-the-walls stubbornness gave the match the air of a cup-tie, somewhat ironically, given Argyle’s next road-trip.
The Pilgrims were encamped in the final third of the field for long spells, but simply could not break down the Bees’ admirable resistance. They came close when Threlkeld’s delivery from the left went all the way across to Miller, coming in off the opposite flank, but his volley was off target.
Vilhete attempted to relieve the pressure with a breakout that again required McCormick to be alert and accurate to thwart him, but that was rare action in the Argyle half of the field.
Argyle continued their assault on the Barnet goal to the bitter end, with Tanner forcing Stephens into a save during time added on, but there was no sting in the tale as the Bees hung on for tree honeyed points.
Barnet (4-2-3-1): 1 Jamie Stephens; 16 Harry Taylor (17 Sam Muggleton 84) , 6 Michael Nelson (c), 5 Ricardo Santos, 3 Elliot Johnson; 8 Curtis Weston, 28 Jack Taylor; 32 Mauro Vilhete, 14 Simeon Akinola (39 Dan Sweeney 73), 18 Nana Kyei (13 Jamal Campbell-Ryce 64); 9 John Akinde. Substitutes (not used): 11 Luke Gambin, 12 Josh Vickers (gk), 23 Alex Nicholls, 40 David Tutonda.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 4 Yann Songo'o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington (2 Gary Miller half-time); 24 David Fox, 10 Graham Carey; 14 Jake Jervis (6 Connor Smith 60), 27 Craig Tanner, 8 Jordan Slew; 26 Arnold Garita (7 David Goodwillie 70). Substitutes (not used): 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 19 Karleigh Osborne, 20 Louis Rooney, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Booked: Bradley 55.
Referee: Nick Kinseley.
Attendance: 3,200 est. (1,300 away, est).