Grant 73, Perkins og 80
ARGYLE’S final away match before Christmas saw them gifted three points as all three goals came in the final 20 minutes of a game played in awful conditions.
The win, although deserved, came in bizarre circumstances, when home goalkeeper Josh Lillis allowed a simple pass back from David Perkins slip away from his attempted clearance.
The air-shot was embarrassing for Lillis, cover star of the match-day programme, which celebrated his club record-breaking appearances for the Dale, but delightful for Argyle.
The Pilgrims led when Joel Grant converted Antoni Sarcevic’s cross in the 73rd minute for an advantage which lasted about 180 seconds before Bradden Inman levelled.
A week after celebrating Academy Day at Home Park, Argyle gave a full EFL debut to the latest young talent to roll off their recently productive production line, Welsh Under-19 regular Luke Jephcott.
Jephcott was one of two changes as the Pilgrims transplanted the central defensive unit from the previous week’s 3-3 Home Park draw against Bradford City.
Ryan Edwards dropped to the substitutes’ bench with Yann Songo’o dropping back from midfield to partner captain Gary Sawyer, recalled in place of the injured former Rochdale man Niall Canavan.
Jamie Ness and Tafari Moore also returned from injury to the bench.
Argyle started brightly in incessant freezing rain, with West Cornwall Schools product Jephcott to the fore. His cushioned header into the path of Graham Carey, playing in the No.10 role, teed up one of several early half-chances as the Pilgrims tested their hosts’ resolve.
Carey cracked off a couple of efforts that were deflected and Jephcott himself volleyed over before David Fox, looking as lively as he did when a mere Fox cub, fired into the side-netting.
Failure to take enough of the many chances that they have created has been one of the Pilgrims’ Achilles heels this season and there appeared a real determination not to allow that to be a factor at the Crown Oil Arena.
Dale, on the back foot for much of the opening exchanges, gradually came into the game and Matt Macey saved well and somewhat painfully at his near post, taking Oliver Rathbone’s fierce near-post shot in his lower midriff.
Mainly, though, the home side were limited to shots for range, which proved no bother for Macey and the men in front of him.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had talked, in the build-up to the match, about trying to exploit Dale’s forward momentum by getting at them quickly and Carey set one such move in motion when he released Jephcott.
The young debutant took the ball on and drove towards the 18-yard box, where he rolled in Sarcevic for another shot that took another deflection.
The conditions worsened considerably during the half-time interval, with the rain gathering in intensity and the temperatures dropping.
Dale began the second period the better, as the game, aided by the increasing slick surface, started to open up.
As the home side pressed, so Argyle looked for the counter and nearly found it when Jephcott broke down the right before hanging up the ball to the near post, where Grant was thwarted by Lillis.
The play went back and forth at such a rate you wondered if the two managers had agreed at the break that first goal would win and everyone could get off to have a nice hot shower.
Argyle brought on Ryan Taylor for the impressive Jephcott, and then changed things again by bringing on Ness for Ladapo, but the momentum remained with the home side.
Until Sarcevic drove into the box and delivered a ball into the six-yard box which, after a bit of a pinball, found the boot of Grant, sliding in to score his second goal in successive games.
The lead lasted three minutes as, for possibly the first time in the game, Argyle’s high levels of concentration dropped just a wee bit, allowing Inman an opportunity which he did not pass up.
That loss of focus was nothing compared to the one suffered by Lillis with ten minutes to go. Credit Ness for pressurising the Rochdale defence when the cause looked lost.
His presence obliged Perkins to pass back, rather than out, but not he nor anyone else in the ground expected what happened next.
Only Lillis will know exactly how and why he let the apparently simple ball go past his foot. Even Argyle’s players felt a little bit embarrassed to celebrate.
Not for long, though.
Rochdale (4-3-3): 1 Josh Lillis; 2 Joseph Rafferty, 5 Ryan Delaney, 8 M Jordan Williams, 16 Matt Done; 14 Oliver Rathbone (27 Andrew Cannon 63), 10 Callum Camps, 17 David Perkins (36 Matthew Gillam 79); 19 Bradden Inman, 9 Calvin Andrew, 40 Ian Henderson (capt). Substitutes (not used): 4 Jimmy McNulty, 6 Harrison McGahey, 11 Jordan Williams, 24 Magnus Norman (gk), 25 Daniel Adshead.
Booked: Perkins 62.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 1 Matt Macey; 2 Joe Riley, 4 Yann Songo'o, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt), 23 Ashley Smith-Brown; 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 David Fox; 35 Luke Jephcott (9 Ryan Taylor 61), 10 Graham Carey, 16 Joel Grant, 19 Freddie Ladapo (6 Jamie Ness 66). Substitutes (not used): 5 Ryan Edwards, 17 Lionel Ainsworth, 20 Gregg Wylde, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 22 Tafari Moore.
Booked: Riley 10, Ness 86.
Referee: Carl Boyeson.
Attendance: 2,863 (317 away).