Diagouraga 14, Carey 41, Sarcevic 78
ARGYLE’S remarkable resurgence continued as they notched up a fifth successive home victory for the first time in more than three years to take themselves into the top half of Sky Bet League One just seven games, and six weeks, after limping away, defeated, from Portsmouth in bottom place.
Much of their renaissance has been down to the midfield contribution of Toumani Diagouraga, whose contact expired with the game’s final whistle and who has given no indication that he will be prolonging his Home Park stay.
Inevitably, perhaps, it was Diagouraga who set the Pilgrims on their way to completing a streak of home results not seen since Hartlepool, Shrewsbury, Carlisle and Portsmouth were successively sent packing from Home Park in October-November 2014-15 without a point or a goal between them.
Diagouraga headed home David Fox’s 18th-minute free-kick to open the scoring, and the second goal, just before half-time was from a dead-ball, as well, with Graham Carey following in his saved penalty to eventually score his eighth of the season.
Argyle’s dominance of the game reached embarrassing levels after the interval - by which time a thoroughly demoralised Bury were down to ten men following Ryan Lowe’s sending-off - and you feel they would have found more goals than Antoni Sarcevic’s late Devonport end strike.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had, to no-one's surprise, gone into the game with the same starting 11 – indeed, with the same 18-man squad – that had won 1-0 at Home Park on New Year's Day, For nine of the side, that meant lining up for a fifth successive game in little more than two weeks.
Whereas Argyle are the epitome of settled, Bury show all the signs of a side desperately seeking (upward) direction. Having made five changes for their defeat at Scunthorpe on Monday, they made another seven for their visit to the Theatre of Greens.
Their line-up included Zeli Ismail who had played against the Pilgrims five days earlier before being recalled from his loan at Walsall, and transfer-window loan imports Connor Ripley, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper; defender Peter Clarke, who, like Ismail, has been a previous visitor to Home Park this season, with Oldham Athletic; and Sheffield United's former Bradford City forward James Hanson.
After a decent early flurry from the Pilgrims, the new-look Bury side introduced themselves to Argyle and each other with some enterprising play. Danny Mayor, in particular, was to the fore as the ball pinged in and around the penalty area, with Remi Matthews eventually extended at his near post.
Argyle relieved the pressure in the grand manner with a goal with some rarity value. Not the fact that it came from a well-flighted free-kick by David Fox (ten a penny), nor that it was a goal from Diagouraga (three in seven), who dived full length to head past Ripley.
It was the first Pilgrims’ goal since Sonny Bradley had nodded home another Fox free-kick in a 2-0 home win over Northampton Town on November 21 that did not involve, as an assister or scorer, one or more of the current front three: Carey, Ruben Lameiras or Ryan Taylor had had at least a hand in the 18 goals since then.
If Bury’s unfamiliar 11 were shaken by conceding their 11th League One goal without reply since beating Shrewsbury (on, coincidentally, November 21), they did not show it, and came close to equalising when Harry Bunn made ground down the left and crossed to the far post, where Ismail just failed to make contact.
With then ball, that is. Unfortunately for the Albanian-born winger, he clattered into the frame of the goal with such force that his game was ended. After lengthy medical attention pitchside, he limped back to the dressing-room, though, which was good to see.
In search of a second, Argyle played some sweet football but were, if anything, guilty of over-elaboration, tiki-takaing away when you sometimes felt that a good old-fashioned leathering would have served their purpose better.
They got their nerve-settling second after some more delightful play, this time from Lameiras, who shimmied his way into the penalty area past a couple of opponents before inducing a foul from a third, Greg Leigh. After some thought, referee Trevor Kettle whistled to awarded the spot-kick.
With the Devonport end singing his song, Carey stepped up to the ball….and demonstrated his hitherto barely questioned footballing mortality by missing his penalty.
Believe it or not, Ripley saved the not terribly well struck shot, although Carey merely used his stop as a wall-pass and calmly collected the rebound and volleyed the ball past the prone custodian.
Bury’s mountains – daily and seasonal – became steeper after the break, when Lowe, a substitute for the unfortunate Ismail, was dismissed for a late, stretching, high challenge on Matthews.
If the game had not been in the Pilgrims’ back pocket before then, it certainly was afterwards as they created chance after chance after chance against the ten men. A drive by Lameiras was well saved by Ripley, who recovered well to prevent Gary Sawyer from notching his first seasonal double for nine years.
With no tension in their legs and wind in their sails, Argyle’s players went through their training-ground paces with Carey, in particular, enjoying the abandon which comes with confidence and progress.
Lameiras, out in the cold three weeks ago, was not far behind and Ripley surpassed his earlier double save by clawing away Diagouraga’s header after the Portuguese playmaker had stood the ball up perfectly.
Bury could not keep out the green tide forever, though, and after a prolonged period of Pilgrims’ teasing, Sarcevic slammed the ball home for his first goal in nearly a year.
Argyle (4-3-3): 34 Remi Matthews; 18 Oscar Threlkeld (2 Gary Miller 88), 5 Ryan Edwards, 15 Sonny Bradley, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 24 David Fox (14 Jake Jervis 88), 32 Toumani Diagouraga; 10 Graham Carey, 19 Ryan Taylor, 11 Ruben Lameiras (21 Gregg Wylde 88). Substitutes (not used): 4 Yann Songo'o, 8 Lionel Ainsworth, 16 Joel Grant, 31 Michael Cooper (gk).
Booked: Diagouraga 18, Fox 56.
Bury (4-4-2): 12 Connor Ripley; 2 Craig Jones (14 Phil Edwards 59), 27 Nathan Cameron, 36 Peter Clarke, 3 Greg Leigh; 16 Zeli Ismail (39 Ryan Lowe 30), 8 Stephen Dawson (capt), 31 Neil Danns, 10 Danny Mayor; 33 Harry Bunn, 32 James Hanson. Substitutes (not used): 6 Eoghan O’Connell, 13 Callum Reilly, 18 Josh Laurent, 29 Michael Smith, 38 Leo Fasan (gk).
Sent off: Lowe 60.
Booked: Danns 61.
Referee: Trevor Kettle.
Attendance: 9,139 (146 away).