SO many football matches are decided by the little things, and it was the minor tweaks made by Derek Adams at half time against Bristol Rovers that guided the Pilgrims to a memorable 3-2 victory.
The Greens may well be on a stunning unbeaten run that has catapulted them to Sky Bet League One’s play-off places, but after some decent results and an eye on the top six themselves, the visiting Gas were never expected to be snuffed out easily at Home Park.
Darrell Clarke’s side looked poised on multiple occasions to hand Argyle a second defeat in 17 games. After 45 minutes, goals from Chris Lines and Ellis Harrison, either side of a Jamie Ness header, put the visitors 2-1 up in a match they were controlling at times.
“I thought it was an excellent game for League One football,” said Adams. “It was two very good sides; it was end to end; we get five goals in the afternoon; we had a missed penalty kick as well; and there was a whole lot of other things going on in the game as well.
“We obviously gave away a free kick in the first half. We could’ve done better and not given away a free kick, and then with the ball going into the side [of the net] that it does; we could’ve done better with that. It was his [Remi’s] side and Remi takes full responsibility for that, but he has made a number of outstanding saves for us throughout the season. That’s just what happens with a goalkeeper: they have good days and bad days.
“We got ourselves back into the game with a good goal, and after that they get ahead again when we have a good bit of play down the left-hand side. We give possession away and they go up the other end, bully us off the ball and score to make it 2-1.”
Many may have expected substitutions or wide-spread changes at the break, but Derek and his side backed their game-plan and focused on minor tweaks to begin the turnaround. A surge in energy and a willingness to regain control of the match laid the groundworks for a memorable comeback.
Shortly after Ruben Lameiras’ missed penalty, a deflected strike from Ness made it 2-2, and Graham Carey took on the responsibility of netting a winning penalty five minutes from time, after Yann Songo’o was impeded in the area.
“So we’re in at half time,” said Derek, “talking about things that we didn’t really have to talk about, because there was nothing really in the game. We had controlled large spells of it and [had] good play, without creating many openings, and we were 2-1 down at half time. We just had to change it about in the second half.
“We were just talking about small things and we started the second half really well. We got that penalty and Ruben misses, and then quickly after that, Jamie Ness gets the equaliser off of a deflection.
“Then, Graham gets the penalty at the end. Graham is very good in these situations. He’s got a very cool head. He had to wait a lot of time to take that second penalty, because Yann was on the floor after getting fouled.”
Much of the Greens’ efforts to turn things around against Rovers was based around regaining possession and dictating the direction of the match. The performance of Jamie Ness – an injury doubt all week after limping off against Fleetwood Town last weekend – epitomised this, as the Scot continues to solidify his status as focal point of the Argyle first team.
“Today, he was man of the match by a country mile,” said Derek on Jamie. “He was the best player on the park by a mile, Jamie Ness. He was good and what we did today, which was win second balls and keeping possession.
“He only trained on Thursday. He had a slight problem with his calf, but you couldn’t tell. His performance levels were excellent.”
Is was not simply attributes of attrition that helped Argyle on their way, though. Touches of class from Ness, Carey, Lameiras and others made sure their performance had enough ruthlessness to get the desired result – one that the Green Army who packed out Home Park will not soon forget.
“Some of the football that we played was good at times,” said Derek, “especially in the first half. But in the second half we played on the counter attack as well, and found space that wasn’t there in the first half, because Bristol Rovers defended deep. It probably typified their performance; they wanted to negate the dangers that we had.
“It was great to see, and I think that our supporters have gone home happy tonight. There was a great atmosphere in the game, and that was credit to both [sets of] supporters. To take over 12,000 supporters to the game: it shows you that they’re with us and they’re enjoying winning games.”