Argyle 3 Gillingham 1 - REPORT
Ladapo 22, 34, Lameiras 73
IT would be easy, seeing the identity of the scorer of Argyle’s first two goals – and, indeed, the provider of the third - to suggest that this sweet victory was the result of a one-man show.
However, although Freddie Ladapo put himself on a Home Park hat-trick for the second time in four days with two first-half strikes, this was very, very much a team triumph, a win forged on collective character and skill.
The headline-grabber was, though, Ladapo, who scored twice in 12 minutes of an opening half utterly dominated by a much-changed Pilgrims’ side and then crafted the third for substitute Ruben Lameiras midway through a second period in which they maintained their high-octane performance.
Not even a late strike from Luke O’Neill could dent a result and display that had the feeling of a renaissance moment about it.
Argyle manager Derek Adams had made five changes to the Pilgrims' side. Yann Songo'o returned from a one-match suspension to replace the ill Ryan Edwards in the centre of defence, alongside Niall Canavan, with Peter Grant dropping to the substitutes' bench.
There were also recalls for Jamie Ness and Joel and Conor Grant, who came in for Lameiras and slightly injured pair Ashley Smith-Brown and Stuart O'Keefe.
Gillingham, who were deprived of victory only in the last minute of their 3-3 draw at Doncaster on Saturday, made three changes, with Josh Rees, Elliott List and Conor Wilkinson coming in for Alex Lacey, Bradley Stevenson and Josh Parker.
Argyle started the game arguably as well as they have any this season: no sign of anxiety and every sign that, contrary to wild speculation, they care deeply about the club’s uncertain start to the campaign. The Green Army responded to their obvious efforts accordingly.
With midfield axis of Ness, David Fox and Antoni Sarcevic in dominant mood, Gillingham barely saw the ball for minutes at a time. Argyle edged their way ever forward and Carey, who looked as up for it as anyone, had couple of range-finders from either side of the area, only for goalkeeper Thomas Holy to spiritedly deny the Pilgrims.
Not for long, though.
No-one has assisted more Argyle goals this season than Carey and no-one has scored more than Ladapo, so the Pilgrims’ opener could have been scripted. The former’s little flick was read expertly by the latter, whose eye for a goal currently is as big and wide as his heart.
A quick look up, a little bit of back lift and the ball curled around the goalkeeper, much like Ladapo’s opener against Burton at the weekend had.
The inclusion of Conor Grant at left-back – the fourth Pilgrim to play there this season – had raised eyebrows, at best, and questions about the manager’s sanity, at worst, but it proved to be as informed a selection as any that the Argyle gaffer has made in his three and half years at Home Park.
Conor had already added penetration and a decent bit of balance to the Pilgrims’ attack, when he linked up with namesake in the left-hand corner, Joel, before sending in the type of delivery which strikers thrive on.
In the mood that Freddie is in, he was not going to pass up the opportunity and left Holy rooted as he nodded the ball home for his fourth goal at the Barn Park end in one and half matches.
To say that Argyle deserved their lead would be severely understating matters. The first 45 minutes was entirely theirs, and some of the passing, moving and sheer bloody-mindedness was redolent of the best moments of last season.
The Gills switched things at half-time, going to a 3-5-2 formation, presumably with the intention of trying to wrest control of the midfield from the Pilgrims’ superior trinity.
Argyle, though, had the bit between their teeth and were not for sitting back on their advantage. Sarcevic broke through and fed Joel Grant, who could not quite bring the ball under control, before Carey tried a cheeky shot to the near-post that Holy scrambled to keep out.
Ladapo then played in Sarcevic for a shot that went narrowly wide, and the one-way traffic continued with Carey and Holy resuming their personal contest, the goalkeeper coming out on top again.
Gillingham had more of the ball in the second half – in truth, if they had less of it, they would have had none at all – and Macey needed to be tall and strong to keep out a shot from substitute Navid Nasseri.
An Argyle substitute had the next word, though, and the word had a Portuguese accent. Lameiras’s time on the field in place of the injured Carey could better be measured in seconds, rather than minutes, when Ladapo supplied the pass for a shot that the Devonport end sucked in after Max Ehmer’s goal-line intervention.
Gillingham ensured that the Pilgrims stayed honest by immediately reducing the Argyle lead to two again, O’Neill firing in from the edge of the area with Macey seeing his low drive through a forest of legs too late to do anything.
Too late, though, to change the destiny of three much needed – and much-deserved – points.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Matt Macey, 22 Tafari Moore, 4 Yann Songo'o, 14 Niall Canavan, 15 Conor Grant; 8 David Fox (capt, 13 Stuart O’Keefe 81), 6 Jamie Ness, 7 Antoni Sarcevic; 10 Graham Carey (11 Ruben Lameiras 71), 19 Freddie Ladapo (35 Luke Jephcott 90), 16 Joel Grant. Substitutes (not used): 20 Gregg Wylde, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 23 Ashley Smith-Brown, 24 Peter Grant.
Gillingham (4-3-1-2): 1 Thomas Holy; 2 Luke O’Neill, 6 Gabriel Zakuani, 5 Max Ehmer, 12 Barry Fuller; 13 Callum Reilly (3 Brad Garmston half-time), 24 Josh Rees (16 Billy Bingham 78), 33 Mark Byrne; 15 Elliott List; 9 Tom Eaves, 10 Conor Wilkinson (17 Navid Nasseri 69). Substitutes (not used): 4 Alex Lacey, 14 Josh Parker, 30 Tom Hadler (gk), 34 Conor Ogilvie.
Booked: Ehmer 18, Bingham 89, List 90.
Referee: Darren England.
Attendance: 8,754 (254 away).