Charlton Athletic 2
Grant 12, 88
ARGYLE came within two minutes of deservedly taking something home from the Valley after another performance which promised much but delivered nothing.
Already without three defenders, they lost two more to injury – as well as midfielder Antoni Sarcevic – during a game played at a relentless pace which was settled by Karlan Grant’s late goal.
Grant had already netted once, in the 12th minute, levelling Graham Carey’s opener three minutes earlier, and Argyle had preserved parity thanks to a penalty save late in the first half, when Matt Macey thwarted Lyle Taylor.
Argyle had showed three changes to the side that started out the previous week’s 1-0 home defeat by Blackpool, or, to put it another way, two changes to the side that had played for more than 90 minutes against the Seasiders.
Scott Wootton, who had substituted the injured Niall Canavan in the opening seven minutes seven days earlier, continued in that role, while Ash Smith-Brown, whose previous eight matches this season had been at left-back, came in for the injured Joe Riley on the opposite right-hand side.
The other switch to personnel was through choice, with Ruben Lameiras, an eye-catching substitute against Blackpool, preferred to Stuart O’Keefe in an attacking midfield combination between Graham Carey and Joel Grant.
A measure of the Pilgrims’ injury problems which had already ruled out Canavan, Lionel Ainsworth, Jamie Ness and Conor Grant could be gauged by the presence of some unfamiliar names on the team sheet under ‘Substitutes’ – Calum Dyson, Peter Grant and Alex Fletcher – and no Ryan Taylor.
Charlton, chasing fourth successive league win, made one obligatory change, with German central defender Patrick Bauer having ruptured his knee ligaments in the previous week’s 2-0 win at Bradford City. His place went to Naby Sarr.
Argyle might have been a man down early on against Blackpool but they were a goal up in similarly short order at the Valley with something of a rarity – a Carey header; not the perfect connection to Grant’s lovely cross from the left, but the perfect result.
The lead lasted as long as the unfortunate Canavan had the week before as Charlton equalised with a header of their own, Grant finishing off at close quarters after captain Jason Pearce had nodded on Ben Reeves’ corner.
Goalkeeper Macey seemed most aggrieved at the award of the goal, as did most of his team-mates, with captain Gary Sawyer carrying on an animated conversation with referee Dean Whitestone all the way to the restart.
Historically, games between Argyle and Charlton have often been high-scoring affairs – they once shared 20 goals in two days over Christmas – and the way both sides went about their business hinted at a return to the days of rattles and flat caps.
Sarcevic and Joel Grant both found space for long-range shots which were deflected before they could ask a question of goalkeeper Jed Steer, while Taylor and Joe Aribo buzzed around a Plymouth defence in which Yann Songo’o – evoking the spirit of Jumbo Chisholm - was quite outstanding.
That epithet should also be applied to Macey’s save of Taylor’s 37th-minute penalty, given for a dubious foul by Sarcevic on Ben Reeves. Getting a hand on the drive high to his right was impressive enough; getting enough strength behind it to divert the ball away from goal was something else.
Sarcevic saw yellow in the aftermath of Macey’s magnificent save, presumably for too intemperately pointing out that, in his humble opinion, justice had been served.
Also in the aftermath, Peter Grant replaced Wootton for his debut to become the 1,084th Pilgrim, forming, with Ryan Edwards, what cannot have been short of the 1,084th Pilgrims’ central-defensive pairing this season.
The breathless first half ended with Aribo having a shot saved by Macey before Freddie Ladapo was policed away from danger by Josh Cullen.
Argyle began the second half having made yet another defensive change, with Sawyer absent and replaced in the least like-for-like substitution in Argyle history by Gregg Wylde. Needs must, and, indeed, the wee man’s first contribution was to beat the considerably taller Taylor to a header.
Shortly afterwards, Sarcevic – Taylor’s only real competitor for the most hard-done-by man on the pitch – completed a hat-trick of Argyle injuries when he limped off to be replaced by David Fox, a conventional midfielder for midfielder swap.
Not that all the substitution shenanigans appeared to bother the Pilgrims, who were now attacking the 1,000-plus contingent of the Green Army in the Jimmy Seed Stand, as Grant (Joel) proved when he cut inside the penalty area and curled in a shot that rattled the crossbar.
From their point of view, Charlton needed to find a response to turn the momentum and they did, through Taylor’s break which took him half the length of the pitch before a shot which Macey kept out.
The tempo of the game remained high, testimony to two sides with great fitness and greater desire, and the balance of play not giving any indication how the final quarter might pan out.
Despite the changes of personnel, Argyle fell into their disciplined shape and supplemented that with some determined they-shall-not-pass defending, most notably when that seasoned left-back Wylde put a fine block on Josh Cullen’s fierce shot.
Charlton came close to making the breakthrough shortly afterwards, when Taylor and Grant were both involved in a huge goalmouth scramble, at the end of which, Wylde – who else? – came away with the ball.
The drizzle which had been falling for most of the afternoon gave way to more persistent rain as then match entered its do or die phase, and Carey greeted the final ten minutes by shooting over when cutting in from the right.
Taylor was then denied, by Wylde, inevitably, the Charlton man going down under the challenge, looking forlornly to the referee for the chance to redeem himself from 12 yards.
The Valley’s woodwork evened its favours when a long range shot from Lewis Page – remember him? – was deflected by Edwards, who watched, along with a flat-footed Macey, as the ball slowly looped up and hit the upright.
If luck was on Argyle’s side then, it was against them minutes later, when Grant claimed his second of the game.
A left-wing cross from deep into the penalty area found substitute Igor Vetokele, whose unclean header caught the Pilgrims’ defence by surprise as it dropped kindly at the feet of Grant, who could not miss.
Argyle tried hard to find an equaliser in the dying moments and Fox nearly did when his powerful low strike went inches wide with Steer well beaten.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): 21 Jed Steer; 20 Chris Solly, 23 Naby Sarr, 6 Jason Pearce (capt), 3 Lewis Page; 16 Jamie Ward (14 Igor Vetokele 81), 17 Joe Aribo, 24 Josh Cullen, 12 Ben Reeves; 18 Karlane Grant, 9 Lyle Taylor. Substitutes (not used): 1 Dillon Phillips (gk), 2 Anfernee Dijksteel, 7 Mark Marshall, 19 Albie Morgan, 25 Nicky Ajose, 32 George Lapslie.
Booked: Taylor 45.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 1 Matt Macey; 23 Ashley Smith-Brown, 5 Ryan Edwards, 25 Scott Wootton (24 Peter Grant 38), 3 Gary Sawyer (capt, 20 Gregg Wylde half-time); 7 Antoni Sarcevic (8 David Fox 53), 4 Yann Songo’o; 11 Ruben Lameiras, 10 Graham Carey, 16 Joel Grant; 19 Freddie Ladapo. Substitutes (not used): 13 Stuart O'Keefe, 18 Calum Dyson, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 29 Alex Fletcher.
Booked: Sarcevic 38.
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Attendance: 10,818 (1,013 away).