Match report for Bristol Rovers vs Plymouth Argyle on 08 Sep 18
Bristol Rovers 0
ARGYLE have their first away point, and Bristol Rovers have their first home point.
That is the sum total of what came out of a game which spotlighted two teams short on wins, points and confidence.
It was a game not devoid of action, as each side had periods of offence in which it looked like a goal must surely follow, but particularly good saves by each side's goalkeeper were the significant contributions in this one.
Derek Adams said, before the game, that his intention was to put Graham Carey back into a position where he was most comfortable, and could cause the most damage. Adams did this by playing Carey just behind forward Freddie Ladapo, with a narrow midfield four behind comprising Antoni Sarcevic, Yann Songo'o, Jamie Ness and Conor Grant.
Niall Canavan came back into the back four at the expense of Ashley Smith-Brown, with skipper Gary Sawyer shuffling back to his usual left-back position. Joe Riley and Ryan Edwards made up the rest of the defensive line, in front of goalkeeper Matt Macey.
Rovers played a (formerly) orthodox 4-4-2, and the two sides were fairly evenly matched over a well-contested early part of the game.
For Rovers, Sam Matthews shot over very early on, with Ollie Clarke testing Macey from further out, while, at the other end, Sarcevic's excellently timed run nearly led to something in the home box. Twinkling feet from Ladapo then carved out his own chance, but it was held by home keeper Jack Bonham.
Both sides were looking for their difference-makers to get into the game, and when a player for each team did that, both came from slightly fortuitous circumstances.
Argyle had the ball under relative control deep in their midfield when a combination of an an unlucky ricochet and the referee's positioning took the ball away from Songo'o and Sarcevic, and into Rovers' possession.
A quick ball to Kyle Bennett, and the player who Derek Adams has previously stated his admiration for nearly broke the deadlock. He quickly stepped inside, beat a man and took a shot, but Macey saved well.
At the other end, Carey dribbled one shot wide when he wrangled a rare bit of real estate in the midfield, then, shortly afterwards, flicked a dangerous looking cross into the area. There was no-one pressuring Bonham, who made a snap decision to dive and push the ball round the post.
In truth, what had started as a snappy little encounter rather tamely petered out into a half-time break at which the score remained goalless. More to the point, the teams looked bereft of confidence, which is perhaps is hardly surprising given the record of the sides to this point.
A first-half knock put paid to Riley's afternoon, as he was replaced at the break by Scott Wootton, who fell in, like-for-like, at right back.
The second period also replaced the first, like-for-like. Both sides were equally guilty at producing a hard-to-watch, staccato affair during which completing three successive passes was considered a sustained spell of possession.
Around the hour mark, Rovers pinned Argyle into their area for an uncomfortable amount of time, during which Macey made a very fine diving save to prevent Matthews giving the Gas the lead.
On 61 minutes, Adams went Grant-for-Grant, bringing on Joel for Conor, and tweaking Argyle's system,with Carey moving out to the right flank. Joel looked to make an immediate impact, cutting inside and going down in the area, but claims for a penalty seemed rather forced. It would have been a harsh call.
At the other end, Gavin Reilly turned Edwards and shot into the side-netting, and Matthews was again on the end of a move, this time picking up a one-two but again finding Macey too strong.
Joel Grant, meanwhile was having a big impact, and although Argyle clear-cut chances still seemed elusive, the corner and free-kick count in dangerous areas was notably increasing, with Grant at the heart of all matters.
If there was ever a moment when you felt you knew a game would be 0-0, it was in the 74th minute, when Carey's corner caused chaos in the Rovers six-yard area. At least three shots were somehow blocked in an extraordinary passage of play, including one by Edwards who was lying prone on the deck at the time.
Under a minute later, Grant went on another surging run, and cut back to Carey, who seemed odd-on to score. He did little wrong - the save by Bonham was tremendous.
Perhaps it was circadian rhythms making Argyle think it was a 3pm kick-off, but suddenly it was a Green flow. Time after time, Argyle were getting beyond Rovers or drawing fouls. Yet the final, precise pass or finish just would not come.
To wit, with nine minutes remaining, Ladapo gamboling down the left flank and perfectly teeing up Sarcevic, but the shot being just wide. Just wide to the extent that it hit a stanchion and rolled along the net, giving the cruel impression of a goal, too.
Both sides huffed, puffed, failed to blow any houses down, and in the end would both be secretly happy with a point more than has been occasionally forthcoming so far this season.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): 13 Jack Bonham; 2 Daniel Leadbitter (16 Tom Broadbent 85), 15 James Clarke, 5 Tony Craig, 28 Michael Kelly; 26 Sam Matthews (24 Stuart Sinclair 79), 14 Chris Lines, 8 Ollie Clarke (capt), 23 Kyle Bennett; 20 Gavin Reilly (10 Tom Nichols 68), 9 Stefan Payne. Substitutes (not used): 6 Ed Upson, 17 Alex Jakubiak, 21 Adam Smith (gk), 33 Alex Rodman.
Bookings: Craig 90
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Matt Macey; 2 Joe Riley (25 Scott Wootton half-time), 5 Ryan Edwards, 14 Niall Canavan, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 4 Yann Songo’o, 6 Jamie Ness (9 Ryan Taylor 85), 15 Conor Grant (16 Joel Grant 61); 10 Graham Carey, 19 Freddie Ladapo. Substitutes (not used): 11 Ruben Lameiras, 13 Stuart O'Keefe, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 23 Ashley Smith-Brown.
Bookings: Carey 86.
Referee: Michael Salisbury.
Attendance: 9,006 (1,153 away).