ARGYLE’S search for a first Sky Bet League One victory of the season continues.
Mark Cullen’s early goal was enough to shade an encounter which was largely as close as the scoreline suggests and which might have been different had referee Neil Hair seen Blackpool’s Donervon Daniels handle the ball inside his penalty area, or if Freddie Ladapo’s ingenuity had not been denied by a goalpost.
There was no faulting the Pilgrims for effort or desire, and some of the play was on a par with that which took them to the fringe of the play-offs last season, which makes the winless start to this campaign all the more frustrating.
Blackpool ended the game with only nine men as, in the first of four minutes injury-time, defenders Daniels and Marc Bola were sent off at the same time as they shaped up to face a Pilgrims corner.
Injuries to Conor Grant and Jamie Ness had obliged manager Derek Adams to alter the starting 11 that provided the base on which the previous Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Bristol Rovers was achieved.
One of those midfield changes saw Joel Grant, so effective as a tactical impact substitute at the Memorial Ground, step into the line-up to replace his namesake on the left-hand side. On-loan Cardiff City man Stuart O’Keefe was recalled to the right flank, with Antoni Sarcevic gravitating into the middle alongside Yann Songo’o.
Argyle’s injury count increased by 50% within the first few minutes of the game, when centre-back Niall Canavan went down and stayed down in his own penalty area. Scott Wootton, who had replaced right-back Joe Riley at Bristol, came on to fill the left centre-back vacancy.
Five minutes later, physio Paul Atkinson was on the field again to administer another long bout of treatment, this time to goalkeeper Matt Macey, who was clattered by Cullen after making a brave intervention.
In between the two medical interludes, Argyle had looked bright, with Grant involved in most of their forays, although Blackpool posted note of intent when Cullen shanked a low cross from the left that was begging to be finished off.
Maybe it was down to the early interruptions, but the Pilgrims did not seem as solid as they had done seven days earlier, and that feeling was reinforced by the manner of Blackpool’s opener.
Nathan Delfouneso made too much ground too easily down the Argyle right and his cut-back from the bye-line found Harry Pritchard in a little too much space. The midfielder’s shot might have beaten Macey unaided but Cullen tickled the ball on its way, just to make sure.
The Pilgrims initially appeared shellshocked by the setback and Blackpool had few problems keeping them where they wanted them.
Argyle, though, rallied, and rallied well, forcing a succession of corners from which they tested the visiting defence. The last of them saw Grant just unable to force home the ball after Graham Carey’s shot was saved; the first of those should not have been a corner – it should have been a penalty as Daniels clearly handled Carey's driven cross.
Aside from a few problems that Delfouneso continued to cause down the Blackpool left, Argyle looked the side most likely to, They nearly did when Carey’s cross into Ladapo’s feet at the near post was met with a back-heel that beat goalkeeper Mark Howard, hit the inside of the post and rebounded along the goal-line into the arms of a dizzy, but grateful, custodian.
The Pilgrims were up against a defence that had yet to concede a goal away from home this season, after posting clean sheets at Wycombe, Shrewsbury and Walsall and although they were not teak tough, they were tough enough.
Argyle lost momentum at half-time and Macey did well to mop up after some early hesitancy in his defence, tipping Cullen’s low shot around the goalpost as the opposition gained the initiative.
Macey did well to keep out a low cross from Delfouneso before a double substitution from the Pilgrims with Ruben Lameiras and Ryan Taylor replacing O’Keefe and Ladapo.
Almost immediately, Lameiras found his way into the penalty area and delivered a low ball across the face of the Devonport end goal that was a goal for the want of a touch.
Taylor, too, was soon in the thick of things and his presence at a dead ball helped create an opportunity for Edwards, whose shot was tipped over the crossbar by Howard.
As the game ebbed to its conclusion, Blackpool did not know whether to stick or twist, with the result that Argyle had plenty of possession, most of it in the half of their visitors, who remained dangerous on the counter and went close when John O’Sullivan headed a cross from fellow substitute Ryan McLaughlin wide.
Argyle, cheered on by a still believing Green Army, cranked it up as the clock ticked down, camping in the Blackpool half and forcing a number of corners and half-chances.
The best came in injury-time, firstly, when Lameiras’ cross was flicked on by Taylor and Gary Sawyer could not quite force the loose ball home. Then after the double red card, when Edwards had two not quite clean enough headers on consecutive balls into the penalty area.
The breakthrough just would not come. The wait goes on. Surely, though, not for much longer.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Matt Macey; 2 Joe Riley, 5 Ryan Edwards, 14 Niall Canavan (25 Scott Wootton 5), 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 13 Stuart O'Keefe (11 Ruben Lameiras 63), 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 4 Yann Songo’o, 6 Jamie Ness, 16 Joel Grant; 10 Graham Carey, 19 Freddie Ladapo (9 Ryan Taylor 63). Substitutes (not used): 8 David Fox, 20 Gregg Wylde 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 23 Ashley Smith-Brown.
Booked: O’Keefe 46.
Blackpool (4-2-3-1): 1 Mark Howard, 20 Ollie Turton, 16 Curtis Tilt, 2 Donervon Daniels, 27 Marc Bola; 15 Jordan Thompson, 8 Jay Spearing, 7 Nathan Delfouneso, 14 Harry Pritchard (18 John O'Sullivan 45), 24 Liam Feeney (17 Ryan McLaughlin 67); 9 Mark Cullen (21 Armand Gnanduillet 72). Substitutes (not used): 6 Ben Heneghan, 12 Michael Nottingham, 29 Finlay Sinclair-Smith, 37 Christoffer Mafoumbi (gk).
Sent off: Daniels 90, Bola 90.
Booked: Bola 68.
Referee: Neil Hair.
Attendance: 8,658 (162 away).