Colchester United 0
ANTONI Sarcevic’s first goal since January, just before the hour, set the Pilgrims on their way to a hard-earned victory over obdurate visitors and maintained their 100% start to the new Sky Bet League Two season, as well as their early lead of the division.
The midfielder ended a run of 19 games without a goal when he seized on a lay-off from substitute Dom Telford to drive the ball home in front of the Devonport end. His previous strike as a Pilgrim had been at Southend United; clearly he has something against Essex sides.
The perfect start to the campaign was endorsed by a second successive clean sheet, with the new-look central defensive trio proving to be a rock upon which Colchester’s best efforts foundered.
Manager Ryan Lowe had seen no reason to make any changes to the line-up that had started the previous weekend’s table-topping 3-0 opening-day win at Crewe Alexandra.
New on-loan signing, young Chelsea centre-back Josh Grant, started life as a Pilgrim on the substitutes’ bench. His presence as the third Grant on the playing staff, and second J Grant saw Joel Grant line up identified as ‘JV Grant’ on his No.16 shirt, the V for Valentino.
Colchester made one change to the side that had begun the previous week’s 1-1 home draw with Port Vale, Ben Stevenson coming in for Harry Pell in the United midfield.
Argyle’s players soon found their visitors in their faces, clearly having done their homework from the Alexandra Stadium victory. Jevani Brown’s mission was to stay tight on Pilgrim fulcrum Joe Edwards, the initiator of much of the forward momentum in Cheshire.
There is more than one dimension to the Lowe systems, though, and Argyle came close to an early strike when Joe Riley’s first-time header on goalkeeper Alex Palmer’s kick-out played in Byron Moore, whose shot was saved unfussily by Dean Gerken.
Riley and More then combined again, on the floor this time, with Moore looking for support from Grant, of the Valentino ilk, and seeing his low cross cut out. You felt that life might have been more interesting if Moore’s shot-pass choices had been the other way around.
Gradually, Argyle upped the pace. Danny Mayor fired not far over after cutting in from the left before Riley – one of several players whose form this season is already noticeably better than last – benefited from a saucy Sarcevic flick to drive in on goal, only be thwarted at the last.
Colchester were content to defend their lines and press hard. Only rarely did they break out of this early mindset to threaten Alex Palmer’s goal, and the Argyle goalkeeper gathered most that slung into his area. When he needed help, Scott Wootton expertly cleared Courtney Senior’s cross from a poised Luke Norris.
Valentino’s game ended in heartache when he limped out of proceedings with what appeared to be hamstring trouble, to be replaced by Telford, the seventh player to make a Pilgrims’ debut this season.
Colchester were as potent in the opening two minutes of the second half as they had been in the entire first period, with Palmer having to get down to shots from Senior and Luke Norris, before the latter was inches away from getting a toe on the former’s low drive across the face of goal.
Argyle responded in kind, Moore powering in off the left before shooting low and hard past Gerken, only for the post to preserve United’s clean sheet.
The breakthrough was not long in coming, with Sarcevic finishing off a move started on the left by Danny Mayor, who slipped United’s shackles with a burst of pace and handed off to Telford. Sarcevic was the final link in the chain, finding enough time and space to send a measured low shot across and past Gerken from the edge of the penalty area.
Colchester had to abandon their restraining game if they were to get anything from their cross-country visit, and Argyle responded by replacing Edwards with Jose Baxter. Moore, too, made way, for the greater physical presence of Ryan Taylor.
The game opened up accordingly, with Baxter, especially, benefiting from the opportunity to pass out from central midfield. However, Colchester nearly profited from lost possession by the former Everton man when substitute Luke Gambin curled a shot only just over a beaten Palmer’s crossbar.
Argyle might have wrapped things up when Riley sent Sarcevic galloping away down the right in acres of space for the scorer to deliver a cross that Taylor could not quite convert.
As Colchester chased a point, Palmer was obliged to save from Ryan Jackson, but he and the Argyle back line stood firm for a second successive shut-out.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer (gk); 3 Gary Sawyer (capt), 6 Niall Canavan, 5 Scott Wootton; 2 Joe Riley, 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 Joe Edwards (14 Jose Baxter 71), 10 Danny Mayor, 21 Callum McFadzean; 16 Joel Grant (11 Dom Telford 34), 17 Byron Moore (9 Ryan Taylor 75). Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper (gk), 15 Conor Grant, 20 Adam Randell, 25 Josh Grant.
Booked: Sarcevic 8.
Colchester United (4-2-3-1): 1 Dean Gerken (gk), 22 Kane Vincent-Young, 18 Tom Eastman, 5 Luke Prosser (capt), 3 Cohen Bramall (2 Ryan Jackson 76); 4 Tom Lapslie (37 Andre Hasanally 86), 24 Ben Stevenson, 7 Courtney Senior (26 Luke Gambin 64), 10 Jevani Brown, 45 Frank Nouble, 9 Luke Norris. Substitutes (not used): 14 Brandon Comley, 19 Ollie Kensdale, 27 Noah Chilvers, 29 Ethan Ross (gk).
Booked: Stevenson 27.
Referee: John Busby.
Attendance: 10,542 (211 away)