Bristol Rovers 1
A LATE strike from Victor Adeboyejo gave Sky Bet League One side Bristol Rovers a narrow victory over Argyle at Home Park in a pre-season friendly.
The forward converted a simple finish after Kyle Bennett capitalised on an unfortunate slip by Pilgrim trialist Ben Hall, allowing the former Pompey forward the freedom of Home Park to pick his pass. Until then, it looked as though the game was going to peter out in stalemate.
With just seven days left until the curtain-raising Sky Bet League Two fixture against Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road, the Pilgrim line-up felt palpably more like a first draft of next week’s team selection than previous warm-up games.
In fact, even the bench contained just the seven substitutes permitted by EFL rules. Lowe provided one surprise for the amassed Green Army, though, in the form of trialist Hall – a Northern Irish defender released by Brighton in the summer.
A crowd of 5,099, penned into the Devonport End and half of the Lyndhurst Road Stand, greeted the players as they ran out onto the Home Park pitch for the first time this season. A few firsts followed in the coming minutes – the first time Ryan Lowe stepped into the dug-out at Home Park for a live game; the first time the players emerged from the new dressing rooms in the corner of the stadium; and the first time they had worn their already-popular black-and-green third kit.
It was Rovers who were nearly first to hit the scoresheet, inside the first minute. Liam Sercombe drifted inside from the left touchline, 25 yards out, and unleashed a swerving strike that Argyle’s loanee goalkeeper, Alex Palmer, tipped on to the bar and over.
Unperturbed, the Pilgrims responded just one minute later. Byron Moore, who netted 93 seconds into his debut at Buckland a few days earlier, nearly had another early goal.
Latching on to a poor back-pass, Moore used his blistering pace to round the goalkeeper of the Rovers team he used to play for, but his strike from a narrow angle was closed off by the retreating Tom Davies.
Both sides were clearly trying to play attractive football on a carpet of a Home Park pitch that suited them in both equal measure.
In most cases, the final pass was lacking, as evidenced when Niall Canavan, sporting his new and improved squad number on his back, made a telling interception to cut out Luke Leahy’s left-wing cross on the six-yard line. At the other end, Joe Riley and Callum McFadzean got into positive positions a number of times but struggled to make their crosses count.
As the first-half drew to a close, Sercombe had another stinging effort at goal from range, but once again Palmer got two firm hands to it and directed the effort around the post.
As referee Brett Huxtable had the whistle between his lips to signal half-time, Palmer completed a hat-trick of Sercombe denials. The midfielder was threaded through by fellow Exeter academy graduate Tom Nichols, but the West Brom loanee closed the angle well to charge down Sercombe’s shot with his knees.
Neither side made a change as the teams emerged for the second-half, which served as perhaps the biggest indicator yet that the Pilgrims are nearing a settled starting 11. The game continued in a similar vein, too, with little opportunity for either side before Sercombe had another long-range crack just after the hour mark, again held by Palmer.
On 67 minutes, Rovers carved open an opportunity, when Mark Little’s right-wing cross found Ed Upson unmarked on the penalty spot. Upson connected well with his header and looked as though he had scored, only for the ball to ricochet back off the post and be clawed off the line by Palmer.
The Pilgrims responded via substitute Conor Grant’s corner, which bounced around the Rovers box until it landed at the feet of Scott Wootton, whose left-footed swing looked to be goal-bound but for a saving block by Tony Craig.
Rovers broke the deadlock late on, Bennett picking up the slip from substitute trialist Hall to ghost into the Pilgrims’ area and lay on Adeboyejo for an easy finish inside the box, with Mike Cooper committed to closing Bennett down.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer (1 Mike Cooper 81); 5 Scott Wootton (4 Ben Hall 75), 6 Niall Canavan, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 2 Joe Riley, 7 Antoni Sarcevic (15 Conor Grant 66), 8 Joe Edwards (20 Adam Randell 75), 10 Danny Mayor (14 Jose Baxter 70), 21 Callum McFadzean (23 Ashley Smith-Brown 77); 16 Joel Grant, 17 Byron Moore (19 Klaidi Lolos 64).
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): 32 Anssi Jaakola (GK); 2 Mark Little (22 Josh Hare 75), 5 Tony Craig (15 Alfie Kilgour 70), 16 Tom Davies, 25 Luke Leahy; 6 Ed Upson, 7 Liam Sercombe, 8 Ollie Clarke (4 Abu Ogogo 75), 23 Kyle Bennett (20 Gavin Reilly 87); 10 Tom Nichols (9 Victor Adeboyejo 70), 33 Alex Rodman (68 Lucas Tomlinson 87). Substitutes (not used): 1 Jordi van Stappershoef (gk), 3 Tyler Smith, 18 Michael Kelly, 24 Rollin Menayese.
Referee: Brett Huxtable.
Attendance: 5,099 (103 away).