Clarke pen 45
A MAGNIFICENT performance by Argyle goalkeeper Mike Cooper ensured the Pilgrims returned from their North-West weekend odyssey with two superb results in two days,
Cooper made a string of superb saves at Southport’s Pure Stadium to deny reigning Premier League Cup holders Everton victory in the group stage of this year’s competition.
He was beaten just once, early in Sunday’s game by Harry Charsley, but was otherwise impassable as Argyle claimed a second successive group point – after a 1-1 Home Park draw with Watford – through Billy Clarke’s penalty late in the first half.
Ryan Taylor and Dom Telford initially spearheaded a strong Argyle side, having remained upcountry after the previous day’s Emirates FA Cup victory at Bolton Wanderers in which both had been among the Pilgrims’ replacements, with Telford coming on at the death of the 1-0 win.
Clarke, who had played 20 minutes as an eye-catching substitute at the University of Bolton Stadium, supported the experienced striking pair, who both had half-chances in the opening stages of the game: Taylor made space well for a shot that was blocked late by Lewis Gibson; Telford found a yard for an attempted lob over goalkeeper Harry Tyrer that dropped to safety.
With Tafari Moore providing a threat down the left, Argyle were more than holding their own against quality opposition. All that changed in an instant after a strong run down their right from the powerful and pacey Dennis Adeniran created the opportunity for a shot from Oumar Niasse.
Niasse, a £13.5m buy from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2016, was wayward with his snatched attempt, but the ball fell kindly for Charsley, who contorted his lower half to nudge the ball past Cooper.
Argyle continued to please in their build-up play without managing to breach the Blues’ back line to unduly trouble Tyrer, whose opposite number Cooper needed to be sharp to keep out Niasse’s drive to the foot of his near post.
It was the start of a purple patch for the Pilgrims’ man in pink who tipped a powerful header by Charsley over the crossbar following a cross by Matthew Foulds, and then beat out shots in quick succession from Adeniaran and the seemingly omnipresent Charsley.
Telford, Taylor and Clarke all looked sharp, which bodes well for Argyle’s continuing Sky Bet League Two campaign, and the latter two combined well when Taylor teed up Clarke for a shot that narrowly missed on the angle.
Cooper kept out a drive from Niasse before the Pilgrims’ tenacity paid full dividend in the final minute of the first half.
The ball was worked out to the right-hand side of the penalty area, where Clarke’s cut inside was stopped with zero subtlety by Gibson. Clarke stepped up, waited for Tyrer to go down, and lifted the ball to where the Everton custodian had been standing half a second earlier.
Everton introduced forward Ellis Simms from the bench at half-time and adopted a more attacking formation which nearly bore immediate fruit through Charsley, whose drive had Cooper at full stretch.
Charsley then played in Simms, whose short odds on scoring lengthened the moment Cooper sprang from his goal to save bravely at his feet.
That stop was nothing compared to the stop that denied Simms after Everton captain Morgan Feeney had been allowed a free header from a corner for the third time in the game. Simms’ helping foot to the already on-target attempt seemed only to add unnecessary power but Cooper had other ideas and smartly turned the ball aside on his goal-line.
By that time, Telford had been substituted for Luke Jephcott, his measured rehabilitation after injury having been satisfied.
Everton kept coming, but kept finding Cooper in impassable mod, Adeniran joining the list of Toffees unable to stick one past the former Plymouth College student after twisting past Mike Peck.
Clarke and Taylor were withdrawn with 15 minutes to play and were replaced by Alex Fletcher and Klaidi Lolos at the same time as Everton brought on Kyle John.
John joined his colleagues in adding to Cooper’s list of fine saves, with the Pilgrim flinging himself to his left to tip the ball around the post for a corner from which he turned Ryan Astley’s header over the crossbar.
Argyle were defending well and looking to catch their hosts on the break. They nearly succeeded when Moore led a charge and offloaded to Fletcher, whose cross found Jephcott running in for a touch at full stretch that diverted the ball past Tyrer but also just wide of the post.
The Pilgrims’ next game in the competition is away at Fulham on Friday, November 29.
Everton (4-2-3-1): 1 Harry Tyrer; 2 Ryan Astley, 5 Morgan Feeney (capt), 6 Lewis Gibson, 3 Matthew Foulds; 8 Tyler Onyango (15 Ellis Simms half-time), 4 Beni Baningime, 7 Denis Adeniran, 10 Nathangelo Markelo, 11 Harry Charsley (14 Kyle John 74); 9 Oumar Niasse. Substitutes (not used): 12 Alex Denny, 13 Nico Hansen (gk), 16 Einar Iversen.
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Mike Cooper; 14 Isaac Burdon, 16 Mike Peck, 18 Tom Purrington; 17 Jarvis Cleal, 7 Charlie Miller, 8 Adam Randell (capt), 22 Billy Clarke (10 Alex Fletcher 75), 2 Tafari Moore; 11 Dom Telford (29 Luke Jephcott 58), 9 Ryan Taylor (15 Klaidi Lolos 75). Substitutes (not used): 30 Ali Mansary, 31 Harry Townsend (gk).
Booked: Randell 64.
Referee: Elliott Swallow.