Swindon Town 0
Rudden 15, JV Grant 36, Riley 66
ARGYLE cruised to the top of the Leasing.com Trophy Southern Group F table after a comfortable win on the first of the week’s two visits to the County Ground.
A performance that was fine chalk to the somewhat whiffy cheese of the previous Saturday’s disappointing 2-2 draw against Scunthorpe United at Home Park was capped by fine goals from Zak Rudden, his first in an Argyle shirt, Joel Grant and Joe Riley.
Driven on by Antoni Sarcevic and, before he was injured, Conor Grant, the Pilgrims dominated on and off the ball, and were full value for the three points that sees them needing only to draw with Chelsea Under-21s at Home Park on October 29 to qualify for the next stage of the competition.
Before that, they return to Wiltshire on Saturday for the possibly more significant Sky Bet League Two encounter against opposition who are bound to be stung into a response to a comprehensive defeat.
Pilgrims’ manager Ryan Lowe had made five changes to his starting line-up from the one that had begun against the Iron, all but one affecting defensive positions.
Birthday boy Mike Cooper came into goal behind a back line to which Niall Canavan and Josh Grant were added in the centre, with captain Gary Sawyer taking Callum McFadzean’s left wing-back role and Will Aimson dropping down to the bench.
Riley occupied the wing-back role on the opposite flank, allowing Joe Edwards to move into central midfield, where he replaced Danny Mayor.
The lone attacking change saw Rangers' loanee Rudden come in for Ryan Taylor, who took his place on a bench that also included first-year pros Klaidi Lolos, Adam Randell and Mike Peck.
Argyle’s first-half display was as invigorating as Saturday’s Scunthorpe showing had been insipid, and their 2-0 lead at the break was unflattering only in the sense that they were worth, conservatively, three times that tally.
After a short period feeling their way into the game, during which Michael Doughty’s free-kick tested Cooper, the Pilgrims bossed proceedings.
They took the lead when Conor Grant – the triumvirate of Pilgrim Grants starting a game for the first time – drove through the midfield before releasing Sawyer for a cross, one of 19 in the first 45 minutes, which found Rudden for a header back across goalkeeper Steven Benda.
Benda, called up for league regular Luke McCormick, was a key factor in Swindon keeping the score down to a respectable number in the opening 45 minutes. The German stopper flipped a drive from Sarcevic on to the crossbar; leapt to tip over an edge-of-the-box curler from the same player; and thwarted Joel Grant at least twice.
Sarcevic and Conor Grant were also denied by bodies being flung in the way of fierce shots as Swindon’s overworked defence struggled to deal with Argyle’s slick, quick, movement and passing, not to mention a succession of sublime Conor Grant corners.
They were finally undone by another rapid Argyle move from the back, with Sarcevic taking the ball from the centre circle to the edge of Swindon penalty area before rolling in a perfectly timed pass that did not require Joel Grant to break stride before he shot past Benda.
The Pilgrims did not let up after the interval, with the only temporary interruption to their absolute control coming when Conor Grant limped off, to be replaced by Randell.
A third goal nearly arrived from an unlikely source when Sarcevic used a huge amount of space on the right to clip a cross over to the far post, where Sawyer’s powerful volley was blocked on the way to goal.
If Sarcevic has had a better game in a green shirt, it is difficult to bring it to mind. Having created the second goal with a smart and sweet delivery, he surpassed that pass with the perspicacious lay-off that invited the overlapping Riley to crash a low drive across Benda for the third.
Argyle withdrew Rudden and Sarcevic, possibly with one eye on Saturday, but still looked the side most likely to score and Joel Grant hit the inside of the post before Swindon mounted a too-late resurgence, Cooper plucking off Lloyd Isgrove’s header effortlessly.
A significant footnote to a most pleasing evening arrived when second-year scholar Rubin Wilson became Pilgrim number 1,105 when he made his debut as a late substitute.
To the future.
Swindon Town (4-4-2): 1 Steven Benda; 2 Tyler Reid, 21 Taylor Curran (5 Tom Broadbent 41), 34 Gabriel Zakuani, 14 Ellis Iandolo (24 Rob Hunt 53); 4 Danny Rose (capt), 8 Adam May, 10 Michael Doughty, 7 Lloyd Isgrove; 28 Eoin Doyle (17 Scott Twine 72), 11 Kaiyne Woolery. Substitutes (not used): 9 Jerry Yates, 13 Cameron McGilp, 23 Luke McCormick, 32 Sidy Sanokho.
Booked: Zakuani 26.
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Mike Cooper; 5 Scott Wootton, 6 Niall Canavan, 25 Josh Grant; 2 Joe Riley, 7 Antoni Sarcevic (33 Rubin Wilson 78), 8 Joe Edwards, 15 Conor Grant (20 Adam Randell 56), 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 16 Joel Grant, 39 Zak Rudden (9 Ryan Taylor 72). Substitutes: 4 Will Aimson, 19 Klaidi Lolos, 24 Alex Palmer (gk), 26 Mike Peck.
Booked: Rudden 45.
Referee: Chris Pollard.
Attendance: 1199 (146 away)