Swindon Town 1
JV Grant 76
JOEL Grant’s second-half strike earned Argyle a come-from-behind point at the Energy Check County Ground against Swindon Town.
The Pilgrims dominated the majority of the closing stages and nearly snatched a late winner against a home side who were clinging on to the point earned by Eoin Doyle’s 45th minute strike.
Facing the same opposition in consecutive fixtures is a unique challenge in itself, although the Pilgrims’ outstanding performance and 3-0 victory over the Robins probably eased the tensions ahead of the not-quite-Westcountry-derby. Given the strength of Argyle’s performance last time out, Ryan Lowe was presented with the age-old, almost philosophical, dilemma: stick or twist?
The answer turned out to be somewhere between the two. Star midfielder Danny Mayor returned from a well-earned rest on Tuesday night in place of Conor Grant, who could not shake off the quad injury sustained in Leasing.com Trophy action. Callum McFadzean also returned to left wing-back, but not in place of skipper Gary Sawyer – who resumed duites in the back three, bumping Josh Grant down to the bench. In goal, Alex Palmer replaced Mike Cooper.
Despite the familiar surroundings, a boisterous atmosphere at the Energy Check County Ground, and an almost entirely different opposition, met the Pilgrims as they emerged from the tunnel. Sporting their chic black-and-green third kit for the first time this season, and backed by 2,300 members of the Green Army, the Pilgrims knew they would surely be in for a thoroughly different 90 minutes when Sky Bet League Two points are at stake.
That said, it was the Greens who carved out the first serious opening, through a similar source as their goals in midweek. Released in midfield, Antoni Sarcevic found the time and space to thread Zak Rudden in behind. Under pressure from Mathieu Baudry, the Rangers loanee forced his way into the box and around goalkeeper Steven Benda, before running out of room to fire his shot away.
The opening third of the game was not as explosive as the midweek fixture, although it was more competitive. Argyle continued to try and operate with the style known simply as ‘the Ryan Lowe way’, playing to feet and out from the back, but they were met with much firmer resistance this time around from a Swindon side employing a strict man-marking policy.
For the hosts, the majority of the play was funneled through one-time Pilgrim transfer target Doyle. The game was largely denied fluency by a spate of Swindon injuries, first to Keshi Anderson, then Lloyd Isgrove and finally Anthony Grant, who all required lengthy treatment, but not enough to be substituted.
The game seemed to be crawling along inconsequentially in a first-half bereft of clear opportunities, before a flurry of activity just before the interval changed the complexion of the afternoon. First, Swindon forced an opportunity through debutant full-back Dion Donohue, who danced past a number of sliding challenges to find himself in the box. His final product ricocheted viciously off two Green defenders before slipping narrowly beyond the big toe of Doyle and into the grateful hands of Palmer.
Immediately, Lowe’s side responded with a clear-cut opportunity of their own. Mayor, on the edge of the area, shaped to shoot before slipping Rudden in behind. This time, the striker did get his shot away, but he could only fire it straight at Benda.
Rudden was visibly frustrated at failing to convert, and his heart must have sank into his boots moments later, when the hosts took the lead in first-half stoppage time. Racing on to a through pass from Jordan Lyden, Doyle ghosted behind the Pilgrims’ defensive line and beat Palmer to the ball, before clipping it delicately over the ‘keeper to notch his eighth of the season and leave Argyle trailing at the interval.
The Pilgrims emerged from the dressing rooms with one personnel change – Niall Canavan on for Will Aimson; although the former Bury central defender did not appear to be struggling, it is presumed that this was an enforced change.
The Greens began the second period brightly, with Rudden firing narrowly over from range. Town, sensing a Pilgrim resurgence, did their best to break up play, and Baudry became the second Swindon player in the opening stages of the second period to enter referee Rob Lewis’ book for refusing to hand the ball back after committing a foul.
In search of parity, Lowe brought on Jose Baxter for Joe Riley, who had collected a booking in the first-half. The resultant reshuffle saw Joe Edwards move to right wing-back. On the other flank, George Cooper, sporting a protective mask over his recently broken cheekbone, replaced McFadzean a few minutes later.
The two substitutes nearly combined to haul the Pilgrims back on to level terms on 71 minutes. Cooper, whose every involvement looked all the more impressive due to his facial attire, crossed from the left flank. His deep delivery could only be parried away by Benda underneath the onrushing Edwards, who collected the ball at the second attempt. Edwards laid the ball off to Baxter who, spotting the ‘keeper out of position, pulled the trigger from 20 yards. It went over.
Swindon, with 15 minutes left on the clock, had retreated entirely into their own territory, seeking to protect their slender advantage. It did not work. Exhibiting the patience and guile required to break down a side as deep as the hosts, Argyle carved an opening in front of the pack Stratton Bank End to set the Green Army alight.
Receiving the ball on the edge of the area, masked phantom Cooper shaped to shoot, but instead fed Joel Grant from an acute angle. It was, in many ways, a carbon copy of Rudden’s opportunity in the first-half, except, this time, Grant curled the ball beyond Benda and into the back of the net.
The goal forced Swindon to rethink their approach and, suddenly, they showed some ambition in the final third. Kaiyne Woolery, introduced from the bench for Isgrove amid the Argyle celebrations, forced Palmer into a smart save from a tight angle. Moments later, after mugging Scott Wootton of possession, the substitute wasted a golden opportunity to regain the lead, dragging his shot wide from inside the box.
As the first period had ended, so did the second, with both sides seeking a winner. Sarcevic, afforded freedom by Swindon’s change of style, drove with purpose at the back line before unleashing a fierce shot which stopped dead in the penalty area after hitting a Swindon body. Unfortunately, the ball landed agonisingly equidistant between Sarcevic and Rudden, and neither could turn it home for the winner.
As the fourth official’s board went up for four minutes, Sarcevic might have thought he scored the winner. A Baxter free-kick was only partially cleared to the midfielder on the edge of the area, and he struck the volley as sweetly and powerfully as he could have hoped. Only the bravery of Baudry, who stood up manfully to the fizzing strike, denied Argyle the win.
Swindon Town (4-2-3-1): 1 Steven Benda (gk); 24 Rob Hunt, 6 Mathieu Baudry (capt), 34 Gabriel Zakuani, 35 Dion Donohue; 42 Anthony Grant, 19 Jordan Lyden; 7 Lloyd Isgrove (11 Kaiyne Woolery 77), 30 Keshi Anderson (10 Michael Doughty 57), 9 Jerry Yates; 28 Eoin Doyle. Substitutes (not used): 4 Danny Rose, 5 Tom Broadbent, 14 Ellis Iandolo, 17 Scott Twine, 23 Luke McCormick (gk).
Booked: Grant 49, Baudry 56, Lyden 67, Doyle 89.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer (gk); 5 Scott Wootton, 4 Will Aimson (6 Niall Canavan 45), 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 2 Joe Riley (14 Jose Baxter 61), 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 Joe Edwards, 10 Danny Mayor, 21 Callum McFadzean (32 George Cooper 69); 16 Joel Grant, 39 Zak Rudden. Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper (gk), 20 Adam Randell, 25 Josh Grant, 33 Rubin Wilson.
Booked: Riley 42, Canavan 78, Mayor 84.
Referee: Rob Lewis
Attendance: 9,548 (2300 away est.)