REPORT: Argyle vs Forest Green Rovers
Hardie 41, Jephcott 87
Forest Green Rovers 1
A late goal in either half from Ryan Hardie and Luke Jephcott secured Argyle a 2-1 victory over Sky Bet League Two side Forest Green Rovers on Saturday afternoon.
After a competitive opening term, Hardie broke the deadlock with a left-footed strike, after cutting through the Rovers' back three to give the Greens a half-time lead.
Shortly after the interval, Dan Sweeney restored parity with a screaming long-range drive, which looked to have secured a result before Jephcott's late intervention.
As the return of competitive action loomed a short week away, Argyle bounced into their fourth and final pre-season friendly full of confidence following positive displays against Scottish Premiership giants Rangers and Sky Bet Championship side Middlesbrough, falling short by a single goal on each occasion.
The Pilgrims were set out in manager Ryan Lowe’s quintessential 3-5-2 formation, as Byron Moore returned to the starting 11 after missing the Boro fixture through illness. Scott Wootton was handed the captain’s armband as the bench was occupied by regular skipper Gary Sawyer, and Joe Edwards missed selection.
Meanwhile, Frank Nouble returned to the starting line-up to partner Hardie up top, with youngster Jephcott, fresh from a call-up to the Welsh under-21 squad, sitting on the bench. For the visitors, Mark Cooper’s Rovers’ line-up included former Pilgrim Jamille Matt, who enjoyed a successful loan spell at Home Park in 2016.
Led out by Wootton on a pristine Home Park pitch, Argyle came out with a desire to bag a win on their final scheduled pre-season game of 2020, and started brightly. It took just four minutes for Hardie to have his first attempt, latching onto a tidy through-ball from Conor Grant, and striking towards Rovers ‘keeper Luke McGee from 25-yards, but it fell straight into the visiting stopper’s gloves.
The visitors, who recently secured a 4-3 victory over Sky Bet League One side Bristol Rovers in a warm-up game, attempted to hit back, but they were unable to break through Argyle’s strong defensive line.
Having bought himself a little room down the left, Trialist delivered a dangerous low cross, but neither Grant nor Hardie could quite get a touch on the ball as it fizzed across the six-yard line.
Moments later, down the other end of the field, Forest Green forced an opening of their own, and only a fantastic block from Kelland Watts denied Matt from handing the visitors the lead. Shortly after, the highly-impressive Will Aimson did the same.
On 41 minutes, Hardie broke a stubborn deadlock, cutting onto his left foot after Nouble found him with a well-timed through ball, slotting confidently home.
Just five minutes into the second half, Rovers’ summer recruit Sweeney levelled matters with a powerful strike from the edge of the box, firing a rocket straight into the top corner, leaving Argyle 'keeper Cooper with no chance.
Argyle responded well to the visitors’ equaliser, and, 58 minutes in, Mayor and Nouble linked up nicely to set Hardie up, but Rovers cleared their lines.
Just after the hour, the Argyle management shuffled the deck to secure precious minutes for the likes of Jephcott, Dom Telford, Panutche Camará and Niall Canavan, who also received the armband as Wootton exited.
The visitors, who battled hard to match the Greens throughout, continued to threaten on the break, but Argyle kept a good defensive shape to prevent a breakthrough, eventually making the telling contribution themselves with just moments left on the clock.
Substitute Camará threaded the needle to send Jephcott beyond the back line, and the Welsh under-21 international lifted the ball over McGee with signature composure to secure the win.
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Mike Cooper (gk); 4 Will Aimson, 5 Scott Wootton (capt.) (6 Niall Canavan 64), 2 Kelland Watts (3 Gary Sawyer 78); 17 Byron Moore (27 Ryan Law 78), 15 Conor Grant (20 Adam Randell 84), 16 Lewis Macleod (28 Panutche Camará 64), 10 Danny Mayor (18 Trialist 72), 14 Trialist; 9 Ryan Hardie (31 Luke Jephcott 64), 7 Frank Nouble (11 Dom Telford 64).
Substitutes (not used): 23 Tyler Coombes (gk), 19 Klaidi Lolos.
Forest Green Rovers: 1 Luke McGee (gk); 2 Kane Wilson, 4 Dan Sweeney, 5 Chris Stokes, 7 Carl Winchester, 8 Ebou Adams, 10 Aaron Collins, 11 Nicky Cadden, 14 Jamille Matt, 15 Jordan Moore-Taylor, 22 Udoka Godwin-Malife.
Referee: Brett Huxtable
Assistant Referees: Simon Long and Paul Rees
Fourth Official: Callum Waller