REPORT: Argyle 1 MK Dons 0
MK Dons 0
Argyle ended a difficult recent run of defeats with an inspired Christmas display at Home Park to beat MK Dons by a solitary goal from Ryan Hardie.
The Pilgrims were full of thrust and energy, controlling the first half in all departments, but without finding that crucial breakthrough.
The incredible work-rate continued after the break and the reward came midway through the second half, when Hardie expertly finished off a slick move from the Greens.
Argyle boss Ryan Lowe made five changes from the narrow midweek loss at Crewe, withdrawing Scott Wootton, Tyrese Fornah, Byron Moore, Frank Nouble and George Cooper for Joe Edwards, Lewis Macleod, Hardie, Luke Jephcott and Conor Grant.
MK Dons manager Russell Martin made just one switch from the side that battled to a 1-1 draw with Peterborough on Tuesday, with Regan Poole coming in for Warren O’Hora. Former Pilgrim Joe Mason was among the substitutes for the visitors.
Roared on by as much of the Green Army as restrictions allowed, Argyle started the game with admirable confidence and sharpness.
Neat passing and movement down the left won the Pilgrims a corner, which eventually looped up for Kelland Watts to attempt an overhead kick that only just lacked the power to seriously trouble visiting goalkeeper Andrew Fisher.
Mike Cooper raced off his line to gobble up one foray from the Dons but Argyle were soon bursting forward with terrific energy and tempo, with Danny Mayor cutting the ball back for Panutche Camara to lash a 22-yarder over the bar.
The combination of Hardie and Jephcott was looking particularly sharp for the Greens, as they exchanged passes for the young Scot to send a low drive wide of the far post from an awkward angle.
The sharp, alert work was not limited to the top end of the pitch for Argyle, as Will Aimson positioned himself perfectly to slide clear a dangerous low cross from the right.
Mayor restored the Pilgrims’ attacking impetus with a customary jink inside and a pass slipped into the left channel for Macleod, who was only narrowly off target with a curling effort toward the far corner.
As well as playing with attacking incision, Argyle were doing a fine job of winning the second-ball, with Camara and Macleod pivotal figures in that unglamorous, but crucial, part of the game.
Mayor and Grant were another duo working very well in tandem, forcing a corner down the left and the flurry of crosses from the left boot of Grant causing increasing unrest in the Dons’ defence.
The busy, speedy work of Hardie was adding to that unrest for the experienced backline pairing of Richard Keogh and Dean Lewington. Keogh attempted to relieve the stress with a surge forward but he overran the ball and earned himself a booking for lunging at Aimson.
Argyle had a mild shout for a penalty when Jephcott was bundled over by a challenge from Carlton Morris but referee Paul Howard showed no interest in the Pilgrim question. At the other end, Camara produced a superbly-timed intervention to close a dangerous opening for Lasse Sorensen in the 18-yard box.
Fine work from Mayor restored Argyle’s attacking dominance, as he conjured room for Grant to drift a far-post cross toward Edwards, who was just unable to climb high enough to keep the header on target.
Hardie then won the ball in midfield and a threaded pass wide for Grant. Hardie continued the run and was only denied a shot on goal by some last-ditch defending. The same pair combined again from the resultant corner but Hardie’s header was steered over.
A terrific opening 45 minutes concluded with one scare for the Greens, as a break down the right led to Cameron Jerome feeding a pass to Poole, but his low shot was superbly saved by Cooper.
The Dons made one change at the interval, removing Sorensen for Andrew Surman and the visitors opened the second period with a whipped cross to the back post that required a solid defensive header from Watts.
MK had clearly decided their best hope of breaking the Argyle dominance from the first half was to throw more men forward, as Surman benefited from a wall-pass with Jerome to attempt a low curler that was comfortable for Cooper.
Argyle broke the momentary shackles with an incisive trio of passes from Aimson, Grant and Mayor ending up with Jephcott in a great position on the right side of the area, but he slightly skewed the contact on his shot, which squirmed wide of the near post.
It proved to be the appetiser to a superb opening goal, as Jephcott laid a clever flick into the path of Edwards, who surged into the penalty and squared a low pass for Hardie. The first touch was sublime in creating space for a shot guided perfectly into the bottom corner.
The Pilgrim spirit was summed up by three men in Green sliding in unison to block a shot from David Kasumu, as the Dons sought a swift leveller. There was a collective fight that had 2,000 Argyle fans cheering in appreciation.
Martin attempted to find a solution by introducing Ben Gladwin for Poole, plus Baily Cargill and Mason replacing Jerome and Matthew Sorinola.
It was the Greens, however, who were looking extend their lead, as Mayor found Hardie for a weaving run only ended by a desperate challenge from Lewington. Moments later, Mayor released Jephcott for an effort well saved by Fisher.
The excellent Camara limped off with eight minutes remaining after a blow to the thigh, with Fornah the readymade replacement, quickly followed by Nouble coming on for an exhausted Hardie.
Fornah and Nouble picked up the mantle with tremendous vigour, never giving the Dons time to settle or find any rhythm, while Jephcott typified the team spirit with a lung-bursting run met with rousing applause from the Green Army.
It was a final contribution from Jephcott, as he was withdrawn for Dom Telford and Ben Reeves replaced the impressive Macleod in midfield.
The Greens played out the final minutes with tremendous assurance to secure three points wrapped in endeavour, heart and spirit.
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Mike Cooper; 4 Will Aimson, 6 Niall Canavan, 2 Kelland Watts; 8 Joe Edwards (capt), 28 Panutche Camara (18 Tyrese Fornah 84), 16 Lewis Macleod (14 Ben Reeves 90), 10 Danny Mayor, 15 Conor Grant; 31 Luke Jephcott (11 Dom Telford 90), 9 Ryan Hardie (7 Frank Nouble 85). Substitutes (not used): 23 Luke McCormick (gk), 5 Scott Wootton, 17 Byron Moore.
Booked: Watts 80
Milton Keynes Dons (3-5-2): 13 Andrew Fisher; 2 George Williams (11 Stephen Walker 83), 4 Richard Keogh, 3 Dean Lewington (capt); 5 Regan Poole (7 Ben Gladwin 73), 8 David Kasumu, 10 Scott Fraser, 18 Lasse Sorensen (16 Andrew Surman H-T), 29 Matthew Sorinola (6 Baily Cargill 76); 9 Carlton Morris, 35 Cameron Jerome (20 Joe Mason 76). Substitutes (not used): 1 Lee Nicholls (gk), 30 John Freeman.
Booked: Keogh 34, Sorensen 43, Kasumu 79
Referee: Paul Howard