Salford City 2
Wilson 63, 69
Moore 19, Sarcevic 67, Hardie 90
ARGYLE proved right manager Ryan Lowe’s assertion that their rare away defeat at Colchester four days earlier had been a blip with a victory on their first visit to Salford that shouted volumes about their character, resilience, strength and sheer will to win.
Twice pegged back by the home side after taking a lead, they claimed three points in the opening minute of injury-time when substitute Ryan Hardie fired home.
Argyle went ahead in a competitive and sometimes feisty game through Byron Moore midway through the first half, then nudged in front again from a sensational Antoni Sarcevic strike in the second half after City substitute James Wilson had levelled.
Wilson, making his Salford debut, equalised for a second time, but Argyle would not be denied and Hardie saw them home.
Argyle manager Ryan Lowe had made two changes to the Pilgrims’ starting 11 from the one that had begun the previous Saturday’s defeat at Colchester United.
Callum McFadzean came in for his first league start since late November in an Argyle-first appearance at left centre-back, where he replaced Josh Grant, who had come in for suspended skipper Gary Sawyer at the weekend.
Hardie also dropped to the substitutes’ bench, with Moore moving up front to partner Luke Jephcott, allowing Joe Edwards to come in at right wing-back and captain the side.
Salford goalkeeper Kyle Letheren was the only one of the Ammies’ three ex-Pilgrims to line up for the opposition. Oscar Threlkeld was on the substitutes' bench and there was no place in the squad for Jake Jervis.
The weather and pitch conditions that greeted Argyle on their arrival at Ewan MacColl’s dirty old town did not promise to help the Lowe brand of quick slick football. A dirty old pitch had soaked up plenty of Storm Ciara and not even the bitter crosswind could dry it up to a level that really suited the Pilgrims’ pass masters.
Argyle were obliged to soak up Salford’s own style of play, more direct to make best use of a surface that sloped across the pitch – from the Pilgrims’ right to left in the first half – or, at times, avoiding use of it.
In typically robust fashion, the home side bundled the ball into the net from an early corner, but celebrations dried in their throats as referee Paul Marsden signalled for a push on goalkeeper Alex Palmer.
Argyle grew into the match, their resilience shining through, and took the lead with a move of genuine quality. Edwards and Sarcevic moved the ball, and Salford’s defenders, around with alacrity before the latter sent a wicked cross, down the hill, into the box.
The ball curved away from Letheren in a delicious arc, finding Moore stealing in at the far post. It stuck under Moore’s feet for a second, but the Argyle man spun round and fired the ball home.
The game suddenly looked easier for the Pilgrims, whose midfield gradually assumed control. A sweet move between Moore and George Cooper on the left ended with Edwards just failing to apply what surely would have been a scoring touch on Moore’s delivery.
Salford did little to cause the Argyle rearguard many alarms. Their main threat seemed to be Bruno Andrade, but Palmer was more than equal to his shot, as he was to a similar effort from Tom Elliott as half-time approached.
The first 45 minutes safely negotiated, Argyle emerged for the second half following a snow shower at the interval, and were quickly into their stride, Cooper nearly picking out Jephcott’s perceptive run to the near post.
Salford, now with a strengthening wind largely in their favour, countered with a cross from Ash Hunter that Rooney failed to get on the end of before, at the other end – the one populated by a 1,005 of the Green Army - Cooper drew an excellent flying save from Letheren.
The former Argyle man further kept his side in the game when he again threw himself across his goal to tip away a stunning left-foot volley from Sarcevic that was arrowing into the top corner.
Salford changed things up by introducing Brandon Thomas-Asante and Wilson, a transfer-window signing from Aberdeen. The pair had been on the pitch only seconds before Wilson sent a header looping past Palmer, despite the Argyle goalkeeper stretching to get fingers on the ball.
Argyle took the blow, bounced off the ropes and went back in front in mighty fashion, Sarcevic collecting a Salford clearance outside the box and steering a magnificent shot past Letheren with the outside of his boot.
Salford matched the go-ahead goal with a great strike of their own, Wilson creating something out of very little, turning and firing home with too much pace for Palmer.
The frenetic action continued with Palmer making a double save to deny Wilson the opportunity of a possible hat-trick and, then, Hunter on the rebound.
Back came Argyle, now with Joel Grant on for Jephcott in worsening conditions, seeking the winner, pinning back Salford, who played on the counter.
Palmer saw off Wilson in a one on one and then stopped Hunter’s shot, before Argyle’s second substitute Hardie and Grant both went close to converting crosses at the near post.
Even though conditions were as testing as in any game this season, Argyle stuck to the game-plan, and their energy and enterprise created plenty of half-chances in and around the Salford penalty area that were repelled by the home side’s bodies-on-the-line defending.
Cue the supersub super Scot.
Salford City (4-4-2): 12 Kyle Letheren; 2 Scott Wiseman, 5 Liam Hogan, 15 Cameron Burgess, 3 Ibou Touray; 26 Bruno Andrade (44 Craig Conway 77), 16 Jack Baldwin, 29 Michael O'Connor, 45 Ashley Hunter; 9 Adam Rooney (28 Brandon Thomas-Asante 61), 11 Tom Elliott (49 James Wilson 61). Substitutes (not used): 1 Chris Neal (gk), 4 Oscar Threlkeld, 17 Richie Towell.
Booked: O’Connor 52.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer; 5 Scott Wootton, 6 Niall Canavan, 21 Callum McFadzean; 8 Joe Edwards (capt), 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 14 Tyreeq Bakinson, 10 Danny Mayor (25 Josh Grant 88), 32 George Cooper (18 Ryan Hardie 78); 17 Byron Moore, 31 Luke Jephcott (16 Joel Grant 68). Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper (gk), 11 Dom Telford, 15 Conor Grant, 20 Adam Randell.
Booked: Mayor 54, Sarcevic 54, Wootton 90
Referee: Paul Marsden.
Attendance: 2,297 (1,005 away)