REPORT | ARGYLE 1 SOUTHAMPTON 2
A late, late goal from Che Adams inflicted a first defeat of the Championship season on Argyle.
The Greens matched Premier League ‘regulars’ Southampton for 94 minutes, recovering from a goal by Nathan Tella early in the second period to equalise withing 60 seconds, Ryan Hardie finishing neatly at the near post.
A draw was almost secured but Adams won it for the Saints following a stoppage time corner, poking home from close range.
Argyle manager Steven Schumacher handed a first start to Luke Cundle, with Finn Azaz also included in the midfield, and Kaine Kesler-Hayden back from a minor injury, replacing Adam Randell, Callum Wright and Saxon Earley.
The Greens opened with a lovely move for the Sky cameras but the final shot from Azaz was blocked, as the game then settled into some gentle early sparring.
The tempo lifted when Morgan Whittaker threaded a lovely pass wide left for Hardie on 16 minutes and the low cross needed a poked toe from former Pilgrim Jack Stephens to prevent a golden chance for the onrushing Bali Mumba.
The Saints responded with a sweeping counter-attack, shifting the ball from left to right, and Tella had a decent opening in the right channel but his scuffed shot lacked the power to seriously trouble Conor Hazard.
Argyle’s shape and discipline in the opening half-hour was a clear frustration for the visitors, who shared a 4-4 draw with Norwich last weekend, and the pace of the Pilgrims in attack was a constant menace, Kesler-Hayden forcing Jan Bendarek into a lunging challenge after one surge down the left.
It was, however, a first half where defenders took the plaudits, despite a stoppage time effort from Kesler-Hayden that dipped inches over from 25 yards.
Hazard restarted with a near-post parry from Kyle Walker-Peters. It was then over to Samuel Edozie on the left flank, jinking inside for a curling shot that flew narrowly beyond the far post.
Unfortunately for Argyle, the reprieve did not last long. Adam Armstrong ran at the Pilgrim defence and squared a pass for Tella, who met it with his left foot on the edge of the box and planted a sublime finish into the corner.
A minute later, the Greens were level. Whittaker burst down the right wing and steered a lovely cross to the near post for Hardie to expertly guide his first-time strike past a stranded Gavin Bazunu. It was a fantastic finish from the Scot, who has now bagged two in his opening three Championship fixtures.
Hardie was then denied a massive chance to give Argyle the lead when referee David Webb booked him for simulation after the number nine appeared to stumble over the challenge of Bazunu, who had come racing off his line.
A cracking second period took another twist with a delicious Stuart Armstrong strike thundering against the bar, as Cundle was withdrawn for Callum Wright. Mickel Miller for Kesler-Hayden was the next Pilgrim change.
After a brief lull in the entertainment, a dangerous break from Adam Armstrong culminated in a low cross that just eluded the run of Edozie, a chance that came after a sustained spell of Argyle probing around the Southampton penalty area.
A tremendous last-ditch challenge from Dan Scarr prevented Adam Armstrong from getting a clear shot on goal before Hardie dragged a shot wide after a penetrating pass from Mumba. Back to Adam Armstrong, and he was thwarted by an outstanding block from Lewis Gibson.
A triple change for the final ten minutes saw Randell, Ben Waine and Lewis Warrington introduced for Jordan Houghton, Hardie and Azaz. The Greens were then grateful to Hazard for an incredible save, somehow turning a vicious Aadam Armstrong free-kick over the bar.
Southampton were the side asking more questions in the closing stages but Argyle came back with a Whittaker strike bashing against the near post after weaving inside from the right.
Sadly, the Greens were beaten in heartbreaking circumstances. Hazard produced another top save from the initial header by Adam Armstrong but the ball fell to Adams for the easiest of close-range finishes.
Argyle: 21 Conor Hazard; 2 Bali Mumba, 4 Jordan Houghton (16 Lewis Warrington 80), 6 Dan Scarr, 8 Joe Edwards (capt), 9 Ryan Hardie (23 Ben Waine 80), 10 Morgan Whittaker, 17 Lewis Gibson, 18 Finn Azaz (20 Adam Randell 80), 28 Luke Cundle (11 Callum Wright 61), 29 Kaine Kesler-Hayden (14 Mickel Miller 70). Substitutes (not used): 25 Callum Burton (gk), 5 Julio Pleguezuelo, 7 Matt Butcher, 19 Tyreik Wright.
Booked: Hardie 58
Southampton: 31 Gavin Bazunu, 2 Kyle Walker-Peters, 3 Ryan Manning, 5 Jack Stephens (capt), 9 Adam Armstrong, 10 Che Adams, 11 Nathan Tella (18 Sekou Mara 90), 17 Stuart Armstrong (17 Joe Aribo 83), 23 Samuel Edozie (27 Samuel Amo-Ameyaw 75), 24 Shay Charles, 25 Jan Bednarek. Substitutes (not used): 13 Joe Lumley (gk), 14 James Bree, 15 Romain Perrauld, 25 Lyanco, 32 Kamari Doyle, 34 Dominic Ballard.
Booked: S. Armstrong 30, Charles 41, Manning 74, Stephens 90+1
Referee: David Webb
Attendance: 16,392 (1,602 away)