Niall Ennis celebrates the opener

Report | Argyle 2 Bolton Wanderers 0

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Argyle 2
Ennis 34, Hardie 88

Bolton Wanderers 0

In a game decided by ability to execute, Argyle conjured the two moments of quality that mattered to see off fellow promotion hopefuls Bolton Wanderers at Home Park.

Niall Ennis gave Argyle the lead in the first half by exhibiting a combination of diligent forward craft and smart thinking to get beyond Wanderers skipper Ricardo Santos and fire home, before Ryan Hardie came off the bench to secure the points with an emphatic finish to send the vast majority of 15,000 supporters home delighted.

The win is Argyle's fourth from just six league games this season - all of them coming with clean sheets - and keeps them within striking distance of the early pace setters in Sky Bet League One.

Satisfied with his side’s excellent showing at Forest Green Rovers last time out, Argyle manager Steven Schumacher made just one change from the 3-0 win at the Bolt New Lawn, with Jordan Houghton coming in for Adam Randell in midfield. Meanwhile, experienced defender James Wilson was named among the substitutes after serving his one-match ban. The visitors’ squad contained two former Pilgrims, with Gethin Jones starting in defence, and Will Aimson on the bench.

Argyle had not yet conceded a goal in Sky Bet League One football at Home Park before the visit of the Trotters, and from the off, Bolton looked as though they’d pose a stiff challenge to that record.

The direct pace and power of forward Dion Charles looked to stretch the Greens’ back-line, picking up from deep and driving at the defence in the opening exchanges. On the first such occasion, the former Accrington Stanley man saw his pull-back cleared by Dan Scarr, and on the second he took a tumble into the box, but referee Will Finnie waved away the implication that there had been any contact from an Argyle leg.

Moments later, Finnie’s philosophy of letting the game flow fell in Bolton’s favour, as Nigel Lonwijk went down under pressure from Kyle Dempsey, and the Bolton creative midfielder was able to race in behind before dragging his effort wide from an acute angle.

Argyle forged their first attempt on James Trafford’s goal just after 10 minutes, when a smart low corner from Houghton picked out Finn Azaz on the penalty spot – and the Aston Villa loanee saw his first-time effort blocked by the head of a Wanderers defender when it looked to be hitting the target, at the very least.

To their credit, Wanderers continued to pose questions, pressing high to try and negate Argyle’s play from the back. On 20 minutes, they could have been in front, too, but for a superb sliding block from Bali Mumba to deny Kieran Lee from 15 yards. Within a minute, at the other end, Mumba was denied by a block of Bolton’s own after good work from Danny Mayor.

Mayor himself was growing into the game, enjoying the precious commodity of space afforded to him by this season’s 3-4-3 system. Collecting a Joe Edwards pass 30 yards from goal, the Pilgrims’ no.10 glided into the box and powered a low effort low to the left, but Trafford got down smartly to beat the fierce drive away.

A game played with the attacking intent showed by both sets of players was not going to remain goalless for long, and it was Argyle who exhibited enough composure to strike first. Lonwijk’s weighted ball into the channel offered just enough for both Ennis and his marker Santos to contend for the touch, and the Argyle striker came out on top, overcoming a significant physical mismatch to spin in behind, ride Santos’ challenge, and coolly sidestep Trafford’s lunge to finish.

The goal, his second in as many games, was just reward for Ennis’ tireless work up top, and the former England youth international appeared to be relishing the tussle with the Wanderers’ back line, carving out further routes forward – as well as picking up a yellow card for an over-exuberant challenge – as the first half drew to a close.

After a flurry of first-half opportunities, the second period was more of a slow burn – the first clear opportunity not coming until the hour mark. Matt Butcher’s in-swinging corner went beyond Lonwijk and found Brendan Galloway at the far post – but through a crowd of bodies his reaction stab with his weaker right foot floated agonisingly wide of the angle with Trafford rooted.

As the game reached the final 20 minutes, Schumacher introduced fresh legs. One of them, Hardie, laid in another, Morgan Whittaker, with his first touch, and Whittaker drove towards the box, slipping a pass into the box which narrowly evaded the run of Mumba.

With 10 minutes to go, the 750 hardy souls who travelled from Bolton were certain they had an equaliser, only to be denied by an incredible reaction save by Michael Cooper.

Having lost possession in dangerous territory and passed up opportunities to clear, the Greens were outnumbered as a low cross made its way into the box. Unmarked, 10 yards out, substitute Amadou Bakayoko struck goalwards, but Cooper changed direction with remarkable agility to kick the ball onto the post.

It proved to be Bolton’s last chance of a reprieve. With the minutes ticking down, Whittaker broke through an ailing Wanderers midfield to feed Hardie in space, and the Scottish striker fired emphatically beyond Trafford to secure the points in front of a gleeful Devonport End.

Argyle (3-4-3): 1 Mike Cooper (gk); 21 Nigel Lonwijk, 6 Dan Scarr, 22 Brendan Galloway (3 Macaulay Gillesphey 84); 8 Joe Edwards (capt), 4 Jordan Houghton (20 Adam Randell 57), 7 Matt Butcher, 17 Bali Mumba (5 James Wilson 84); 10 Danny Mayor, 18 Finn Azaz (19 Morgan Whittaker 57), 11 Niall Ennis (9 Ryan Hardie 70). Substitutes (not used): 25 Callum Burton (gk), 31 Luke Jephcott.
Booked: Ennis 40, Edwards 53

Bolton Wanderers: 19 James Trafford (gk), 2 Gethin Jones, 5 Ricardo Santos (capt), 6 George Johnston, 10 Dion Charles, 14 Jack Iredale (7 Kieran Sadlier 75), 16 Aaron Morley, 20 Kieran Lee, 21 Conor Bradley, 22 Kyle Dempsey (17 Oladapo Afolayan 75), 24 Elias Kachunga (11 Amadou Bakayoko 67). Substitutes (not used): 3 Declan John, 4 Jordan Williams, 15 Will Aimson, 25 George Thomason.

Booked: Bradley 64

Attendance: 14,631 (764 away)

Referee: Will Finnie

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