Finn Azaz celebrations


Argyle 2
Whittaker 24
Azaz 40

Sunderland 0

Every game in the Championship is a massive challenge, every team packed with quality. Sunderland are up there with the best, but Argyle answered every question to secure an excellent 2-0 win for a perfect return from the international window.

After a strong start from the visitors, Argyle broke the deadlock with a fizzing drive from the trusty left boot of Morgan Whittaker and a decisive second arrived five minutes before the break, Finn Azaz calmly slotting into the bottom corner.

The second period was full of endeavour and plenty of disciplined defensive work, alongside good penetration at the other end for the Pilgrims, as they deservedly marched on to a welcome win.

Two weeks after a battling performance at a very slick Leeds United side, Argyle took a few minutes to find their stride on a crisp winter’s day at Home Park, as the visitors created the first opening with a header from Ukrainian forward Nazariy Rusyn steered narrowly wide.

Argyle gradually settled into their task, although Sunderland continued to have the more promising openings, Rusyn firing over the bar after a Jack Clarke effort had been deflected off target by a steadfast home defence.

The Black Cats were the team applying pressure when the Green valve was released by a superb trademark Whittaker strike, cutting inside on his venomous left-foot to unleash an unstoppable drive beyond the reach of goalkeeper Anthony Patterson.

The attacking juices were suddenly flowing for Argyle, Azaz and Whittaker combining neatly on the wing to ruffle more Sunderland feathers. Azaz had a shot deflected off target and a header from Ben Waine flew inches wide, as the noise levels inside Home Park rose a few more notches.

A swift Pilgrim counter saw a threaded pass from Kaine Kesler-Hayden cleared on the stretch by Niall Huggins before a strike from Patrick Roberts flew into the grateful arms of a well-positioned Michael Cooper.

Azaz entered the international break in dazzling form and he has come out the other side full of belief, as demonstrated by an accomplished finish to double the lead, curling a lovely low effort beyond Patterson after a cracking Luke Cundle assist.

The half ended with a big escape, Jobe Bellingham thundering against the post from a good position, and the second half opened with some thrilling end-to-end football.

Waine headed wide from a Whittaker free-kick before the New Zealander swapped passes with the same team-mate for a shot blocked by the retreating Black Cats. Sunderland responded with a delightful cross from Clarke that was nodded against the post by Trai Hume.

Half-time substitute Adil Aouchiche had made an instant impact for the visitors, forcing two saves from Cooper, the second of which was parried into a dangerous area and credit to Lewis Gibson for reacting quickest to hack clear.

A brilliant weaving run by Whittaker bamboozled the Sunderland defence on the hour and his cutback prompted a desperate clearance, while Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray emptied his bench with three more changes for the final 30 minutes.

Argyle’s first replacements saw Adam Randell and Mustapha Bundu on for Cundle and Waine, moments after a fantastic brave defensive header from Jordan Houghton, preventing a certain goal at the back post.

Top defending from Julio Pleguezuelo blunted the next red and white foray, as the Pilgrims settled into a more containing shape for the closing stages of another high-octane Championship clash.

Argyle were primed for the counter and Whittaker delivered, surging into an empty midfield and sliding a lovely pass for the rampaging Bali Mumba, who shaved the outside of the post with his shot. Sunderland replied with a scuffed Clarke effort saved at the near post by the legs of Cooper.

A slick Mumba move down the left culminated in a sweet touch from Randell, presenting Bundu with a great chance in the channel but his side-footer took a slight deflection as it cleared the bar.

Argyle introduced Matt Butcher and Brendan Galloway for Azaz and Whittaker in the final few minutes, as the Greens calmly steered their ship to three big points, with Cooper adding the stoppage time gloss with a solid tip over the bar.

Argyle: 1 Michael Cooper; 2 Bali Mumba, 4 Jordan Houghton, 5 Julio Pleguezuelo, 8 Joe Edwards (capt), 10 Morgan Whittaker (22 Brendan Galloway 88), 17 Lewis Gibson, 18 Finn Azaz (7 Matt Butcher 88), 23 Ben Waine (15 Mustapha Bundu 73), 28 Luke Cundle (20 Adam Randell 73), 29 Kaine Kesler-Hayden. Substitutes (not used): 21 Conor Hazard (gk), 6 Dan Scarr, 11 Callum Wright, 16 Lewis Warrington, 19 Tyreik Wright.

Booked: Cundle 26, Kesler-Hayden 85, Randell 90

Sunderland: 1 Anthony Patterson, 2 Niall Huggins (23 Jensen Seelt 65), 5 Dan Ballard, 7 Jobe Bellingham (46 Bradley Dack 65), 10 Patrick Roberts (17 Abdoullah Ba 65), 13 Luke O'Nien (capt), 15 Nazariy Rusyn (12 Eliezer Mayenda H-T), 20 Jack Clarke, 24 Dan Neil, 32 Trai Hume, 39 Pierre Ekwah (22 Adil Aouchiche H-T). Substitutes: 30 Nathan Bishop (gk), 9 Luis Semedo, 21 Alex Prichard, 25 Nectarios Triantis.

Booked: O’Nien 85

Referee: James Bell

Attendance: 16,457 (1,632 away)