REPORT | ARGYLE 3 PORTSMOUTH 1
Argyle are back on top of Sky Bet League One and they capped their return with an outstanding display to overpower an in-form Portsmouth.
Sam Cosgrove scored the only goal of a dominant first period and the Greens were seemingly in control when substitute Finn Azaz steered home a lovely second on 70 minutes.
Pompey rallied and set up a tense finish via Reeco Hackett’s volley but the Pilgrims stayed composed in defence, and underlined a top display with a fabulous third from Ryan Hardie in the dying seconds.
In a demonstration of the improved depth in his squad after the transfer window, Argyle manager Steven Schumacher made eight changes from the side that lost 1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday last weekend, a result that had briefly knocked the Greens off the summit.
Argyle showcased their attacking intent within 13 seconds, Hardie sneaking into a decent position for a shot fired wide. A rocking Home Park was given further encouragement by a dancing run from Mickel Miller that forced the visitors into a hurried clearance on four minutes.
Hardie then steered a skidding Adam Randell free-kick over the bar before Pompey goalkeeper Josh Oluwayemi began his busy afternoon with a super block to thwart Callum Wright after a clever cutback from Hardie.
In satisfying contrast, Callum Burton was enjoying a blissfully quiet opening between the Pilgrim sticks, making a comfortable block from Owen Dale in an otherwise comfortable first quarter. His next save, parrying wide a Joe Morrell effort, required a bit more from the goalkeeping locker.
A minute later, the Greens were in front and Miller played a huge role, latching on to a lovely pass from Randell and forcing Oluwayemi into a good save, but Cosgrove was in the right place to mop up the rebound.
The Pilgrims were in complete control of the game and Miller, who has suffered so much injury frustration in his first Home Park season, was having some fun, as a well-struck volley was charged down by the Portsmouth defence.
A fine defensive intervention from Macaulay Gillesphey completed an excellent 45 minutes and the Greens restarted with the same level of zest, as Matt Butcher and Miller combined for a deep cross that was nodded down by Wright but Pompey hacked clear.
Jay Matete replaced Randell after a blow to the ankle for the young Pilgrim and the new man immediately surged forward, feeding a pass to Wright, who then found the non-stop running of Joe Edwards but the skipper was denied by a super tackle.
Oluwayemi was called back into action on the hour, brilliant saving from Wright after a superb dummy by Hardie, who then curled wide an effort of his own. Argyle looked to press down the thumb even harder with the introduction of more fresh legs, Azaz and Bali Mumba replacing Wright and Miller.
The strategy worked a treat, with Azaz reminding everyone of his wonderful balance and poise, dancing into the penalty area before steering a lovely low finish beyond the overworked Oluwayemi.
Portsmouth, to their credit, responded to the second goal and 70 minutes of almost relentless Pilgrim pressure with their best spell of the match.
Nigel Lonwijk dug out a great tackle to deny substitute Dane Scarlett but Pompey were back on the game on 79 minutes, as a set-piece ricocheted around the Argyle box and Hackett held his technique to volley past an exposed Burton.
Argyle quickly sought to relieve the unwanted tension with a Gillesphey effort charged down by the visitors and then Hardie forced yet more fine goalkeeping from Oluwayemi after a terrific break from Mumba.
James Bolton replaced Edwards for the closing stages and he was soon applauding backline buddy James Wilson for a superb clearance with Pompey forwards all lurking, as the visitors set about a late aerial siege.
Six minutes of stoppage time prompted another roar of encouragement from a jam-packed stadium and Gillesphey turned that roar to relief with a victory-clinching block from a Paddy Lane volley, and the final act of a cracking contest was sublime.
Argyle took advantage of the huge gaps in the Pompey defence, Cosgrove slipping a lovely pass into space for Hardie to calmly dink a delightful chip beyond the stranded Oluwayemi.
Argyle: 25 Callum Burton; 3 Macaulay Gillesphey, 5 James Wilson, 7 Matt Butcher, 8 Joe Edwards (capt) (2 James Bolton 87), 9 Ryan Hardie, 14 Mickel Miller (17 Bali Mumba 67), 16 Sam Cosgrove, 20 Adam Randell (28 Jay Matete 50), 21 Nigel Lonwijk, 26 Callum Wright (18 Finn Azaz 67). Substitutes (not used): 32 Adam Parkes (gk), 10 Danny Mayor, 23 Ben Waine.
Booked: Matete 73, Butcher 76
Portsmouth: 21 Josh Oluwayemi; 6 Conor Ogilvie (10 Joe Pigott 85), 7 Marlon Pack (capt), 8 Ryan Tunnicliffe (18 Reeco Hackett 69), 9 Colby Bishop, 15 Owen Dale (29 Paddy Lane 68), 16 Joe Morrell (3 Denver Hume 85), 20 Sean Raggett, 24 Michael Jacobs (19 Dane Scarlett 61), 28 Di’Shon Bernard, 34 Ryley Towler. Substitutes (not used): 33 Toby Steward (gk), 23 Louis Thompson.
Booked: Raggett 85
Attendance: 16,734 (1,599 away)
Referee: Simon Mather