REPORT | BRISTOL ROVERS 2 ARGYLE 2
Bristol Rovers 2
Argyle had to settle for a point, despite scoring two brilliant first-half goals, as Bristol Rovers fought back to level after the break.
Finn Azaz curled a worldie into the top corner on 14 minutes and Adam Randell matched it with a stunner of his own on the stroke of half-time.
The Gas were back in the game with a scruffy goal from substitute Josh Coburn immediately after the restart and Aaron Collins earned his side a point, finishing off a slick Rovers move just before the hour-mark.
Argyle boss Steven Schumacher made one change from the side that won handsomely at MK Dons last weekend, Brendan Galloway returning in place of Matt Butcher, while Rovers included former Argyle loanee from way back in 2007, Scott Sinclair, among their substitutes.
A patient probing move from Argyle almost conjured the first opening on seven minutes, Randell and Morgan Whittaker shifting the ball wide for a Niall Ennis cross cleared by the home defence.
The Gas responded with a brace of corners, defended with powerful assurance by James Wilson, and Argyle were in front moments later. Bali Mumba twisted his full-back inside out before laying the ball back to Azaz and what happened next was simply sensational.
Azaz dummied to cross, jinked the ball on to his left foot and, from the right corner of the penalty area, curled a stunning finish into the far top corner for a wonderful opener.
Rovers had a big chance to level within two minutes, Collins latching on to a long ball over the top but the shot direction was read by Mike Cooper, diving to his right for another super save added to his bulging scrapbook.
The stadium temperature rose a notch with some tasty tackles befitting a Westcountry derby, as the game developed into a midfield scrap for a spell. While passing fluency was proving a challenge for both sides, the trio of Wilson, Galloway and Nigel Lonwijk were largely untroubled at the back for Argyle.
A series of Pilgrim blocks repelled a Rovers’ set-piece four minutes before the interval and Argyle countered with a lovely move creating room for Joe Edwards on the left. The skipper cut the ball back for an Azaz shot charged down by Lewis Gibson.
The Green Army were soon bouncing again with joy and another fabulous goal, Randell cushioning the ball 25 yards from goal and spearing a superb strike into the top corner, once again giving home goalkeeper James Belshaw zero chance.
A battling first-half performance, bookended by two marvellous goals for the Greens, and Cooper thwarted the first Rovers’ threat of the second period, punching clear a corner under heavy pressure.
The Gas did find a breakthrough moments later, a low cross from the right finding substitute Coburn at the near post to bundle the ball past Cooper, despite a brave attempt from the Argyle custodian.
An astonishing double save from Cooper prevented a complete turnaround, diving low to his left to block a curler from Ryan Loft and then he scrambled to his feet and scampered across goal to somehow repel a close-range volley from Jordan Rossiter.
The Greens were under serious pressure, Loft volleying wide from 20 yards, but Azaz broke the pattern, robbing the ball in a dangerous area and his low effort from a tight angle was saved by the legs of Belshaw.
Rovers levelled from their next attack, Rossiter slipping a clever pass into the path of Loft, who touched it to the onrushing Collins for a stabbed finish into the corner.
Ryan Hardie replaced Whittaker on the hour, followed by Conor Grant for Edwards, as a pulsating game continued with both sides looking for a potentially decisive fifth goal. Argyle were again grateful to Cooper for a sharp reflex save after a cross had deflected off the boot of Lonwijk.
The Greens settled with a delightful spell of possession football and a succession of corners heaping the pressure on Rovers, Azaz the main architect in the search for a winner. Butcher brought fresh legs to the midfield in place of Randell, as Wilson made a crucial covering challenge from a Rovers’ break.
A deep home corner found the head of Bobby Thomas for an effort tipped on to the post by Cooper and a breathless Westcountry cracker ended with honours even.
Bristol Rovers: 1 James Belshaw; 3 Lewis Gordon, 6 Sam Finley (capt), 10 Aaron Collins (23 Luke McCormick 83), 14 Jordan Rossiter, 17 Lewis Gibson, 18 Ryan Loft (7 Scott Sinclair 89), 19 Harry Anderson (28 James Gibbons 65), 21 Antony Evans, 30 Luca Hoole (40 Josh Coburn H-T), 37 Bobby Thomas. Substitutes (not used): 32 Anssi Jaakkola (gk), 20 Trevor Clarke, 22 Harvey Saunders.
Booked: Loft 37
Argyle: 1 Mike Cooper; 5 James Wilson, 21 Nigel Lonwijk, 22 Brendan Galloway; 8 Joe Edwards (capt) (15 Conor Grant 67), 20 Adam Randell (7 Matt Butcher 77), 4 Jordan Houghton, 17 Bali Mumba; 19 Morgan Whittaker (9 Ryan Hardie 62), 11 Niall Ennis, 18 Finn Azaz. Substitutes (not used): 25 Callum Burton (gk), 36 Finley Craske, 44 Will Jenkins Davies, 46 Kieran Edworthy.
Booked: Houghton 23, Randell 31, Galloway 69, Lonwijk 90
Attendance: 9,258 (1,240 away)
Referee: Chris Pollard