Plymouth Argyle can take confidence from battling point at Gulls
ARGYLE'S second goal-less draw in five League Two games this season was a far cry from the previous one.
At Dagenham and Redbridge on August 21, only the heroics of goalkeeper Jake Cole saved them from defeat – and a heavy one at that.
It was a much more even contest against Torquay at a sunny Plainmoor on Saturday.
Torquay would have been disappointed not to lead at half-time after having the better of the play to that point.
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But Argyle, as has become a habit this season, were much better in the second period.
Torquay keeper Michael Poke had to come up with smart saves from striker Warren Feeney and midfielder Conor Hourihane.
On balance, a point apiece was just reward for the endeavours of both teams.
Argyle will certainly take confidence from the result, and not only because the Gulls easily beat them 3-1 in the corresponding fixture last season.
The visitors were without five injured players for the trip to the English Riviera, while Onismor Bhasera was away on international duty with Zimbabwe.
On the casualty list were Rene Gilmartin, Jamie Lowry, Nick Chadwick, Paris Cowan-Hall and Rhys Griffiths.
And, as manager Carl Fletcher revealed afterwards, they were not the only ones with injuries.
Captain and centre-back Darren Purse and holding midfielder Paul Wotton were far from being fully fit.
Yet they both put their bodies on the line in what was a fiercely competitive Devon derby.
There was much for Fletcher to be pleased about at Plainmoor, starting with the performance of Cole.
While nowhere near as busy as he was against Dagenham, Cole made one excellent save from Torquay's Ian Morris in the first half.
What was really impressive, though, was his handling of crosses and corners into his penalty area.
Cole is a much more commanding presence this season than he was last term.
Not only is that good for his own confidence, but it boosts that of his team-mates, especially the defenders.
Full-backs Durrell Berry and Robbie Williams also came out of the game with tremendous credit.
Berry was up against 5ft 5in speedster Danny Stevens and did not make it easy for himself by getting booked in only the fifth minute for a late tackle on Morris.
Stevens, playing for the first time this season after a thigh injury, was a constant threat in the first half.
But Berry stuck to his task, crucially kept his discipline and while Stevens tired in the second period he got stronger and stronger.
Williams, meanwhile, had to contend with another skilful attacking player in Billy Bodin.
He was also up to the challenge, putting in a solid defensive display, he also went close to scoring from a free-kick in the first half.
Argyle did struggle with their passing from midfield in the first half, though.
The Pilgrims were either rushed into making a mistake when in possession, or their movement of the ball was not fast enough.
The transition from defence to attack through midfield was simply too slow before the break.
It improved in the second half, especially when England under-18 international striker Matt Lecointe was sent on as a 57th minute substitute.
Rather than playing up front, Lecointe was used in the centre of midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Lecointe looked comfortable in his new role, passing the ball decisively and with a good awareness of those around him.
Feeney also put in another hard-working performance before making way for new loanee Guy Madjo in the 66th minute.
He is not suited to playing as a lone striker but too often in his career with Argyle, for a variety of reasons, he has had to do that.
It has restricted his goalscoring chances and blunted his overall effectiveness because he has to expend so much energy.
But Feeney, to his credit, can rarely if ever be faulted for endeavour, and went close to getting a goal against Torquay on a couple of occasions.
The first time was in the 27th minute when Feeney's low 30-yard shot was pushed around the left post by Poke for a corner.
Poke also made a good diving save to claw away a free-kick from Williams shortly before half-time.
Torquay had more of the possession in that first period and created some good chances.
Bodin saw one shot deflect narrowly wide for a corner, before Cole made his great reflex save from Morris.
The ball broke loose to Torquay captain and midfielder Lee Mansell, whose follow-up attempt was blocked superbly by Williams.
Mansell also went close with a dipping 25-yard drive, which did not clear the crossbar by much and had Cole scrambling back.
Stevens then created an opening by evading challenges from Purse and Berry but his shot was charged down by a combination of Maxime Blanchard and Wotton.
Argyle made a more purposeful start to the second half and Alex MacDonald, who had been starved of the ball in the first period, became influential.
The Burnley loanee, playing wide on the left of midfield, made some good forays forward.
From one of them, MacDonald set up Hourihane for a shot from inside the penalty area, which was well saved by Poke.
Moments earlier, Feeney's far post header after a cross from Williams was pushed behind for a corner by Poke.
Feeney beat Torquay centre-back Aaron Downes to the ball in the air and his header had plenty of power, but Poke got across his line swiftly.
Morris should have done better for Torquay when he headed wastefully wide from a corner.
But, that chance apart, Argyle carried the fight to the Gulls, with Hourihane shooting narrowly past the outside of the left post in the 77th minute.
Hourihane was teed up by Argyle substitute Andres Gurrieri but could not hit the target.
Wotton then sent a powerful, rising free-kick over the bar after Lecointe was fouled close to the Gulls' penalty area.
It was Torquay, though, who had the final chance of the contest in the 89th minute.
Bodin was picked out by an excellent lofted pass over the top of Berry and shaped up to shoot for goal. He made a good connection with the ball, but Berry recovered brilliantly to make a timely block.