MATCH REPORT: Plymouth Argyle 3 Northampton Town 2
Smiles returned at Home Park on Saturday as Plymouth Argyle secured their first League Two win of 2012-13 at the expense of previously unbeaten Northampton Town.
After a worrying start to the season, the Pilgrims finally tasted success at the fourth attempt. What made it even sweeter was that it was achieved despite Northampton holding a 1-0 lead at half-time.
Manager Carl Fletcher made a substitution for the start of the second period and it paid off. Fireman-turned-professional footballer Rhys Griffiths was sent on for midfielder Paul Wotton as Argyle switched from 4-1-4-1 to 4-4-2.
Almost immediately, the Pilgrims were on level terms with a goal from striker Warren Feeney. Griffiths, making a belated debut for Argyle after a calf injury, then put them ahead in the 59th minute with a clinical finish.
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Soon afterwards, Griffiths departed from the action because of a recurrence of his injury, and defender Curtis Nelson entered the action. He was pushed into the attack with Feeney, and he headed what proved to be the winner in the 74th minute.
Captain and centre-back Darren Purse returned from the calf injury which had forced him to miss the Capital One Cup second-round tie at Burnley last Tuesday, and made many telling blocks or tackles. The tried and trusted defensive quartet of Durrell Berry, Purse, Maxime Blanchard and Robbie Williams started a match for the first time this season.
Argyle suffered a setback when Paris Cowan-Hall was taken off in the 34th minute because of a hamstring injury.
Cowan-Hall, playing wide on the right, had put in a lively performance against Burnley and would have hoped to build on that. But his early exit meant a chance for Alex MacDonald to reacquaint himself with Home Park.
MacDonald was starting a second loan spell with the Pilgrims, after completing a move from Burnley on Friday. He impressed as the replacement for Cowan-Hall.
The stand-out performer, though, was Zimbabwe international Onismor Bhasera. The amount of ground he covered on the left of midfield was phenomenal. He set up Feeney for Argyle’s equaliser with a pin-point cross, and was a constant attacking threat.
Sadly for the Pilgrims, Bhasera is now away on international duty with Zimbabwe. That means he will be absent from the Devon derby against Torquay United at Plainmoor next Saturday.
Bhasera had a couple of early chances for Argyle, shooting wide and heading off target at the far post. But it was the Cobblers who struck first in the 26th minute.
Plymouth-born former Argyle Centre of Excellence player Ben Tozer drilled a low cross into the penalty area and picked out Town’s top scorer Alex Nicholls. He was surrounded by Berry, Blanchard and Williams but, somehow, still managed to turn and shoot past goalkeeper Jake Cole into the bottom right corner of the net.
Midfielder Conor Hourihane had a good chance to put the home team on level terms four minutes later. Bhasera cut the ball back to Hourihane and his side-foot shot went past the outside of the left post.
With Griffiths on at the start of the second period, Argyle were soon celebrating an equaliser, though. Bhasera broke into the box and clipped the ball towards Feeney, whose stooping header was flicked into the far corner of the net.
It was Feeney’s fourth goal in 34 games for the Pilgrims and his first since a 3-2 win at Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day 2011. It was also a reward for a hard-working display from the Northern Ireland international, who had led the attack on his own before the break.
Buoyed by Feeney’s goal, Argyle took a 2-1 lead in the 59th minute with a cleverly created goal.
Bhasera played the ball to Feeney, who touched it off to Griffiths and he then swept it out wide to MacDonald. The Burnley loan man advanced a few yards before crossing low into the penalty area.
Northampton centre-back David Artell partially cleared the ball, but only as far as Griffiths, who, from 12 yards, calmly slotted into the net.
Soon afterwards, Griffiths came to the rescue defensively for the Pilgrims when he blocked a goalbound shot from Alex Nicholls. Griffiths then had to leave the action, but Nelson proved a capable replacement as he headed home in the 79th minute.
Nelson climbed above Artell to meet an inviting cross from Williams, and powered it beyond the reach of goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, who had strayed off his line. It was Nelson’s first goal for the Pilgrims, and indeed of his senior career.
Northampton responded by applying some late pressure and created a few chances. From one of them, Artell headed the ball against the left post, with Cole stranded, after a corner from midfielder Luke Guttridge.
Cole also pushed away a fierce close range shot from Tozer, with some difficulty. Northampton did reduce the deficit, but only in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time, when Artell headed home at the far post from Tozer’s long throw-in.
Plymouth Argyle @ (4-1-4-1): Cole, Berry, Purse, Blanchard, Williams; Wotton (Griffiths h-t; Nelson 67); Cowan-Hall (MacDonald 34), Young, Hourihane, Bhasera; Feeney. Substitutes (not used): Chenoweth (gk), Lennox, Gurrieri, Gorman.
Goals: @ Feeney 47, Griffiths 59, Nelson 74
Northampton Town@ (4-1-4-1): L Nicholls; East, Langmead, Artell, Widdowson; Guttridge; Hackett (Mukendi 79), Tozer, Harding (Demontagnac 69), A Nicholls; Akinfenwa (Platt 51). Substitutes (not used): Snedker (gk), Charles, Wilson, Moult.
Goals: @ A Nicholls 26, Artell 90.
Referee: @ A Davies (Hampshire).
Attendance: @ 6,037.