Argyle 1 – 1 Preston
Johnson (pen)71. St Ledger 18
Another game of two halves, another must-win game where we fail to do just that.
When will the ‘Marver’ managerial partnership go for broke and send out an attacking line-up from the first minute? When will one of the so-called impact players start a game?
Let’s be honest – Against an average Preston side Argyle were awful in the first 45 minutes, too many long-balls to the two shortest players on the pitch in Jamie Mackie and Joe Mason were easily gobbled up by Preston’s towering centre-backs. However, a spirited second-half fightback led by substitute Craig Noone grabbed a point but other results mean that the Pilgrims are now seven points adrift of safety.
Marver surprisingly opted for a defensive line-up for this game with four central midfielders strung across the midfield area and two other central midfielders by trade playing at centre-back. To compensate for the absence of the injured Reda Johnson Marver moved Carl Fletcher to central defence, Karl Duguid moved from right-back to the right-side of midfield and new signing Richard Eckersley made his debut at right-back, while Luke Summerfield was drafted in to play alongside Damien Johnson in midfield. It seemed bizarre to move Fletcher and Duguid, who were both playing well, and unsettle three positions just to rectify one position.
Alan Judge mysteriously disappeared from the squad while Gary Sawyer made a welcome return.
Before the match there was a fitting tribute to Michael Foot with a one minute applause from everyone in the ground.
It was Preston who started the brighter and had all the early chances while the Argyle players were coming to terms with the new positional changes.
Preston’s two big lumps upfront Neil Mellor and Jon Parkin, surely the biggest strike force in the Championship, were getting the better of Kari Arnason and Fletcher at the heart of the Pilgrims defence. A cross from Parkin found Ross Wallace but his angled shot went wide when he really should have tested David ‘he’s behind you’ Stockdale.
It was all Preston as Argyle’s long boot up the pitch wasn’t working at all; the team were not helped by the lack of width offered by Chris Clark and Duguid. A close-range effort from Matthew James was smothered by Stockdale and a cross from Mellor was met by man-beast Parkin but his header went just wide. Preston really should have been at least two goals to the good by now.
With Argyle defending a corner a minor miracle happened – Mason and Jamie Mackie stayed up the pitch! You wait nearly three years for an Argyle player to stay up the pitch when defending a corner and then two stay up at once!
Preston’s pressing paid off in the 18th minute when centre-back Sean St Ledger out-jumped Argyle’s ‘towering’ defenders to head in a simple goal to give Preston a deserved lead. Argyle were obviously missing the height of Rory Fallon and Reda Johnson when defending corners.
Soon after Wallace nearly made it 2-0 when his superb 30-yard free-kick was pushed away by Stockdale but only far as St Ledger who’s shot went just wide, a close call for Argyle.
A rare Argyle attack saw a deflected shot from Summerfield easily saved by Andy Lonergan in the Preston goal, soon after Summerfield moved to the right-side of midfield with Duguid moving inside to partner Johnson.
Mason and Mackie were struggling upfront and regularly outmuscled and ‘eased’ off the ball by the Preston centre-backs, from one attack St. Ledger looked to have ‘eased’ Mason a little too much with a push by the ref waved away appeals for a penalty.
The one moment of quality from Argyle during the first half saw Johnson play in Clark who put in a great cross to Mason at the near post and his header looked to be heading towards the top corner but Lonergan superbly tipped the ball over.
A poor first half from Argyle.
As expected Marver replaced Summerfield with Noone at the start of the second half with Clark moving to the right-side of midfield and it was Noone who won a corner for his team with almost his first touch. The flag kick found Fletcher but his shot was hurried and went towards the opposite corner flag rather than the goal.
Argyle now looked more threatening and at least interested in winning the game. A cross from Clark found Mason unmarked eight yards out but he headed the ball down and Lonergan made another regulation save. Still, at least we created another chance.
Marver then made another substitution with Fallon coming on for the unlucky Clark. Mason took a few steps towards the touchline when the sub was announced, thinking it was him getting the finger, but he was reprieved and moved out to the right to replace Clark with Fallon partnering Mackie.
The game was now becoming more open and end-to-end with Argyle easily the better team, what a difference a half-time team talk makes!
A good move involving Mackie and Fallon sent Noone racing away down the left, his cross was met by Duguid making a late run at the near post, and his shot was saved by Lonergan at the expense of a corner.
From that corner Argyle had a stroke of luck when James put out his hand and handled the ball and the ref signalled for a penalty to Argyle, a similar situation to the Swansea game two weeks ago.
Johnson accepted the ‘get out of jail’ card and stroked the ball past Lonergan who dived the opposite way. 1-1, game one!
It was now all Argyle with Noone looking the best option for a winning goal.
Fallon had a great chance to grab a goal when he was played in by Mackie but he delayed his shot and decided to play the ball wide when he really should have taken aim. Jeers of derision echoed from the terraces.
Just when a draw looked the likely result Noone tried his luck from 25 yards out with a tremendous shot, it beat the diving Lonergan but thumped against the cross bar and bounced down, Fallon followed in the rebound but saw his close-range shot pushed away for a corner by Lonergan. So close to three points for Argyle.
The game ebbed away with the now traditional time-wasting tactics of visiting teams and based on the whole 90 minutes a draw was a fair result.
When will Argyle play a game for 90 minutes? When will Marver send out a team to win a game from the first minute? We have too many impact players and not enough players who can do a job for 90 minutes.
The feeling amongst the fans was that this game had to be won if we had any chance of staying up but the conservative starting formation and tactics was baffling, almost a throwback to the dark days of Paul Sturrock earlier this season.
Eckersley had a nervous start on his debut but got stronger as the game progressed but is he any better than fit-again McNamee or Duguid?
Fletcher looked lost at centre-back during the first-half and struggled against the Mellor and Parkin battering-ram partnership, he wasn’t helped by an out-of-form Arnason. Two experienced centre-backs on-loan now would really help our cause, surely there must be two out there Marver can sign?
Mason was deprived of any decent service but once he moved out to the right he looked a threat, he needs to cut out the fancy flicks though. Summerfield and Clark were unlucky to be subbed; they were playing better than some other players so perhaps they picked up and injury? Duguid did ok in midfield but he proved once again that he’s a better right-back than a midfielder.
Mackie was very disappointing, his awareness of other players is poor, in one example he was running at the Preston defence and had the option of simple ball to the unmarked Mason on the right but he chose to take on two defenders and lost the ball.
Fallon’s arrival was a poor decision and Cooper must be wondering what he has to do to get a game. Fallon jumps like he has his unpacked suitcase on his back, today was the perfect opportunity to try a different striker in the second half, Marver had Cooper and Bradley Wright-Mpenza to choose from but took the easy option in Fallon. It was baffling as to why Bolasie wasn’t introduced as a late sub to win the game?
Noone’s dodgy knees probably prevented him from starting the game but he did made a huge difference when he came on, the problem is he when he does come on as a sub Argyle are usually losing and he has to win the game on his own.
Despite Noone’s second half performance he was outclassed by the display from Damien Johnson who was easily Argyle’s best player.
If we are going down let’s at least make an effort for 90 minutes from the first whistle.
Sorry Marver, you got this one well and truly wrong!
Stockdale 5, Eckersley 7, Fletcher 6, Arnason 4, Barker 6, Duguid 6, Johnson 8, Summerfield 6 (Noone 8), Clark 6 (Fallon 4), Mason 6, Mackie 4.
Subs not used: Larrieu, Sawyer, Wright-Phillips, Bolasie, Cooper.
Argyle On The Ledge
Argyle 1 – 1 Preston