Argyle 1 Derby 0
Plymouth Argyle came out on top in a hard-fought win against Derby County, watched by the lowest ever crowd for a Championship game at Home Park. Magnificent Jamie Mackie sealed the points for the Greens with a late strike and, although Argyle are still in the bottom three, the win puts them within touching distance of teams just above them in the league.
The Argyle players may lack certain qualities and skill but boy oh boy do they fight and scratch for each other! The match wasn’t pretty or entertaining but each player, whether on-form or not, gave it their all for the cause on a terrible pitch.
Argyle Head Coach Paul Mariner gave a debut to Fulham loan signing David Stockdale in place of Romain Larrieu who had been the only player to start every game this season.
Reda Johnson was restored to heart of defence after his Africa Cup of Nations jaunt while Mackie led the attack once again after a bout of illness.
After the recent problems with the Home Park pitch it was noticeable that both sets of players held their pre-match warm-up on the sides of the pitch and kept clear of the boggy middle areas, at one point the Argyle squad were warming up on a strip of grass off the pitch behind the goal-line.
Argyle started the game at a good tempo and put pressure on the Rams defence with a series of crosses sprinkled with a few corners, however it was Derby who had the first chance when a free-kick from Johnson was headed wide by Campbell.
A long throw from Kari Arnason was cleared to Carl Fletcher 20-yards out, he took aim but fired over the cross bar. Mackie’s strong running was starting to trouble the Derby defence; his willingness to chase lost causes and feed off crumbs brought Argyle, as a team, further up the pitch.
Strong running from Mackie ended with an Alan Judge cross that was met by Rory Fallon but his header flew over the bar when really he should have got his effort on target. The pitch, as expected, started to cut-up but both teams coped well with the heavy conditions.
Stockdale proved his worth with a fine save from Nicky Hunt following a Derby corner.
On the stroke of half-time a mass brawl ensued which ended with Gary Sawyer and Hunt receiving yellow cards for their part in the ‘fight’.
It was clear that the second half would lack quality but with chances at a premium one goal for either team would settle the contest.
Derby had the first chance of the second period when a cross from Pearson was met by Rob Hulse but his shot only troubled the Green Army sat behind the goal in the Devonport End.
Stockdale was the busier of the two keepers with Stephen Bywater fielding back passes and crosses. Remember Bywater? It was him who made a few unpleasant remarks about Plymouth a few years ago, which is strange considering Plymouth is by water!
Another long and strong run from Mackie ended with a shot from a difficult angle that sailed over the bar. It was clear that Mackie represented Argyle’s best chance of winning the game and the one and only tactic was to play it long and over the top for the ‘rabbit’ to chase.
Judge’s corners were, to be frank, terrible. They either went out of play or failed to clear the first defender, both criminal charges in the football world. After another corner was wasted Judge made way for Craig Noone with Chris Clark moving to the right side.
A Luke Summerfield corner (that’s how you take them, Judgy) was met by Arnason’s head but the ball went wide.
Stockdale did well to smother a shot but the loose ball broke to Paul Green who, from four yards out, somehow hit the post when it would have been easier to score, the ball rebounded out to safety. Thank you Mr Green from many Greens!
Stockdale was again in action saving a Hulse shot at the expense of a corner. As the game entered the closing stages there was a tense atmosphere around the ground, would a mistake settle the game? Would a moment of magic seal the three points for one team?
Sure enough it was the one goal that settled it and thank fully it was Argyle who scored it. The natives were also getting restless and wanted Mariner to bring on Wright-Phillips.
A Summerfield 30-yard free-kick was blocked by Shaun Barker but Mackie picked-up the loose ball and fired in a low shot from 12 yards out. Home Park erupted and the fans hailed their hero. 1-0 to Argyle, can we hold on?
Mariner placed extra sandbags around the Argyle defence by bringing on David McNamee and Chris Barker with Reda Johnson and Chris Clark going in the opposite direction.
Just when you’d thought Argyle were safely home the fourth official held up the injury time board, three minutes maximum surely? No, somehow the ref found five minutes of injury time with no physio stepping on the grass, sorry mud, during the second half.
Noone and Summerfield must have watched old videos of Blair Sturrock because both players spent most of the five minutes of injury time playing keep-ball in the corner areas of the pitch/paddy field.
And there was the final whistle, a magnificent three points!
Mackie was Man of the Match even before his goal, he carried Argyle’s one and only threat, but what colour shirt will be wearing next week?
Fallon was back to being, well Fallon! He tries and he fights and the team needs him but we also need a fired-up Fallon that we’ve seen glimpses of in previous games.
Arnason and Johnson were solid at the back, Johnson may look clumsy but he wins a lot of headers and has deceptive pace.
Summerfield and especially Fletcher coped well in the middle on the uneven pitch, if only they supported the front two more. There were too many times when the midfield was slow to get up and support Fallon and Mackie – a minor gripe.
Stockdale commanded his area well and made some smart saves but it seems he’s caught Larrieuitus because his kicking wasn’t the best – a clean sheet is all we can ask for and Stockdale gave us that.
Duguid continues to be a better right-back than midfielder, while Clark is slowing fading away, where is the Chris Clark that destroyed Reading?
Not a great game, we were the better of two poor teams but a win is all that matters at this stage of the season; we can expect more tense and scrappy games like this. Buckle up!
Stockdale 6, Duguid 7, Arnason 7, Johnson 7 (Barker 6), Sawyer 6, Judge 5 (Noone 7), Fletcher 7, Summerfield 7, Clark 5 (McNamee 6), Fallon 5, Mackie 8.
Subs not used: Larrieu, Gow, Wright-Phillips, Barnes.
Mackie Slays The Rams
Argyle 1 Derby 0