Argyle 0 – Middlesbrough 2
……… McManus 22, Franks 94.
The rollercoaster ride continues!
The curse of the back-to-back win strikes again with Argyle failing to follow up the excellent away win at Doncaster Rovers with three points at Home Park.
Argyle have had three fantastic away wins at Barnsley, Ipswich and Doncaster in recent weeks but fail to collect the three points in the very next home game.
If you look up the word ‘inconsistency’ in the dictionary, next to it would be the sentence ‘Plymouth Argyle 2009/2010.
A missed penalty from Alan Judge against Middlesbrough today tells its own story but in truth the delivery from corners and free-kicks was very poor and ultimately cost Argyle sustained pressure on the Middlesbrough goal.
However, Argyle have been teasing us all season and it’s not over just yet, with a win against Watford on Saturday an absolute must or else it will be goodbye to the Championship.
Argyle Head Coach Paul Mariner swapped Yala Bolasie with Joe Mason in the starting eleven while fit-again Richard Eckersley replaced Ryan Leonard on the bench.
Middlesbrough’s James O’Shea had the first chance of the game but his shot was blocked by Reda Johnson at the expense of a corner, the flag kick was cleared by Argyle and suddenly they had a breakaway with Judge clear through the middle and looking for the through ball from Damien Johnson. Instead, the Northern Ireland international chose the wrong option and passed down the right side to Jamie Mackie and the chance was gone.
A cross from Judge, who was looking Argyle’s best player, found Mackie but his shot was blocked by Middlesbrough defender David Wheater for a corner.
The running and movement of Judge, Mackie and Bradley Wright-Phillips was causing problems for the skyscrapers in the Middlesbrough defence but too many times the ball was kicked from defence into the air leaving the diminutive front players for Argyle with no chance of heading the ball.
Good work from Mackie ended with a cross to Wright-Phillips, he turned and got a shot away but again Wheater was there to deflect the shot away for a corner, from the resulting corner kick Reda Johnson headed wide.
It wasn’t all Argyle because the excellent Barry Robson hit the outside of Stockdale’s post with an ambitious 35-yard shot.
Just when Argyle looked to be deservedly in front it was Middlesbrough who scored the first goal.
The ref awarded a rather dubious free-kick after Reda Johnson tangled with Justin Hoyte near the touchline. The free-kick arrived with pace and there was Stephen McManus to head in from 12 yards, a simple goal that should have been easily stopped. 1-0 to ‘Boro.
Wright-Phillips had another effort on goal with a crisp turn and shot but the ball went straight to Brad Jones in the Middlesbrough goal.
Leroy Lita went down in the penalty area as though he was the victim of a GBH attack, the ref waited until play had stopped and then booked Lita the cheata for diving, a decision that was met with the loudest cheer of the first half.
And then came the turning point of the match and possibly the season.
A 25-yard shot from Judge hit Hoyte on the arm and the ref awarded a penalty, Middlesbrough players and fans can feel that the decision was harsh but we don’t care.
Damien Johnson has been Argyle’s penalty taker in the absence of the injured Judge so everyone expected the experienced midfielder to stamp his seniority and place the ball for the spot kick, but instead it was Judge who lined up to take the penalty.
As expected, Jones saved Judge’s weak spot kick and the ball was cleared.
Johnson should have taken it, beyond any shadow of a doubt!
The Green Army gave their team warm applause at half-time, with many scratching their heads as to why Argyle were losing the game.
The second half was a scrappier affair; the missed penalty seemed to have knocked the stuffing out of the team, while Wheater and his fellow giants in defence easily coped with the long high balls to Mackie and Wright-Phillips.
Lita again went down in the area with no Argyle player within five yards of him; he must have had pre-match lessons from Tom Daley. Strangely, there was no booking this time but Lita the cheata was subbed soon after and dived for the cover of the dug-out away from the baying locals.
Robson let fly with a fierce angled shot that Stockdale did well to push away for a corner; chances for Argyle were now non-existent.
Wright-Phillips was replaced by Bolasie, the striker wasn`t happy but he was completely anonymous for much of the game. Mason moved inside to partner Mackie, with Kenny Cooper warming up ready to come on.
A corner from Judge, one of the few not to be hit too low, was headed over by Reda Johnson.
Rory Fallon and not Cooper replaced the tiring Judge who deserved a rest on the bench, still Cooper warmed up.
Argyle now had some beef and height up front but still they struggled to create a chance worthy of the name.
Reda Johnson was moved up front with Mariner opting for a three-man defence, desperate times calls for desperate measures. Still Cooper warmed up; I wonder what he thought about playing Johnson as a striker?
A Damien Johnson free-kick found Karl Duguid, his shot was heading for goal but was deflected wide for another corner that was wasted.
With time running out Bolasie floated a cross in to find Fallon’s head, he flicked the ball inside to Johnson who headed powerfully towards goal but Jones was there to tip the ball over. Still Cooper warmed up.
Bolasie took the resulting corner but hit it low and it was easily cleared to Jonathan Franks and with Stcokdale stranded having moved up for the corner Franks took aim from 35 yards out and fired into an empty net.
2-0 to ‘Boro and game over.
Cooper stopped warming up.
If only Damien Johnson had taken the penalty, if only our set-pieces were better, if only Mackie could control a ball and pass it, if only we sacked Paul Sturrock much earlier. If???.
Once again Argyle tease the fans, relegation safety looks within reach only for it to be snatched away in the very next game.
Chris Clark and Reda Johnson were head and shoulders above any other Argyle player today, Clark must now be the first name on the team sheet while we’ll be lucky to keep hold of Johnson during the summer.
Damien Johnson was efficient without ever getting noticed, Judge had a storming first half – full of running and energy despite his groin injury but the missed penalty affected him for the second half and he faded.
Wright-Phillips was anonymous apart from a couple of shots on goal, he’s played too many games in such a short space of time and it’s now telling.
N’Gala looks a brute of a centre-back but doesn’t play that way, just quietly going about his business with no fuss.
Mason looked lost for most of the game but is still able to produce a clever pass or a clever run.
There were too many times today when Argyle built up some momentum only to be let down by a poor delivery from a set-piece, N’Gala and Johnson must have got fed up running into the penalty area for a free-kick only to run back again as the ball sails over everyone for a goal-kick.
Middlesbrough are obviously going through a rebuilding process after relegation from the Premier league last season, but Argyle, a team struggling at the foot of the Championship did look the better side.
A good first-half, an average second half, inconsistency – the story of our season.
Stockdale 7, Duguid 5, N`Gala 6, R Johnson 8, Bhasera 7, Judge 6 (Fallon 6), D Johnson 6, Clark 8, Mason 6, Wright-Phillips 5 (Bolasie 5), Mackie 6).
Subs not used: Larrieu, Barker, Eckersely, Folly, Cooper.
Verdict: Judge Miss Crucial
Argyle 0 – Middlesbrough 2