To lose to a side wearing Ebola-yellow was bad enough, but for the winner to be scored by an ex-Hornet was galling, especially when that ex-Hornet had earlier performed the very same tackle that Robinson was sent off for last week. He received a mild rebuke and a yellow card. Robbo got the book thrown at him. Refs. Dont ya just love em?
As it happens, I was thoroughly enjoying the game. I thought we outplayed Plymouth certainly in the first half, but the goal just wouldnt come.
Once again it was a loss of concentration that cost us a goal we switched off for the briefest of seconds, but it was enough to let them take their chance. Things werent helped terribly by Mr Magoo the ref who – when not slipping on his arse or getting in the way of the ball – was terribly good at not being terribly good. Countless pushes on Cullen were missed and Bray, their first substitute inflicted a leg-breaker on Lacey and got a yellow, where we have so often seen red. In a premiership game, Plymouth would have been playing with nine at the end.
After the surprising draw at Accrington and the disappointing performance against a resurgent Shrewsbury (who were a much better team) the game against Plymouth was a chance to right those wrongs and to pop the train back on the rails and inject some confidence and momentum into the team. No such joy. There is a difference between the conference and league two. The opposition are stronger, close you down quicker and break faster than in the conference; the managers are cannier and quicker to adjust their tactics. It is a big wake up call. But once weve made and completed the readjustment then we will be fine and able to push on. I think that is why sometimes we are too elaborate in front of goal: were not able to stretch their defences and penetrate in the way we did last year. The pace and pressure of dear Andre is being missed.
We started with a 4-5-1 formation. Guttridge sitting just behind Cullen who was on his own up top, with Howells on the left and Rooney on the right. Alex Lacey was at centre half partnering McNulty. Early on, Plymouth, having watched how a couple of our goals this year had been conceded, targeted our skipper. Their early intent being to play the ball over the top behind him to the pacier Reid. Fortunately, we adjusted to compensate for this and this tactic was largely snuffed out: we pushed up less one man went on Reid whilst the other covered. He was then toothless until the second half where he moved to the right to torment poor Scotty Griffiths instead.
Rooney is a funny player. At times he looks like a live-wire and our only direct threat, he can play quick balls which get us on the front foot, but occasionally he over-elaborates, takes too many touches and deflates, defuses and denudes our counter attacks. In one fell swoop this man can turn a snappy counter into a slow build up, whether he receives the ball in midfield or up front. He collapses our soufflé. He releases the pressure valve on the opposition. He lets our balloon down.
Pelly and Drury were in the middle. Pelly had an excellent game driving from box to box being first to the ball in defence and supporting up front. In little bursts Pelly oozes class.
Drury was certainly better than he had been but not playmaking as he was before he left. Hes still adjusting to how we play, and this division too. He has to do his fair share of breaking up play and chasing down, rather than having the luxury of standing in the centre circle and spraying it around. He did, however, play some creative and intelligent balls. Guttridge was really effective on the edge of the box and played a number of juicy one-twos with Cullen and others, but it never quite clicked. Griffiths had a hard time of it at left back he got better as the first half went on, but was caught out of position a number of times in the first half and given a good working over by Alessandro. In the second half, with the introduction of Bray he had Bray and Reid to contend with as Plymouth manager John Sheridan obviously targeted our left side as the chink in our defensive armour.
Mark Tyler didnt have too much to do. But when called on was back to his best getting down to shut down a couple of opportunities where Reid had stolen in. His kicking was very accurate to his great credit.
In patches we played really well. On a different day, we would have had the run of the ball and with a bit more confidence we would have slotted a few home, but it was not to be. What is good is that all of this will balance out at some point and we will get the rub of the green and start banging them in.
Plenty of chances came our way:
Guttridges direct free kick in the first minute or so which was parried over by McCormick. There was a corner from the right shortly after that, which the keeper had to beat clear.
After a nice build up Guttridge had another chance drawing a low save from McCormick. Good work from Jake on the left cut Rooney in to make a blistering half volley which was just over on other days that would have been a net-buster.
In the 20th minute Cullen dragged a good chance wide from the edge of the box, having been played in with an incisive ball by Guttridge.
Five minutes later Guttridge again played in Jake, who will be kicking himself for missing a guilt edged chance which was pure Luton.
After half an hour again, good play from Gutts gave Cullen a good chance, but this time dragged with wide with his left foot.
With two minutes to go in the first half a lovely combination of passes between Howells, Cullen and Pelly saw Jake get another fine chance to open the scoring. It would have been a lovely goal but it wasnt to be.
The first chance of the second half was a good through ball from Drury to Cullen but Cullen was just offside.
A couple of minutes later a deft interception from Jake on halfway let Gutts play a weighted ball in front of the on rushing Cullen. Alas the ball was a centimetre or two too long, otherwise he would have been played in perfectly. As it was McCormack snuffled it up for his umpteenth save.
After 10 minutes in the second half Paul Connolly mistimed his strike at the far post, after a good cross by Griffiths. From the following corner, Pelly picked up a loose ball at the far post and turned and struck it but it didnt find a way through and was blocked.
Lafayette, who was brought on to replace Cullen (I think many folk wanted Alex Wall) played a quick one two with Alex Lawless (who had replaced Howells) but Lafayette fluffed his golden opportunity and sliced it wide.
Lawless posed a further attacking threat when getting into the box he crossed it for the on-rushing Lafayette, but Nelson scrambled the ball away before the tall target man could make contact.
With a couple of minutes to go an unlikely chance came from an enormous kick by Tyler deep into the box Nelson mistimed his header and nearly looped it over McCormack.
The final chance came when Rooney played a deep cross from the half way line towards Lafayette whose cushioned header played in Guttridge who, given a second longer would have got a shot away, as it happens the ball was cleverly taken off his toe and he was flattened in the process.
So, we had plenty of opportunities. Though things smacked a little of desperation towards the end, this wasnt a hark back to the dark days under Mr Brabin where wed only make a couple of chances in a match, this was good stuff good attacking creative play, where we had done more than enough to win. But you have to stick it in the old onion bag, and, like the game against Wimbledon we could have played another 90 mins and I dont think it would have happened. It was in effect another game from the season before last: dominating, missing chances, not scoring, and being caught on the hop.
Lawless added a spark of momentum and decent crosses. Good to see him back. Last year his return galvanised us. It wasnt quite enough today. He pushed up as part of a front three when he was on and was an immediate thorn.
One thing to note is that I dont recall seeing so many players slip over in the game. Is the pitch greasy? Did they all need longer studs? It was peculiar. More people slipped over in this match than the televised bog-farce at the start of the year.
There were two early pointers to the Plymouth goal. Firstly, after about an hour Plymouth were focusing all of their moves down our left with Richard Reid and the sub Bray taking it in turns to power their way through. On this occasion Reid forced his way through the right and put in a good cross for Blizzard to take a snapshot in the middle, just turning the ball wide of the post: alarm bells should have been ringing. Secondly, a minute later, yet another attack down the right saw Bray on the ball spearing down the wing only to go over on his ankle, unchallenged, and he went down as if a sniper hid in box 10 had taken him out (seeking revenge for the dirty studding of Laceys shins?) We had the stretcher on and it took a couple of minutes out of the game, but Bray eventually got up and was fine. A couple of minutes later and yet another attack down the right saw Bray run towards our box again. He got as far as the edge of the box and then collapsed again in agony unchallenged. We froze for a second, Reid picked up the ball on the edge of the box, played Cox in, who slipped the ball to Blizzard who skipped around Connolly, a lunging McNulty and a stationary Lacey and slotted in a well-taken goal all with Bray dead on the edge of the box. Had we not gone sleepy-bo-bos when Bray went down Reid would not have collected the ball.
So, Plymouth werent anything special at all. Hard working, brutal in the tackle and opportunistic but not a great side. We had plenty of chances to put the game beyond doubt in the first half alone, but didnt and got caught napping.
Our fortunes will change at some point, we will get that rub of the green and that spark we need to get the season properly started. It might seem as if weve not yet settled on the right team, combination and formation but at least we know that John Still has the know-how, experience and common-sense to get us to where we need to be. Hes no liar or bullshitter, if there were problems then he would say. He is finding out about his players and his squad and what they can do in a match situation. Im not disheartened, just downcast about the latest defeat. A good chance to put things right next week against Cheltenham and I can start looking at the league table again.
By the way I think I was a bit harsh about Rooney – do you agree?