Plymouth Argyle 3-2 Swindon Town: Knocked Out

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, let’s be honest, it wasn’t entirely either as it was the second round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Writes Scott Keith.

It’s hard to try to quantify how badly the team started and how strongly they finished this tie, which was all a bit of an oddity.

Mark Cooper made about as many changes as he could get away with. Ty Belford was back in goal, Anton Rodgers made his first start in midfield alongside Louis Thompson and Jake Reeves, while Nathan Byrne was given a deserved break with Jack Barthram coming in at wing back. Finally, after an encouraging game against Coventry, there was an opportunity for Connor Waldon to play up front, alongside Andy Williams. Rodgers sat deep in the Kasim role.

The opening two goals were the sort of thing that might inspire anger, but the reaction is probably closer to bewilderment. We know the team will take risks in trying to play from the back, but there were some truly cavernous gaps between the three central defenders. The first was exploited by Lewis Alessandra running through when a pass forward was just fired straight back at the defence, he beat Belford with ease.

The second showed collective inattention. Conor Waldon appeared to not be expecting a Belford pass – though you might wonder what a striker was doing that deep, and it lead to a move where a nonchalant Deane Smalley was left with eye-popping space and time to finish from the edge of the box. Waldon seemed to suffer more than most – he couldn’t get into the game and would be replaced at half-time by George Barker.

Town did start to retain possession better and create some chances – one particularly incisive Rodgers pass played in Barthram, but he couldn’t repeat his JPT goal against Argyle a year ago, and Williams touch went astray from a negligent square ball by the home team across the back four.

But Argyle’s third arrived just before half-time and will go on whatever the opposite is of a Nathan Thompson highlights reel. The ball was played high into the right channel for Alessandra, with Thompson across to cover. The striker managed to win the ball, then roll inside the Town sweeper to cause more danger, when sending him wide seemed the better option. With the former Oldham man then inside the box, he wasn’t challenged and he drew Belford into making the first move before dinking in number three.

That was after Anton Rodgers produced a couple of half-decent free-kicks that caused rare excitement for home fans as the 10 yard spray came into play. Ben Gladwin was sent out to warm up as well at the break, to replace Louis Thompson in what seemed a pre-planned move to join Barker in coming on for the second forty five minutes.

And while those above decided there should be a near-on biblical spell of rain, someone somewhere said “Let there be chances”. And there were, plenty, especially after Michael Smith had replaced a struggling Jack Barthram, who had a dead leg.

Smith had one shot that was dealt with comfortably, with the first goal arriving from a penalty. George Barker, asked to do a wing back’s role following Barthram’s departure, was hassling away trying to get a cross in, and Argyle defender Kelvin Mellor caught him right by the byline. Michael Smith banged in the penalty past a loose limbed dancing Luke McCormick and there was something in the air that wasn’t rain.

Thereafter, Williams fired over, Gladwin shot well wide and Smith had a couple of headers over the top.

Argyle relied on counters having matched Town’s 3-5-2 and brought on top scorer Reuben Reid who caused a few problems on the break. Blessed with squat frame and ample posterior, he also has a pace and directness plus a goal scoring record that suggests he should be heading up the A38 in due course.

The second, it seemed, arrived too late, as Ben Gladwin’s first goal for Town was a long range shot that seem to be deflected and zipped in to make it 3-2. But there was still time for the perfect finish. What could be better than Jack Stephens, back at his first club, getting a late equalizer? One neat script was presented when McCormick did superbly to parry Jake Reeves shot, and the ball fell to the Town defender. From a yard he hit the post, and one possible trip to Wembley would be crossed off the last.

The frustration was the players on the edge of the squad who’d done a solid job at Newport couldn’t repeat that – but it was the back three who seemed to have the biggest problems, and they were the first choice.

It was perhaps also a reminder that Yaser Kasim’s defensive duties in front of the back four are more significant than it might seem, and occasionally when you play on the edge, you might teeter over.

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