Saturday, September 07, 2013

Plymouth Argyle 1-0 Bristol Rovers (League Two)

A dour match at Home Park eventually saw hosts Plymouth Argyle score a late winner to condemn Rovers to their third consecutive away defeat. Bristolian Reuben Reid headed home a Conor Hourihane free-kick with under 10 minutes of the 90 left to play and punish John Ward's team for their feeble attacking display.

Ellis Harrison had a game to forget - Lifted from:
Don't let the scoreline fool you, both teams were absolutely awful today and neither deserved 3 points in all honesty. Having said that Argyle have found a way to score a goal when Rovers have been unable to do so and they will be delighted to come away with 3 points from the game. The stats will tell you Rovers had more efforts on goal but I can't recall many times when goalkeeper Luke McCormick had to deal with anything too troubling. David Clarkson and Ryan Brunt worked hard but had little success in creating goalscoring opportunities as they were forced to come deep for the ball due to Ellis Harrison's ineptitude. The Welsh winger had a mare of a game and consistently lost the ball when given possession in an advanced position, much to the frustration of himself and his team-mates. Ollie Norburn was ineffective and John-Joe O'Toole was working hard to win the ball back in our own half that he didn't have the chance to play in more advanced areas of the pitch. All in all our attacks were predictably weak.

The best effort we mustered came from Brunt who did well to turn Guy Branston in the Argyle box and get a low drive across McCormick but it took a deflection which took it out for a corner. Plymouth didn't have any real moments of note in the opening 45 minutes but Hourihane did manage to engineer some space down the right to whip in a few crosses to target men Reid and Marvin Morgan but Steve Mildenhall dealt with it all very comfortably. The 1200-strong army of Rovers fans did what they could to inject life into their team but they needn't have bothered for the good it did. We should take the hint that away from home we're just incapable of doing basic things right and getting a result. Plymouth were there for the taking but we just didn't know how to create anything in the final third.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first - long ball cleared by one defence, long ball cleared by the other defence, referee gives needless free-kick to Plymouth, and repeat...

Rovers burst through the midfield on promising counter attacks 2 or 3 times but just couldn't get the final ball right to truly carve open the Branston-led home rearguard. One memorable example saw Norburn running centrally at an exposed Branston, hesitating as he approached him, before deciding to play an overhit pass to his right instead of looking up and playing a through ball to Clarkson on the left who had a clear run at goal. The midfielder's naivety is incredible, the decisions he makes on the ball leaves a lot to be desired and for that reason I'd prefer to see Matt Gill given a recall next week at Dagenham & Redbridge.

The referee awarded a few ridiculous free-kicks to Argyle in wide areas and whilst Tom Parkes and co. dealt with the majority of them with absolute ease it was inevitable given our bad luck that it would go wrong eventually. Sure enough it did just as the game seemed destined to peter out into a substandard goalless draw. Hourihane crossed into the danger zone where Reid was on hand to power a header beyond Mildenhall in to the back of the net. Gutting.

For the first time all afternoon the home fans began to make some noise in celebration of their breakthrough and Gasheads fell unusually quiet. The overwhelming feeling was one of dejection that we could play so poorly away from home yet again. It has to change and has to change soon because at the moment it isn't good enough. We can cite our injury problems as a reason for our poor form on the road but the bottom line is that no matter what eleven we field we simply cannot find a way to look threatening in front of goal. Fundamentally it comes from a significant lack of quality out wide and alongside O'Toole in central midfield. Don't get me wrong, we lack a pacey and direct striker, but Brunt and Clarkson would thrive on better deliveries from the wings. Our budget is gone and all we have to show for it on the left and right-hand sides are 3 teenage wingers who have barely scored a goal between them, let alone contribute any assists. Depressing, isn't it?

As a team we need to be more attacking and inventive if we want to enjoy any success away from home. Dagenham will be a side there for the taking next weekend but unless Ward can coax some offensive quality from his charges in training this week we will lack the necessary attributes to score at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium (what a mouthful). I won't be holding me breath.

We have taken over 1000 to Exeter City, over 1000 to Newport County, 2400 to Bristol City and now 1200 to Plymouth Argyle - phenomenal support in this division. Have any of them been worth the effort? Bar the pride we took from the City game you would argue not. It's typical Bristol Rovers, we take envious away followings for the first month of the season and can barely muster shots on target let alone victories. There's a culture at the club where the players are incapable of playing good fluid football away from home and it's dragging us down at a time when we need to produce a good run of form to climb the division.

The standard of the fourth tier is incredibly weak and any side that has a bit of confidence and a finisher will do very well. Unfortunately we lack both right now.

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