After what was probably the best 45 minutes of football seen at Home Park for a good few years giving Argyle a deserved 1-0 half time lead over Port Vale, the Pilgrims then appeared to press the self destruct button in the second half and gift the game to the visitors.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher made just one change to the team that played out a goalless draw at Torquay a week ago, with Zimbabwean Onismor Bhasera returning from international duty in place of Joe Lennox. Vale, who thrashed Rotherham a week previously, unsurprisingly named an unchanged line-up.
In the late Summer sun, it was Argyle who bossed the early proceedings and Alex MacDonald perhaps should have done better at the back post where he met a deep Conor Hourihane cross. His header was straight at Vale keeper Chris Neal who had a bit of a shocker at Home Park last season when he was with Shrewsbury. While he could have easily kept out ‘that’ Paul Wotton free-kick back in March, there was nothing he could do about the opener on this occasion.
Argyle had been largely dominant for the first 20 minutes, and were keeping possession well with some intricate passing in the middle of the park. Each pass was measured and accurate and had we been playing in White, you could have been fooled into thinking we were Swansea. When space finally opened up in the Port Vale defence Conor Hourihane strode forward but instead of shooting as he so often does, he laid the ball off to Robbie Williams. The left-back has a reputation for striking a good free-kick but nobody expected him to take a touch, set himself and rasp the ball in to the far corner from virtually 30 yards. Argyle were 1-0 up and thoroughly deserved the advantage.
The Pilgrims had the Valiants quaking and Chris Neal was called into action a few times before the half was out to keep the visitors in touch with their hosts. Vale at this point I should mention, had looked as threatening as a cotton bud and Argyle were passing them off the pitch. It was too good to be true and after the break reality somewhat sunk in.
Initially the second half played out very similar to the first; Argyle were dominating the possession and were at times putting 30 to 40 passes together, yet they lacked the cutting edge to get a second and kill the game off, something which we were made to pay for.
In a crazy 12 minute salvo Port Vale went from 1-0 down and looking hopeless to 3-1 and heading back up North with three points in the bag.
How exactly it happened I’m still not sure. Argyle went from domination and virtually ‘total football’ to headless chickens in under quarter of an hour. After the match there has predictably been a few fans calling for Fletcher to be relieved of his duties. I am not one of those people. You just have to watch us play one game to see that Fletcher has got us playing good football – we would have thrashed many teams in League Two today playing like that.
It is taking time, but we are getting there. One tiny step at a time.
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