Honours even as Plymouth Argyle leave Plainmoor with a point
PLYMOUTH ARGYLE had promised to be made of sterner stuff than last season, when Torquay United did a long-awaited 'double' over their old rivals, and so it proved in the season's first Devon derby at Plainmoor.
The Gulls could and probably should have taken the lead during a first half in which they looked the better, more inventive side.
But it was United goalkeeper Michael Poke who ended up making the best saves of the match, and honours-even was just about the right result.
It all looked so promising for United in the early stages, which saw the Pilgrims' right-back Durrell Berry and midfielder Conor Hourihane both booked for late tackles in the first ten minutes.
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But, despite a lively first hour's action from fit-again winger Danny Stevens and midfielder Nathan Craig, both Berry and Hourihane were able to get through the rest of the match without being forced deeper into trouble.
Stevens and 20-year-old Craig, in only his second League start, were the standout performers in the first half.
Manager Martin Ling again played Craig as the anchorman in midfield, and the young Welshman played the role like a veteran, always available for the ball and seldom giving it away.
Argyle looked dangerous only from occasional set-pieces, Poke getting down smartly to tip away a Robbie Williams free-kick just before half-time.
Williams, who nearly pulled the shirt off Ian Morris' back at every United corner, was also Plymouth's saviour at what turned out to be the Gulls' nearest miss in the 17th minute.
Joe Oastler, who had a good game at right-back, supplied a crossfield ball to Stevens on the left and Morris seized on the cross to have a shot well parried by Argyle goalie Jake Cole.
United captain Lee Mansell was first to the rebound, but Williams threw himself across the face of his six-yard box and managed to block Mansell's goalbound shot from eight yards.
Throughout it all Wiltshire's Roger East, who had made his Premier League 'debut' at Swansea-v-Sunderland the week before, hardly had his whistle out of his mouth.
Nobody on the United side suffered more than centre-forward Rene Howe.
Replays of the match confirmed that he was harshly treated when he had a 'goal' disallowed in the 55th minute after both goalie Cole and Argyle centre-half Darren Purse ended up on the floor when he jumped to meet a high cross delivered by Kevin Nicholson.
Purse is no pussycat and he and Howe had a good duel, yet it was Howe who was repeatedly pulled up for challenges that were at worst routine yet ended up seeing him booked for the third time in successive matches.
If forwards and defenders aren't allowed to go for high balls with a modicum of aggression, the game will end up like football's version of 'touch rugby'.
What will Mr. East do when he has to referee Andy Carroll on a good day?
With Argyle starting to think that they might come away with more than a point, Poke did well to tip a Warren Feeney header round his post.
The introduction of Niall Thompson for Stevens gave United's attack some extra pace on the wing, and he promptly raised hopes of a home victory when he went into overdrive to beat Williams.
Frustratingly, the cross was well off target, but he'll do better in time.
Anxious about conceding a late goal, United had all eleven players in their own penalty area for an 86th minute Argyle free-kick.
But they weathered that moment, and only a last-ditch deflection by Berry stopped Billy Bodin from snatching the winner after a brilliant piece of set-up work by Howe in stoppage-time.
It hadn't been a derby to live long in the memory, but it was hardly a bore-draw either.
Torquay United (4-3-3): Poke; Oastler, Saah, Downes, Nicholson; Mansell, Craig, Morris (Jarvis 78); Bodin, Howe, Stevens (Thompson 66); subs not used – Leadbitter, Rice (gk), Cruise, Yeoman, McKenzie.
Plymouth Argyle (4-1-4-1): Cole; Berry, Purse, Blanchard, Williams; Wotton; Lennox (Gurrieri 76), Young (Lecointe 57), Hourihane, MacDonald; Feeney (Madjo 66); subs not used – Chenoweth (gk), Nelson, Richards, Gorman.
Referee: Roger East (Wilts).
Bookings: United – Craig (foul 44), Howe (foul 83); Argyle – Berry (foul 4), Hourihane (foul 8).
Attendance: 4,932 (1,514 Argyle fans).
Statistics: Fouls – United 19, Argyle 6; Offsides – United 0, Argyle 0; Corners – United 6, Argyle 4; Shots/Headers On Target – United 7, Argyle 5; Off Target – United 5, Argyle 6; Hit Woodwork - None.