Reid pen 9
UNITED’S first Devon derby of the season was full of the passion you would expect and the Gulls will feel probably they edged a game that ended 1-1 at Plainmoor.
All the goal action was crammed into the opening nine minutes, with Elliot Benyon snapping up a rebound in predatory fashion and then Plymouth quickly replied with a Reuben Reid penalty.
Both goalkeepers made decent saves in an action-packed encounter but the best chances fell United’s way, and there would be a tinge of regret and what-might-have-been in the Yellow dressing room at full-time.
United manager Alan Knill opted to make just one change from the 2-1 weekend defeat at Accrington. Goal-scorer on the weekend, Paul McCallum, had returned to parent-club West Ham but new loan signing from Millwall, John Marquis, was straight in as a readymade replacement.
Plymouthboss John Sheridan stuck to the same side that overcame Dagenham at Home Park three days ago but there was one change on the bench, where Jamie Reckord came in for the injured Andre Blackman.
A sizzling atmosphere inside Plainmoor reached fever pitch within five minutes, as a tentative start exploded into life with a brilliant piece of work on the right from Nathan Craig.
The young Welsh midfielder surged past Durrell Berry before cutting back sharply to swing over a dangerous left-foot cross. The half-clearance from Neal Trotman fell to Damien Mozika on the edge of the box.
The Frenchman took a quick touch and then sent a dipping volley toward the bottom corner. Luke McCormick produced a superb save, diving low to his left, but Benyon was poaching in the right spot to lash home in customary fashion.
Unfortunately, the Yellow Army barely had four minutes to savour their lead before Argyle were level and it all stemmed from an innocuous free-kick on the left touchline.
Luke Young delivered the set-piece which was blocked by Craig but referee Roger East adjudged it a handball and pointed to the spot. Up step Reid to stroke home a confident spot-kick and it was the turn of the Green Army to raise the roof.
A breathless start almost took another twist moments later, as Benyon cleverly dummied a low Dale Tonge cross and Marquis was only denied a shot on goal by Curtis Nelson recovering to make a vital challenge.
The relentless tempo showed no sign of slowing down and Anthony O’Connor had head in hands after a deep free-kick allowed him to nod back across goal, but Benyon and Marquis were just unable to reach the pass.
Argyle responded with a punt forward from Maxime Blanchard that allowed the Pilgrim attack to compete with Aaron Downes, and the Australian’s headed clearance was perfect for Reid to execute a first-time volley, sent whizzing inches past Martin Rice’s far post.
A fabulous start to the game from Craig almost went up a notch on the half-hour as he sought to atone for the one error that led to the penalty by thumping an outrageous long-range drive inches past the top corner, and with his weaker right foot.
A thrilling first period was suddenly drawing to a close and United were the side looking more likely, with Mozika and Craig instrumental in much of the good play and the combination of Marquis and Benyon a constant problem for the Argyle defence.
Jordan Chapell then had everyone inside TQ1 applauding a sublime piece of skill to create space in midfield for a dipping 25-yard shot that
McCormick miraculously turned on to his own bar, and Marquis’s headed rebound was marginally off target. Wonderful work from United’s winger, matched by an equally impressive save.
Craig then took up the mantle with a twisting run on the right and a low cross that ricocheted wide off the foot of Nelson. The Gulls maintained the pressure right up to the half-time whistle and a hugely encouraging 45 minutes of football.
The second period opened with another inviting cross from Craig that had the Pilgrims struggling to clear and the Gulls then had a mild penalty shout from the subsequent corner, as a Lee Mansell volley hit the midriff of Young.
A rare lull arrived as both sides geared up to a crucial half of football and Argyle were arguably playing the more incisive football, but nobody was helped by some fussy decisions by the referee.
From nowhere, United looked nervy and complete indecision from a Young corner gave Trotman room to force in a header at the back post, and the Gulls were left mightily relieved that the effort was straight down the throat of Rice.
Argyle made their first changes just after the hour-mark, removing Young and Andres Gurrieri for the fresh legs of Dominic Blizzard and Caolan Lavery. However, it was now United turning the screw and the excellent Craig was unfortunate to see a dangerous low shot blocked by Trotman.
The Pilgrims changed the flow with nifty footwork from Blizzard earning a free-kick on the edge of the Yellow area. Reid rolled the ball an inch for Conor Hourihane to unleash with his left foot but Rice was up to the task, acrobatically tipping over his own bar.
United’s custodian was completely helpless from the next Plymouth attempt, as Lavery peeled away to the back post from a corner and the Gulls were left thanking the post for diverting a stooped header by the substitute.
Knill turned to his bench with 10 minutes left on the clock, withdrawing the hardworking Benyon for Ade Azeez and the new man, like everyone else in Yellow, watched in hope as a glancing header from Downes trundled narrowly wide.
Romuald Boco for Topi Obadeyi was the final Argyle change but United had a bigger problem with Azeez, who limped off just five minutes after coming on, to be replaced by Karl Hawley.
The flow of the game had disappeared with all the interruptions and United’s best hope had to be a set-piece. Step forward Craig with another terrific delivery but Downes headed over from close-range.
It was a glorious chance and also the final chance of a terrific game of football.
United [4-3-3]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Aaron Downes, 21 Thomas Cruise; 36 Damien Mozika, 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 20 Nathan Craig; 12 Jordan Chapell, 16 John Marquis, 26 Elliot Benyon (23 Ade Azeez 81) (9 Karl Hawley 85). Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke (GK), 5 Krystian Pearce, 11 Courtney Cameron, 17 Jak McCourt, 31 Daniel Sullivan.
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 4 Maxime Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 2 Durrell Berry; 27 Andres Gurrieri (13 Caolan Lavery 64), 14 Luke Young (11 Dominic Blizzard 63), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 26 Topi Obadeyi (8 Romuald Boco 85); 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid.
Substitutes [not used]: 1 Jake Cole (GK), 15 Paul Wotton, 18 Tyler Harvey, 28 Jamie Reckord.
Booked: Hourihane 57, Berry 88
Referee: Roger East
Attendance: 3,866 (1,520 away).