Argyle 3 Rovers 2
Impressed by what I'd seen so far, our impression of the Grandstand from our seats was equally as good. First of all were the seats themselves, lovely wooden foldables, clearly as old as the stand it self. We were also looking down at the rest of the stadium as despite being 50 years older than the rest of the ground, the Grandstand sits tall and proud. Beneath the upper tier is a narrow shelf of seating and than a vast terrace in front. Unfortunately the terrace is no longer used. A few thick and sturdy pillars interrupted our view, holding up the spider web like beams in the roof.
One of the many joys of supporting a lower league team is there is usually no problem getting a ticket. It is only rarely, for big away games when the allocation is sold out to season ticket holders before going on general sale that problems can arise. Alas, since forgoing my season ticket some ten years ago I have been vulnerable to such occasions. This fate befell me for this game as in form Plymouth gave an allocation of 1500 to localish rivals and in formish Bristol Rovers.
Unfortunately for me I'd been planning to go to this game since October and had booked a family weekend on the Devon coast to coincide with the fixture. Not to be deterred, I opted to sit on my hands and get tickets for the home end.
Accompanying me on this trip to Argyle's Home Park would be my mate Rich who was also down in Devon with his family. As we left our caravan park on the coast, 'The Beast from the East' was returning and it had started to snow heavily. Rich eventually found BBC Radio Devon on the car dial who were kind enough to confirm the game was on. Reassured by this I turned my concerns as to whether Rich was a bad luck charm. We worked out that the last time he'd seen Rovers away was a 6-1 defeat at Walsall in 2011, or a 4 or 5 nil hammering at Leyton Orient in the same year. I reassured myself that he was also present at 'The Taming of the Shrew' at Wembley in 2007 and the FA Cup win at Bournemouth the same season.
On arriving at Plymouth's home, the first thing that we noticed was how much space their seemed to be. Despite the ground being in a built up residential area and having been around for well over a hundred years, they have a huge car park to rival most out of town stadiums and the whole place felt very spacious. Not being able to go in the away end at least gave us the opportunity to be able to choose which stand to sit in. It didn't take me long to opt for the old Grandstand. The remaining three sides of the ground were rebuilt in 2001 and make up what would be a very generic single tiered bowl were it not for the wonderful Grandstand. Built in 1952 it seems much older. As you come through the turnstiles you first see it's rear, a never ending canvass of green corrugated iron. We then walked the length of the stand to the stairway leading up to our seats.
I've already mentioned the abundance of space and as we looked for our seats we couldn't help notice corners of the ground that time seemed to have forgotten. The toilets were something out of the dark ages. Even if it was acceptable to get a camera out in the gents, the amount of black paint and lack of windows would have scuppered any efforts to document the Dickensian squalor.
To the right of the far stairwell were a set of what looked like old scout huts, which I guess must have been club offices in years gone by.
As we got to the back of the Grandstand we had a good view of the away end behind the goal. In between the two stands was a what looked like a two-up two-down house wedged in to the corner of the ground. A kind of low brow, working mans version of the famous Pavilion at Fulhams Craven Cottage.
|Squint and you could be at Craven Cottage|
Peering at the rest of the ground it is remarkable how neat, modern and uniform it is. Thank heavens the Grand Stand remains because the rest of the ground seems pretty devoid of character. If it was all the same on four sides it would remind me of a small version of Southampton's St Mary's, a decent modern and well appointed championship level stadium, but nothing to write home about.
The atmosphere pre match was good. It's stretching it a bit to call this a derby, but bearing in mind Plymouth's geographical isolation and the fact that both teams were going in the game with hopes of getting in to the playoffs, a bit of spice in the air was understandable.
That Plymouth are now serious playoff contenders in the second half of March is an incredible turn around from how they started the season. As late as December they were rock bottom of the league having been promoted via the play offs last season. An impressive unbeaten run including 6 straight wins has seen them eyeing up back to back promotions. Rovers have also had a good start to 2018 and came in to the game 5 points off the play off places.
By the time kick off came around it was snowing quite heavily but still not settling. Plymouth looked the better team in the early exchanges and were passing the ball around nicely, a little too calmly at the back as Harrison, playing alone up front for Rovers almost caught them out as they looked in no rush to clear their lines. In Rovers first meaningful attack, they were awarded a free kick left of centre out side the Argyle box when Stuart Sinclair was bought down. Our view from side on was perfect as up stepped Chris Lines and curled it low around the wall and in to the bottom corner. 1-0 to the visitors against the run of the play.
Rovers then came close to adding a second when the Arglye keeper, Mathews dallied over clearing a pass back and was charged down by Harrison but the rickoshay fell kindly for the home team. Argyle looked to get back in to the game and were still playing like a team full of confidence. Their main man Graham Carey was looking to do damage down the right flank, though Rovers right footed utility man - James Clark was doing a good job at left back in trying to keep him quiet.
Argyles equaliser was the best goal of the game and came from a neat sequence of passes from a corner, resulting in a floated cross from the edge of the box which was helped on it's way with a looping header from Jamie Ness in to the top corner. 1-1 with ten minutes until half time.
The game then exploded in to life as Plymouth quickly won back position and came storming forward, suddenly it was two on two with Rovers centre back Tom Lockyer back peddling as the player on the ball ran at him. Lockyer then showed a flash of brilliance, picking his moment perfectly and executing a tackle genuinely reminiscent of Bobby Moore's famous dispossession of Pele from 1970. Lockyer would go on to be involved in the controversial moments of the game but this tackle really was a beaut. With the ball back at his feet he passed it over to right back Jo Partington who played what looked like a very hopeful long ball for Ellis Harrison to run after. Harrison however somehow managed to get there at the same time as the centre back Songo'o and in a great demonstration of powerful forward play, out muscled the Argyle man. He had still plenty to do with two other defenders having got back between him and the goal but he calmly bought the ball back from the touch line and coolly found the net via a gap between the keeper and defenders. 2-1 to the visitors.
|Ellis Harrison on the ball|
Chances continued to come in the final minutes of the half and Rovers manager Darrell Clarke was apoplectic when Harrison appeared to be hauled down when through on goal only for no foul to be given. For where we were sat we concluded it probably was a foul but Harrison's dramatic pirouette would have done enough to put off the ref. 1-2 at half time. We sped off to the concourse bar in search of a beer and some warmth. I doubt the concourse has changed much since it was built in the 50's. There are no T.V.'s and it is certainly cosy. Up until half time we'd felt warm enough but the cold beer tipped us over the edge and we started to freeze in the second half as the snow continued to come down.
|No room for a T.V. in the concourse|
A couple of minutes after the restart and Plymouth had a penalty. Lockyer was adjudged to have pulled down Moses Mokasi from behind as he raced in to the area. Up stepped Lameiras, but his penalty brilliantly saved and beaten away by Slocombe diving to his left. Argyle's despair was very short lived however, within a minute they had a large slice of luck as a speculative cross / shot from Ness took a wicked deflection of Ollie Clarke as he looked to head clear, the ball hit the inside of a post before bouncing across the goal line and in to the net. 2-2.
Argyle continued to look shaky at the back, especially the keeper, he again dithered over a clearance and was charged down successfully by Harrison, this time the striker managed to retain the ball and Matthews pursued him out of his area before bringing him down and getting booked. He later redeemed himself somewhat with a smart close range save from Sercombe.
Tom Lockyer then had two chances to retain the lead for Rovers. First he rose well for a corner only to head a yard over the bar from close range. Then he had a shot from close range, again from a corner which he somehow managed to hit straight in to the bread basket of Matthews, when anywhere else would have surely resulted in a goal. In terms of sitting on my hands I'd managed well when the goals went in at both ends. The closest I came to showing my true colours was inadvertently yelping in frustration when Lockyer headed over. It would be lovely if the Rovers captain could add the odd goal to his game soon.
Lockyer continued to be at the heart of things as with 5 minutes to go he gave away another penalty. This time he was adjudged to have bundled over Argyle centre back Songo'o as they waited for a corner to come in to the box. Graham Carey took over penalty taking duties and sent Slocombe the wrong way. 3-2 to the home team.
Que some tension bubbling over in the away end and a few fans very slowly stepping over one of the three canvas barriers separating them from the home fans. It looked like they had no intention of going any further but apparently some chairs and punches were thrown and it was a bit more serious than it looked from our vantage point.
3-2 at the final whistle. Rovers unlucky not to get anything from the game but fair play to Plymouth for fighting back. A pulsating game full of incident that will live long in the memory. We made our way back to the caravan park just in time before the snow came down as stranded us there for the next two days. Luckily we managed to drive home on Monday - taking heed of the advice offered by BBC Radio Devon for driving in snow and ice - drive steadily in first gear and wiggle the wheel about from side to side. Wise words.