Argyle and Accrington serve up feisty fare
at the Crown Ground
Plymouth Argyle and Accrington Stanley served up a pre-Christmas cracker in rain-soaked conditions in Lancashire on Saturday.
What the 1-1 npower League Two stalemate lacked in finesse, it more than made up for in thrills and spills, drama and controversy. It was a credit to both sets of players that they came up with such entertainment for the hardy souls who braved such wet weather.
Both teams could argue with some conviction they deserved to take all three points. Accrington were denied on several occasions by some excellent stops from Argyle goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin.
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However, the visitors finished strongly, with Warren Feeney having a penalty saved and captain Darren Purse heading the ball against the crossbar.
The 1-1 draw meant both sides gained some reward for the total commitment they demonstrated. The fact the game was played was, almost entirely, due to the efforts of Accrington groundsman Martyn Cook.
He worked wonders to get the pitch playable despite the heavy rain which has swept across the UK over recent days – and, indeed, weeks. It was soggy but the ball never once got stuck in any surface water during the game.
Cook worked until 7pm on Friday, under the glow of the floodlights, marking out the lines on the pitch. He did that because he knew from the weather forecast he would have his work cut out the following morning to clear the surface of water.
Cook was aided by a few volunteers but, basically, it was all his own efforts that got the game on and he deserves tremendous credit for that.
Referee Mick Russell took a long look at the pitch in the couple of hours before kick-off but was always determined to get the game played, if at all possible. The conditions were not perfect but, in the circumstances, they were as good as could have been hoped for.
There was an early scoring chance for Argyle and from then on there was action all the way. Accrington's on-loan Leeds United goalkeeper Paul Rachubka pushed away a fierce 20-yard shot from midfielder Luke Young in only the second minute.
Former Plymouth left-back Lee Molyneux lined up for Stanley and he almost broke the deadlock soon afterwards.
Accrington were awarded a free-kick after a foul by Argyle midfielder Conor Hourihane and Molyneux took it quickly, aiming for goal.
The visitors' defensive wall had not lined up properly but Gilmartin was alert to the danger and he scrambled across to make the save.
Gilmartin made another athletic stop to deny Romuald Boco before the Pilgrims took the lead in the 26th minute. They were awarded a free-kick 30 yards out for a challenge on striker Rhys Griffiths by centre-back Peter Murphy.
Left-back Robbie Williams let fly with a shot which smacked against the right post and rebounded out to Onismor Bhasera, who had followed up. Bhasera applied the finishing touch as the ball ricocheted off him at some pace for his first goal since a 2-1 win at AFC Wimbledon in March.
Argyle struggled to retain possession for the rest of the first half, which Accrington dominated. The hosts almost equalised in the 44th minute when midfielder Craig Lindfield darted in behind Williams to get on the end of a defence-splitting pass.
However, Lindfield's low shot from a tight angle was kicked away by Gilmartin.
Argyle made a good start to the second half, and one fantastic lung-busting run from Bhasera nearly resulted in a second goal for them.
The Zimbabwe international surged forward from deep inside Plymouth territory, despite Accrington defender Aristote Nsiala trying at least twice to drag him down. Eventually, Bhasera broke into the box and his low shot flashed across the face of goal, with a sliding Griffiths almost poking it into the net.
Accrington then drew level in the 52nd minute with a goal from 34-year-old player-coach James Beattie. A throw-in from George Miller saw Lindfield get to the by-line and try a cross into the penalty area.
It was not struck with much power but Purse, on his left foot, miscued his clearance. Gilmartin had also moved across in anticipation of collecting the ball and when it broke to Beattie instead he was out of position. The former England striker fired it into the net for his fourth goal in six games for Stanley.
Accrington had a good spell of sustained pressure after that, with Gilmartin making a superb double save in the 57th minute. He pushed away a low free-kick fired into the six-yard area by Luke Joyce and then blocked a follow-up attempt.
Argyle survived Accrington's onslaught and had a tremendous chance to restore their lead in the 79th minute.
They were awarded a penalty after substitute Paris Cowan-Hall was bundled over by left-back Michael Liddle. Feeney, who had also come off the bench earlier in the second half, took the spot kick but it was easily saved by Rachubka.
Next it was the turn of Gilmartin to come to the rescue for the Pilgrims again in the 81st minute. Accrington were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out after a foul by Williams on substitute Padraig Amond.
Bhasera was booked by Russell for encroachment after Joyce's shot for goal deflected wide. That allowed Joyce to take the free-kick for a second time and the ball was destined for the top left corner of the net until the 6ft 5in Gilmartin flicked it away at the last moment. Then, in the 86th minute, Purse headed the ball against the bar from a corner taken by Luke Young.
Rachubka was shown a red card soon afterwards for retaliating to a challenge on him from Argyle's Nick Chadwick.
Apprentice goalkeeper Andrew Dawber, 18, was sent on as a substitute for his League debut. However, Argyle could not test the rookie and the incident-packed match ended all square.