Argyle's tactical switch pays off as Barnet are beaten in vital tussle at foot of table
Plymouth Argyle were the only one of the bottom six teams in npower League Two to win on Saturday, as the fight to stay in the Football League became even tighter.
Victory over Argyle's fellow strugglers Barnet was vital to their prospects of escaping the drop come the end of April.
Only three points cover the bottom six clubs after the results at the weekend. All the signs are the final outcome will not be decided until the closing weeks of the campaign, possibly even on the last day.
Argyle clambered off the bottom of the table by beating Barnet, who stayed in 21st spot. However, the Pilgrims cut the deficit on their opponents from north London to a point, while AFC Wimbledon are propping up the rest of the division after losing 2-1 at Cheltenham Town.
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How it will all end, no-one knows. But Argyle should be buoyed by their triumph against Barnet.
Manager John Sheridan wanted to see his side play with more poise when they were in possession and press the opposition higher up the pitch when they did not have the ball. To achieve those aims, he opted for a 4-3-3 formation.
Argyle had not scored in any of their previous three home games, drawing two of them and losing the other one, so something had to be done.
Reuben Reid was the spearhead of the attack, with Jason Banton and Ronan Murray either side of him.
The central midfield trio were Andres Gurrieri, on his return to the team, plus Lee Cox and Argyle captain Conor Hourihane. Cox played the deepest of the three, allowing Gurrieri and, in particular, Hourihane to push on.
It meant Argyle had a lot of creative, attacking players on the pitch, and Sheridan's change of tactics probably caught Barnet by surprise.
It looked that way in the first half when, apart from a breakaway Barnet goal, the Pilgrims were much the better side.
Barnet had their 39-year-old head coach, former Netherlands international Edgar Davids, in charge on the pitch. Not surprisingly, given his credentials as a world-class player in the past for clubs such as Ajax, Inter Milan and Barcelona, he wants to see his side adopt a passing style.
Argyle's intention was to stop the Bees from profiting that way and, by and large, they did so. A win was vital, and the fact it came after an improved – although far from perfect – performance was a bonus for Sheridan.
Gurrieri was recalled at the expense of on-loan Reading striker Gozie Ugwu. The Argentinian has been in and out of the team this season, and made his first start on Saturday since the 1-1 draw at Exeter City on December 15.
Argyle always seem to get the best out of him when he is given a central role, rather than played out wide. Gurrieri is comfortable on the ball and can twist and turn past opposing players without seemingly too much effort.
Sometimes, games can pass him by, and that is probably why he has been a substitute for large periods of the season. But Gurrieri came into the side on Saturday and did the job asked of him by Sheridan by getting on the ball and moving it to his team-mates.
Reid squandered a couple of early chances for Argyle before Barnet opened the scoring. The goal came in the 21st minute from their first attack, and the Pilgrims were guilty of some shocking defending.
First, right-back Maxime Blanchard could not stop a low cross from Elliot Johnson being delivered into Argyle's penalty area. Anthony Charles had a chance to clear the danger, but did not, and then Barnet's Jake Hyde darted in front of Guy Branston.
Hyde took the ball away from the stumbling Branston and stabbed it low into the net. Former Barnet goalkeeper Jake Cole was rooted to the spot and could do nothing to prevent Hyde from getting his 11th goal of the season.
Argyle struggled to regain their composure afterwards and were in desperate need of inspiration. It came in the 36th minute from Hourihane, who scored with a 20-yard shot after receiving a pass from Reid.
Hourihane cleverly dragged the ball away from Barnet midfielder Mark Byrne before setting his sights on goal.
Argyle played some good football before half-time and were rewarded for that with a second goal soon after the interval. Hourihane raced on to a long pass from Branston and slid the ball inside to left-back Onismor Bhasera.
He cut the ball back from the by-line to Reid, whose shot was blocked by former Plymouth defender Bondz N'Gala. The ball rebounded to Gurrieri, who made a complete mess of his attempt on goal.
However, fortune was with Argyle, as the ball broke to Murray and he took one touch before drilling it low into the net from close range.
Cole made comfortable saves from Barnet's Curtis Weston and Dani Lopez as time ticked by. However, the goalkeeper was really put to the test in the 79th minute when the Bees came close to equalising.
Lopez played a deep ball to the far post and Barnet substitute Iffy Allen got in behind Bhasera. Allen had a tight angle to deal with but he got power on his strike and it took a superb reflex save from Cole to keep the ball out of the net.
Ugwu and Paris Cowan-Hall, sent on as substitutes for the Pilgrims, had late chances to make sure of maximum points for the home side, but could not take them.
However, Barnet could not come up with an equaliser and Argyle held on to their slender lead until full-time.