Carl Fletcher sacked after Plymouth Argyle suffer another defeat
Plymouth Argyle started 2013 as they ended 2012 – by suffering yet another npower League Two defeat.
This time, it was bottom-but-one club Bristol Rovers who inflicted more misery on the Pilgrims in what was Carl Fletcher's last match as manager. Argyle have lost eight of their last 13 league games and the possibility of relegation out of the Football League is a serious concern.
Rovers took a 2-0 lead inside 25 minutes with goals from Joe Anyinsah and Matt Lund, both after dreadful defending from the Pilgrims at corners. They improved after the break, and midfielder Conor Hourihane scored in the 62nd minute.
Hourihane later shot against a post but the visitors could not get on level terms as they paid the price for their poor start. New recruits to their squad are imperative in the January transfer window, whoever is chosen as Fletcher's successor.
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Argyle went into the New Year's Day clash without their transfer-listed captain and centre-back Darren Purse.
Fletcher had explained before the game that Purse was a doubt because of a hamstring injury. However, his absence at the Memorial Stadium will only fuel speculation that he is on the verge of a move to another club. Durrell Berry returned to the starting line-up at right-back as Curtis Nelson moved into central defence to replace Purse.
There was one other change to the starting team from Argyle's 1-0 defeat by Wycombe Wanderers at Home Park last Saturday. That was in attack, where 17-year-old Tyler Harvey was ruled out by a calf injury and there was a recall for Warren Feeney.
Rovers were playing their first home game since John Ward was appointed as their manager. He had turned down the chance to become Argyle's director of football to return to the Pirates for a second spell.
Fabian Broghammer had an early scoring chance for the home side but sliced the ball wide from 15 yards out. Then the midfielder darted in behind Berry in the tenth minute to get on the end of a pass from former Argyle loan signing Hitchcock and crossed low into the six-yard area.
Argyle goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin got to the ball a split second before Anyinsah could touch it past him and flicked it away. Rovers had a strong wind behind them in the first half and that proved a crucial factor in the 19th minute when they took the lead.
An inswinging corner from Broghammer was not dealt with by Gilmartin and hit the bar before rebounding to Anyinsah. The midfielder had all the time he wanted to crash the ball into the net.
Argyle tried to come up with an immediate response and forced three corners. From the third, Onismor Bhasera headed over the crossbar from a central position after the cross from Luke Young.
Rovers extended their lead in the 25th minute as Argyle failed to defend properly at another corner. Broghammer took the set-piece and the ball curled out to Lund, who fired into the net from 12 yards.
For the third successive season, Argyle were losing 2-0 to Rovers in the first half of a match at the Memorial Stadium. On the previous two occasions, though, the Pilgrims had rallied to win 3-2. Rovers went close to a third goal in the 32nd minute when midfielder John-Joe O'Toole sent a low 30-yard shot skidding narrowly wide of the right post. O'Toole and Hitchcock were two of three on-loan debutants for the Pirates, with goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall the other.
Argyle had a couple of chances to reduce the deficit before half-time, the first when striker Nick Chadwick sent a looping header on to the top of the net. Then, in the 39th minute, Chadwick set up Berry for a 20-yard shot which was blocked by Broghammer for a corner.
Chadwick had a header saved by Mildenhall after a cross from Young as Argyle applied some early pressure after the break. Paris Cowan-Hall then had a shot-on-the-turn superbly blocked by Rovers' left-back Lee Brown.
Anyinsah had a weak header saved by Gilmartin from a rare attack in the 60th minute. Then, a couple of minutes later, Rovers were punished from poor defending as Hourihane reduced their lead to one goal.
Hourihane was picked out by a deep, angled cross from Berry, with no opposition players close to him. The Pilgrims' stand-in skipper calmly slotted the ball wide of Mildenhall from 12 yards for his third goal of the season.
Hourihane almost grabbed an equaliser with a curling left-foot shot which hit the outside of the right post.
Winger Joe Lennox was set on as a substitute for Robbie Williams, with Bhasera moving to left-back as a result. Soon afterwards, striker Rhys Griffiths replaced Feeney in attack as the Pilgrims continued to chase an equaliser.
Mark Molesley, on the last day of his loan spell from Bournemouth, was then a substitute for Young in the 84th minute but the Pilgrims could not come up with any more chances as they slipped to another defeat. They now face a difficult trip to title-chasing Port Vale on Saturday.