Final Carl Fletcher defeat sinks Plymouth Argyle closer to drop zone
ARGYLE started 2013 as they ended 2012 – by suffering yet another 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.
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Argyle 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 the Pilgrims' squad are imperative in the January transfer window, whoever is chosen as Fletcher's successor as manager.
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 the speculation that Purse 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 team from Argyle's 1-0 defeat by Wycombe Wanderers at Home Park on 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.
Among the substitutes for the Pilgrims was midfielder Paul Wotton, who had been sidelined since September because of a back problem.
Rovers were playing their first home game since John Ward was appointed as their manager after the sacking of Mark McGhee.
Ward turned down the chance to become Argyle's director of football to return to the Pirates for a second spell as their boss.
The 61-year-old received a loud ovation from the Rovers' fans as he took his place in the dug-out.
Argyle were playing their fourth game in 11 days but it was only Rovers' second of the festive period because of two postponements.
Midfielder Fabian Broghammer had an early scoring chance for the home side but sliced the ball wide from 15 yards out.
Broghammer darted in behind Berry in the 10th minute to get on the end of a pass from Hitchcock and crossed low into the six-yard area.
Argyle keeper Rene Gilmartin got to the ball a split second before Anyinsah could touch it past him and flicked it away.
Hitchcock was the lone striker for Rovers in a 4-5-1 formation, with Anyinsah and Broghammer out wide.
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.
A viciously inswinging corner from Broghammer was not dealt with by Gilmartin and hit the bar before rebounding to Anyinsah.
The Rovers midfielder had all the time he wanted to crash the ball into the net.
Argyle tried to come up with an immediate response to that goal as they forced three consecutive corners.
From the third one, Onismor Bhasera headed over the crossbar from a central position after the cross from Luke Young.
Rovers then 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 keeper Steve Mildenhall being the other one.
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.
The Pilgrims had more of the possession towards the end of the first half but they could not reduce the 2-0 deficit.
Fletcher decided not to make any substitutions for the start of the second period.
Chadwick had a header saved by Mildenhall after a cross from Young as Argyle applied some early pressure.
Paris Cowan-Hall then had a shot-on-the-turn superbly blocked by Rovers' left-back Lee Brown.
The Pirates, with the comfort of a 2-0 lead, were content to defend in depth and try to catch Argyle on the break.
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 for some atrocious 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 soon afterwards with a curling, left-foot shot which hit the outside of the right post.
Berry was booked for a tackle on Broghammer – the first yellow card of the contest – before winger Joe Lennox was sent on as a substitute.
Lennox replaced 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.
As time started to run out for Argyle, Hourihane was booked for a late tackle on O'Toole.
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 very difficult trip to title-chasing Port Vale on Saturday, and without Fletcher as their manager.