Nick Chadwick's costly dismissal contributes to Plymouth Argyle’s worst defeat in season of struggle
Plymouth Argyle’s 93-year history as a Football League club is under serious threat after a disastrous Christmas period.
The managerless Pilgrims suffered their heaviest defeat of the season when they were beaten 4-0 at title-chasing Port Vale on Saturday.
It was their fifth game in only 15 days, and Argyle picked up only two points during what is always a pivotal part of any campaign. Had it been a successful fortnight, they could have focused on achieving a mid-table finish.
Instead, Carl Fletcher has been removed as manager and replaced by John Sheridan, and they have slipped to 23rd position in npower League Two. The table does not make good reading for them.
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Playing second-placed Port Vale was always going to be a difficult task for the Pilgrims, given their recent form and the sacking of Fletcher on New Year’s Day. It was made even harder by the dismissal of striker Nick Chadwick in the 34th minute.
Chadwick was sent off for violent conduct after an off-the-ball incident involving Vale midfielder Ashley Vincent. Referee Scott Mathieson consulted with his fourth official, Matthew Bristow, before dismissing Chadwick.
Vale had taken the lead moments earlier and it remained 1-0 until the break as Argyle worked hard to contain the attacking threat of the home team. After a positive start to the second half, the Pilgrims fell 2-0 behind in the 55th minute and it was, effectively, all over then.
Vale Park has a large pitch and ten-man Argyle were stretched to breaking point and beyond by their opponents using the full width of the playing surface.
At times, it was almost as though Vale were playing an old-fashioned 4-2-4 formation. Strikers Tom Pope and Ben Williamson provided height and power, and a goal threat, with excellent service from the flanks, particularly from Jennison Myrie-Williams. Argyle could not cope with that, and the outcome was predictable.
Paul Wotton made his first start in more than three months after a back problem, with his previous one coming in a 3-1 home defeat by Vale in mid-September.
Wotton played as a holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation as he replaced striker Warren Feeney in a team picked by Romain Larrieu and Kevin Nancekivell as they took temporary charge of the Pilgrims for the first – and almost certainly – only time.
Larrieu and Nancekivell would have been pleased with the purposeful start Argyle made against Vale. They played on the front foot and skipper Conor Hourihane had a close-range header saved by goalkeeper Chris Neal in the fourth minute.
A clever back-heel inside the box from midfielder Luke Young led to Paris Cowan-Hall and Onismor Bhasera both having shots blocked. The ball eventually broke to Wotton, who smashed it high over the crossbar from 25 yards.
Young was booked for a raised-arm challenge on Vale centre-back Joe Davis in the 18th minute and, gradually, the home side started to assert themselves. Myrie-Williams fired across the face of goal after skipping past Wotton and cutting inside centre-back Maxime Blanchard.
Another break from Myrie-Williams led to a chance for Pope in the 28th minute, but he dragged his shot wide of the right post. Argyle needed to survive this period of pressure, but they failed to do so.
Williamson played the ball out to Myrie-Williams, who drifted inside left-back Robbie Williams and aimed for goal. Argyle goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin got a glove to the low shot and will have been disappointed not to prevent it ending up in the net.
Straight from the restart, Vincent ended up in a heap on the ground, rubbing the side of his head, after Chadwick had run past him.
Few inside Vale Park spotted what had happened, but Chadwick was sent off for using his elbow. A similar incident had occurred straight after the kick-off, also involving Chadwick and Vincent.
Trailing by a goal and reduced to ten players, Argyle were suddenly facing a massive challenge. Cowan-Hall was pushed into the lone striker’s role after Chadwick’s exit, with two banks of four players behind him.
There were not too many scares for the Pilgrims as it remained 1-0 until the interval. To their credit, they started the second half strongly, forced a couple of corners and had some half-chances, but Vale took a firm grip on the game when Pope put them 2-0 up in the 55th minute.
Left-back Robert Taylor crossed into the penalty area and, with Gilmartin rooted on his line, Pope soared above Blanchard and headed low past him from six yards.
From then on, it was a matter of Argyle showing professional pride and keeping the scoreline respectable. Vale poured forward, with Gilmartin making good saves to keep out shots from Williamson and midfielder Doug Loft.
Gilmartin made two more excellent stops to deny Pope as Vale ran Argyle ragged. From the second of those chances, the ball rebounded to Williamson and he scooped it over the bar from close range.
Wotton made way for substitute Jamie Lowry before Vale extended their lead in the 77th minute. Pope lifted the ball over Blanchard to Williamson as centre-back Curtis Nelson stepped up to try to play offside. No flag was raised, and Williamson beat Gilmartin with a low shot.
Williamson then set up Pope for his 23rd League goal of the season – only six less than Argyle have managed collectively – in the 83rd minute. Pope raced into the Argyle penalty area and hit the ball past Gilmartin and high into the net.
League Two’s top scorer could have completed a hat-trick, but Gilmartin made another save. Finally, after three minutes of stoppage time, Mathieson called a halt to proceedings and put Argyle out of their misery.