Pilgrims grind their way to vital victory in first instalment of Sheridan's rescue quest
There is still a lot of football to be played before Plymouth Argyle can find out if they will escape relegation from the Football League this season.
Their nerve-shredding victory over Morecambe at Home Park on Saturday has, however, raised hopes that they can stay up.
It was not pretty, far from it, but picking up maximum points was the one and only objective for new manager John Sheridan. That target was achieved with a result which ended a sequence of three successive defeats.
The Pilgrims' 2-1 success was their first win in seven games, since a 2-0 npower League Two home victory over York City on December 8.
Sign up NOW for a 6 week training program starting in January 2014 and get a 30% discount!
Start a fresh in 2014 with a Personal Trainer! I come to you and design a program to achieve your goals!!
Terms: Within the Mid-North Devon Region. One Voucher per person.
Contact: 07855 055 682
Valid until: Friday, January 31 2014
Argyle had seemed set for a convincing victory as they raced into a 2-0 lead inside 16 minutes, but Morecambe had other ideas. They finished the first half strongly and then dominated the second period.
Morecambe finally reduced the deficit in the 80th minute with a superb 30-yard strike from substitute Ryan Williams. He had only been on the pitch for a matter of moments before crashing the ball past goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin.
Morecambe should have equalised three minutes later but another substitute, Jack Redshaw, missed what can only be described as a sitter.
Argyle's defence was totally absent as a cross from the right found Redshaw only six yards out and unmarked. All he had to do was steer the ball past Gilmartin and into the net.
Somehow, Redshaw sent the ball well wide of the near post and out of play for a goal-kick. It was an incredible miss. There was still time for Morecambe to turn their supremacy into a second goal, but right-back Andrew Parrish was sent off in the 85th minute.
Parrish was dismissed by referee Tim Robinson for a second bookable offence, and it was a reckless one as well. He slid into Onismor Bhasera, with boot raised. Robinson had no option but to dismiss Parrish, who had been booked in the first half for a foul on Jamie Lowry.
Morecambe still pushed for an equaliser, but Argyle played out the rest of the match without further alarms.
Sheridan's first match as manager saw Guy Branston and Ronan Murray make their debuts for Argyle.
Branston, a no-nonsense centre-back signed as a free agent on Friday, put in a resilient defensive display. His aerial power when the Pilgrims were defending corners was especially useful.
Murray, signed on loan from Ipswich Town until the end of the season, set up Argyle's second goal and almost scored late on. He did not see much of the ball after half-time as Morecambe piled on the pressure, but he showed an ability to drift out into wide positions and create scoring chances, either for himself or his team-mates, which offered encouragement for the future.
There was an early setback for Argyle when striker Warren Feeney hobbled out of the action. He suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by 17-year-old striker Tyler Harvey in the eighth minute.
The Pilgrims did not let that disrupt them, though, as they took the lead soon afterwards.
Morecambe midfielder Gary McDonald mis-controlled the ball on the edge of the penalty area and Argyle captain Conor Hourihane nicked it away from him. Then, with his weaker right foot, the midfielder fired a low shot past goalkeeper Barry Roche and into the net.
Argyle went 2-0 up in the 16th minute after some positive attacking play from Murray. He broke clear and sent in a low left-wing cross which Paris Cowan-Hall got on the end of and guided into the far corner of the net.
Cowan-Hall made an excellent run across his marker and was rewarded with his fifth goal of the season in all competitions.
The visitors soon made it clear they had no intention of returning to Lancashire without a fight, though. Hourihane made an excellent block to thwart Kevin Ellison as Morecambe started to take the game to Argyle. They did not create much else before half-time, but it was a different story after the break.
Jordan Burrow headed over the crossbar from close range following a pinpoint cross from Robbie Threlfall. Ellison sent a rising 20-yard drive over the bar, while Andrew Fleming and Lewis Alessandra shot wide from distance.
There was a nervous moment for Argyle in the 69th minute when a free-kick from Williams was beaten away by Gilmartin. The ball was pushed out by the Irishman and the Pilgrims were fortunate none of the Morecambe players could pounce on it.
Paul Wotton was sent on as a 78th-minute substitute for Lowry as Argyle went to a 4-5-1 formation for the closing stages. Soon afterwards, Williams fired high to the left of Gilmartin and into the net to give the Shrimps fresh hope of picking up at least a point.
However, Redshaw's woeful finish from in front of the goal followed by Parrish's red card, proved costly for them.
Murray almost made it 3-1 to Argyle in the 88th minute when his 20-yard shot rebounded off the base of the left post. Morecambe could not come up with any other chances, and Sheridan's first match as the Pilgrims' boss ended with the win he would have been so desperate for being secured.