Plymouth Argyle sink deeper into mire after defeat at Valley Parade
THERE was more League Two misery for Plymouth Argyle and their under-pressure manager Carl Fletcher as they were beaten by Bradford at Valley Parade last night.
The Pilgrims trailed 1-0 at half-time, after a goal from City captain Gary Jones in the 21st minute, but they had the better of the play after the break.
Argyle created some good chances, inspired by lively Burnley loan signing Alex MacDonald, but could not convert any of them.
Second-year apprentice Tyler Harvey was sent on as a second half substitute to make his senior debut after scoring regularly for the club's under-18s this season.
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But it was all to no avail as Argyle suffered a fifth defeat in their last six league games.
The players' commitment and workrate could not be faulted, and they defended resolutely, but the goal from Jones proved decisive.
The calls from some fans for Fletcher to be replaced as manager will only intensify after this result.
Yet the Pilgrims could consider themselves unfortunate not to pick up a point from their trip to West Yorkshire.
Argyle were captained for the first time by 21-year-old midfielder Conor Hourihane in the absence of Darren Purse.
Purse started a three-match suspension after he was sent-off in the 3-0 defeat away to Fleetwood Town on Saturday.
While Purse was banned, midfielder Luke Young was ruled out by injury and striker Warren Feeney dropped down to the substitutes' bench.
Purse was replaced at centre-back with 2011/12 player-of-the-year Maxime Blanchard.
Also coming into the side were Argentine playmaker Andres Gurrieri and MacDonald, who was the pick of the Pilgrims' players on the night.
Added to the bench for Argyle were teenage prospects Harvey and defender Jamie Richards.
Busy Bradford, playing their 15th game in 53 days, included former Pilgrims' loanee Will Atkinson in their team.
Argyle had an early chance when Gurrieri headed over the crossbar after a cross from right-back Durrell Berry.
Gurrieri played behind striker Nick Chadwick in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Cowan-Hall and MacDonald providing the attacking width.
Bradford threatened for the first time in the fourth minute when Nakhi Wells had a chance.
The ball was cut back to City's top scorer by Atkinson but his close range shot was deflected wide for a corner.
There was a lengthy break in play when Bradford's on-loan Sunderland centre-back John Egan suffered a suspected broken leg.
Egan was eventually stretchered off by a group of paramedics, to sympathetic applause from fans all around Valley Parade.
Carl McHugh was sent on as an 18th minute substitute for Egan and slotted into the defence.
Bradford did not let the loss of Egan affect them, though, as they took the lead in the 21st minute.
The ball dropped to Jones inside the Argyle penalty area and he fired low past 'keeper Rene Gilmartin from 12 yards.
The goal came after Bradford had aimed a high, hopeful ball towards 6ft 4in target man James Hanson.
Bradford regularly tested Argyle's defence with long throws from right-back Stephen Darby.
Gurrieri was ineffective playing 'in the hole' in the opening half-an-hour and that led to him swapping positions with MacDonald.
The latter made a good driving run into the Bradford box in the 33rd minute but was muscled off the ball by Jones.
There were some half-hearted appeals for a penalty but referee Tony Bates correctly waved them away.
Both sides struggled to create chances as the play became scrappy, with Argyle defending with more confidence.
Bates added on six minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half after Egan's unfortunate injury.
Argyle almost equalised on the stroke of half-time when Bradford 'keeper Matt Duke was forced into his first save.
Chadwick nodded down a deep cross and MacDonald flicked the ball on to Jamie Lowry.
The Pilgrims' midfielder got his shot away but the ball was parried by Duke, who showed excellent reflexes.
Argyle had another chance to equalise early in the second half when MacDonald broke clear.
The 22-year-old outpaced the Bradford defence but from inside the penalty area he sent his shot wide of the left post.
MacDonald was proving to be Argyle's main attacking threat as City found it hard to pick him up.
The Pilgrims were playing with more assertiveness and their passing was noticeably more accurate.
MacDonald fired wide from 20 yards in the 57th minute after receiving a short pass from Lowry.
Argyle had the better of the play but almost conceded a second goal when a deep cross was not cleared.
Midfielder Garry Thompson set up Jones but he drove the ball over the bar from close range.
That was a real let-off for the Pilgrims as Jones had been lurking inside the penalty area and was not picked up.
MacDonald then turned provider for Argyle with an excellent right-wing cross to Chadwick, but his header went over the bar.
The visitors were on top but an equaliser continued to prove elusive and Bradford went close to increasing their lead in the 67th minute.
Left-back James Meredith crossed into the 18-yard area and Hanson's glancing header went wide of the far post.
Argyle started to lose some of their momentum as Bradford played to the physical strengths of Hanson.
Manager Carl Fletcher responded by sending on second-year apprentice Harvey as a 74th minute substitute for Cowan-Hall.
Harvey became the latest Pilgrims' youth product to make his debut at first team level.
The prolific under-18s goalscorer was pushed into the attack with Chadwick in a 4-4-2 formation while MacDonald moved out to the right of midfield.
Chadwick had a fierce angled shot pushed over the bar, with some difficulty, by Duke in the 78th minute.
Gilmartin was rarely troubled by Bradford until the 81st minute when Atkinson cut onto his right foot and saw his shot pushed away by the Argyle 'keeper.
Centre-back Curtis Nelson was pushed into the attack by Fletcher for the closing stages, with Lowry dropping into defence.
The Pilgrims could not come up with an equaliser, though, and returned to Plymouth empty-handed from back-to-back away games in the North of England.
Argyle now find themselves just two points above a relegation spot.