Resilient Pilgrims end long wait for away win as Banton strikes twice to sink Shots
Plymouth Argyle's four-month wait for an away win came to an end – and not a moment too soon – as they beat Aldershot Town 2-1 at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.
It was probably pushing it to describe this result as vital for the Pilgrims, with it only being early February, but it was not far short of that.
Had they lost, they would have been four npower League Two points behind Aldershot, having played one more match than them. Instead, Argyle moved above their opponents with a morale-boosting and much-needed victory.
The Pilgrims had gone eight away games in League Two without a win since their 4-1 triumph over Barnet on October 13. They had lost six times during that sequence, picking up two points and scoring only four goals.
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They took the worst away record in the division to the Recreation Ground, but went away with their third win on the road this season.
They key to their success was the resilience they showed during lengthy periods of Aldershot pressure.
Goalkeeper Jake Cole was confident with his handling of the ball and punching, but did not have that many shots to save, considering the possession the home side had.
That was due to some strong defending, particularly from centre-backs Guy Branston and Anthony Charles. Both are former Aldershot players, and they were determined to make sure Argyle came out on top.
The Pilgrims have yet to lose in any of the four games that Branston has played in, and have conceded only two goals.
Charles, equal fifth in Aldershot's all-time appearance list with 229 games, was booked as early as the 15th minute on Saturday, for a foul on midfielder Oliver Risser. That meant he had to be careful with his challenges for the rest of the match or run the risk of being sent off. However, that did not curb his defensive tenacity in only his third outing for Argyle.
Branston and Charles were cast-offs from Aldershot and Northampton Town, respectively, in January. So far, they have justified the faith shown in them by Argyle manager John Sheridan.
He has made seven signings since he was appointed as the Pilgrims' boss, and two of them made their debuts against Aldershot.
Gozie Ugwu belatedly played for the first time after overcoming an ankle injury he had suffered in training.
The on-loan Reading striker was a late substitute for Reuben Reid, who had led the attack in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Midfielder Lee Cox was thrown straight into the starting line-up by Sheridan.
Cox, 22, had only been signed from Swindon Town the previous day, on loan until the end of the season. He did not train with his new team-mates before the game, and was still getting to know their names.
Aldershot, with the second worst home record in League Two, were trailing 1-0 within five minutes of the kick-off.
Argyle were awarded a free-kick, close to the angle of the penalty area on the right of the pitch, after Paris Cowan-Hall had been shoved over by centre-back Sonny Bradley.
It looked as though captain Conor Hourihane would curl the ball into the 18-yard box. Instead, Hourihane rolled the ball across to Jason Banton, and he was not closed down by the Aldershot defence.
The loan signing from Crystal Palace let fly with a shot from 20 yards which deflected off Bradley's leg and into the net. Aldershot goalkeeper Jamie Young had been moving in the opposite direction and was wrong-footed.
However, the home side were back on level terms in the 11th minute when midfielder Peter Vincenti scored with a simple tap-in. Cole did well to push away a low shot from striker Danny Hylton, but the ball broke to Vincenti and there was nowhere near him.
Aldershot, aided by a steady stream of long throw-ins from Vincenti, started to get on top as half-time approached. However, the Pilgrims counter-attacked in the 40th minute, and to telling effect.
Reid made a 60-yard run, leaving Aldershot midfielder Danny Rose trailing in his wake, before crossing the ball to Banton. He cut inside right-back Ben Herd and spotted a gap between Young and his far post.
Banton then expertly curled the ball past the dive of the Aldershot goalkeeper and into the corner of the net.
It was an excellent finish, especially from someone playing only the fourth competitive game of his professional career.
Aldershot should have been awarded a penalty soon afterwards when a shot from midfielder Kieron Cadogan hit the hand of Branston.
However, referee Fred Graham waved play on, much to anger of Aldershot and the relief of Argyle.
Aldershot had another two loud penalty appeals for handball ignored by Graham in the second half, which they dominated in terms of possession.
Their route one approach lacked finesse, though, and the Pilgrims stuck to their task.
Rose fired a 20-yard volley against the base of the right post and later the same player's goalbound header was somehow scooped over his own crossbar by Branston.
Four minutes of stoppage time were played, to add to the tension, before Argyle could celebrate their crucial win.