While the rest of the footballing world was still shaking its head in disbelief that a European superleague could possibly omit Charlton, we embarked on another game that could reasonably be described as ‘must win’, given our situation and other games in our final six, while keeping fingers crossed that others would screw up: Portsmouth at Swindon (they did), Blackpool at Rochdale (they did too), and Lincoln at Burton (they didn’t), even Oxford at Wimbledon (they did). After all, Plymouth may have been in 16th place but looked pretty comfortable, surely with nothing other than a bit of pride to play for, while we knew that all we needed to do was win our final six games and we could not be denied a play-off spot. And tonight we did what we had to.
Whether Adkins had any significant decisions on team selection tonight seemed to depend on whether any of Maatsen, Washington or Aneke would be available. In the event just one was, Aneke, who was among the subs, but the starting XI saw two changes. Inniss was given a rest, with Famewo coming in to partner Pearce (and Gunter and Oshilaja the back-up on the bench), while Watson started instead of Pratley, perhaps on the back of his display when he came on as a sub. It looked like the same 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation with Millar and Jaiyesimi either side of Stockley and Forster-Caskey and Gilbey making up the midfield. There was a further change on the bench with Morgan named instead of Schwartz, giving us more options than on Saturday.
As on Saturday we started sluggishly. Plymouth rattled up six corners in the first 15 minutes, had some dangerous positions, a cross well cut out by Watson, a shot deflected, an Amos save, and a low cross which somehow evaded everyone. We did have a Forster-Caskey shot which curled wide but by and large we struggled to hold the ball, especially with Stockley curiously getting regularly beaten in the air. Plymouth passed the ball better than us and had us on the back foot.
But that was the first 15 minutes. And just as on Saturday the game changed after that. We began to look more dangerous, Forster-Caskey helped to set up Jaiyesimi, whose shot was well saved, and we might well have had a penalty as a Gilbey shot from the edge of the area clearly hit the raised arm of a defender. No matter as on 25 minutes we were ahead. Millar drove past his marker on the left and fired in a low cross. Their keeper managed to push it out but Forster-Caskey bent his neck and headed it back goalward. Their defender looked as though he was going to keep it out with his hands but perhaps thought better of it (penalty and a red card or the goal and a yellow) and in it went.
The lead was nearly extended later in the half as Purrington ran on to a loose ball on the left side and fired in a cross, one which Stockley just failed to connect with. But after Jaiyesimi had almost played in their guy with an ill-conceived back pass, only rescued by Watson, we did score again before the break. Forster-Caskey and Matthews worked it down the right and Matthews delivered an excellent cross, one which was met low down from close range by Stockley, who’d left his marker for dead.
At the break we were looking good, despite the start to the game. Just felt that Plymouth would surely be getting a rollocking and look to get back into it early in the second. And they very nearly did. Their guy got into the box and checked inside, goal looked gaping but he hit his shot low and Amos made the save. To add insult to injury we immediately went down the other end, Millar has a shot which is blocked but then hits their defender and goes in. Instead of 1-2 it was 0-3 and probably game over.
In case there was any doubt, a couple of minutes later and it was four. We attacked down the right side and for some reason all their defenders were drawn to that side, leaving acres of space. This was spotted, the ball chipped over them, and Gilbey with all the time he might have wanted swept it home. Before the hour was up we’d scored again. Also down the right side, Jaiyesimi cross and Stockley cleverly dummied it, allowing it to run through to Millar who scored.
That was the cue for Gunter to replace Matthews and not long after for Shinnie and Morgan to come on for Gilbey and Jaiyesimi. And quite frankly now it was only a case of whether there would be a consolation or two for Plymouth as we not surprisingly rather took the foot off the gas. More changes saw Aneke and Pratley on for Stockley and Forster-Caskey; and just when everyone was getting ready for the final whistle Pratley saw space inside and chipped it to Aneke, who controlled it and stabbed it home. Still a couple of minutes left to beat the 0-6 at Barnsley (I was there) and remarkably Aneke missed a glorious chance to make it seven in stoppage time, through on the keeper but shooting just wide.
With the other results tonight we are sitting nicely in sixth place with five games to go. Technically we can now afford to win only four of those five to be sure of a play-off place, but we know it’s still going to be tough, with Peterborough, Lincoln and Hull still to play. No matter, tonight (and tomorrow) we enjoy it, hope the players do too because they deserved it.
Amos – 9/10. Another important contribution to prevent us going behind in that early phase; basically did everything asked of him.
Matthews – 8/10. Fine performance, Curbs attributed our lead at half-time to the defence and that was about right.
Pearce – 8/10. Important interceptions and tackles, didn’t let the change of partner unsettle him.
Famewo – 8/10. Slotted back in seamlessly, not noticed much but that was a good sign.
Purrington – 8/10. Also a good game as after the opening spell our defence was on top.
Gilbey – 7/10. Decent game and took his chance well.
Watson – 8/10. A couple of key interventions to prevent them scoring, shored things up in front of the defence. Tough call after Saturday and today whether he or Pratley starts.
Forster-Caskey – 8/10. Pretty effective all round, including his goal.
Jaiyesimi – 7/10. Not everything came off but still looked lively.
Millar – 8/10. He had the beating of them on the left side all night, scored one, big role in our first.
Stockley – 7/10. Did well for his goal but did miss another and was unusually less effectively than usual in the air outside the box.
Not fair to give them marks as they all came on after the game was won.