Plymouth Argyle 2 Blackburn Rovers 0
BLACKBURN Rovers arrived at Home Park unbeaten in 18 Sky Bet League One matches and left a well beaten side. Argyle’s rapid improvement this season is no longer the division’s best kept secret.
First-half goals from Ruben Lameiras and Ryan Taylor crowned a fine team performance from a side that was bottom of the table when these two met in mid-October but who are on such a run of form that an outside tilt at the play-offs is not merely whimsical.
For different reasons, both goalscorers have come late to the Pilgrims’ party this season, as has Antoni Sarcevic, who continued a run of form so fine that there is surely no midfielder in League One for whom Pilgrims’ manager Derek Adams would swap him.
Argyle had showed one change from the side that had achieved a fine 2-1 victory at Oldham Athletic the previous week. On-loan Bristol City centre-back Zak Vyner, who had missed the trip through illness, returned at the expense of Yann Songo’o.
To further illustrate the sheer strength in depth of the Pilgrims’ squad, Vyner’s fellow loanee, West Ham United’s Moses Makasi, started life as a Pilgrim on the substitutes’ bench.
Blackburn, whose 1-1 draw with Argyle on October 17 was the first game of their long unbeaten run coming into Saturday, made one like-for-like alteration to the team that had beaten Walsall 3-1 at Ewood Park, with Craig Conway coming into midfield for Jack Payne.
A tight opening saw little to distinguish which of the two sides was heading for a quick return to the Championship and which had been promoted from League Two the previous season.
Blackburn gave the merest indication of the considerable talent at their disposal when Richard Smallwood’s inswinging free-kick was dropped perfectly on to the head of Paul Downing around about the penalty spot. Downing’s header was not up there with the most powerful, though, and Remi Matthews pouched the ball.
The Pilgrims progressed from giving as good as they were getting to one better midway through an engrossing first half.
David Fox had toiled through the mud at Oldham for little personal reward but, back on Home Park’s green acre, he was in his element and his passing had carried a threat even before he teed up the opener.
His free-kick to Sonny Bradley was meat and drink to the Pilgrims’ Player of the Year and allowed him to pick out Lameiras with a header back to the edge of the area that invited the lashing that it got from the Portuguese midfielder. Blackburn goalkeeper David Raya heard the netting riffle while he was still working out where the ball was.
Twelve minutes later, Argyle extended the lead with a sweet counter-attacking goal. It was scored by Taylor, from Carey’s pass that was exquisite in timing and weight, but really the goal was all about Sarcevic.
Maybe it is the geography of the opposition that the Pilgrims have faced in recent weeks that inspires the proud Mancunian, but he was man of the match against both the Athletics of Wigan and Oldham, and was in even better form against Blackburn.
The move that provided Taylor’s goal began when Sarcevic won a less than 50-50 ball just outside his own penalty area, and, in one sweeping movement, drove through the heart of the midfield before laying the ball off to Carey, lurking on the left.
Taylor knew what was coming. So, for that matter, did a Blackburn defence that was nevertheless powerless to deal with the accuracy of Carey’s pass in behind. There is no such thing as a simple finish, but Taylor’s acumen in reading the move made his execution a formality.