PLYMOUTH Argyle Ladies produced a scintillating second half performance to see off former Super League side Yeovil Town 5-1 at the Manadon Sports Hub on Sunday in the National Southern Premier Division.
Pilgrims manager Dave Leonard said before the season started he wanted to make Manadon a fortress. And this result, which followed last week’s 6-1 hammering of Keynsham Town, shows his team mean to do just that.
Indeed, Argyle’s performance, especially in the second half, showed they are certainly capable of putting in a challenge for the league title even at this early stage of the season.
In front of 245 fans, they barely let a team who were playing professional football last season have a sniff at Becky Kyle’s goal. The goal they did score had more than a bit of fortune about it as a rare effort from Anne-Marie Heatherson bounced off the head of Argyle captain Kate Middleton to hit the far post before going in off the other post.
Manager Leonard gave Helen Bleazard a roving role to keep an eye on the dangerous Sarah Wiltshire. And it worked as the Yeovil player was never given a look in.
The game took time to settle and neither side really looked like scoring, but this was down to Argyle not finding the killer pass in the final third. Jessie Jones did get through but her weak effort was saved.
The breakthrough came in the 34th minute when Amber Pollock fired in a superb cross-field pass to Becky Dandridge, who controlled the ball skipped past a challenge before finding the corner of the net to give Argyle a 1-0 half-time lead.
The Pilgrims came out for the second half on the front foot and a Pollock cross found Natasha Knapman, whose effort was just tipped over the crossbar by goalkeeper Beth Howard. Then from a Dandridge corner Knapman headed wide.
But four minutes into the half Argyle finally got their second when Bleazard put Dandridge through with a pin-point pass and she composed herself to fire into the net.
Pollock and Knapman had further chances with Argyle playing some great football and eventually the third came when Jones robbed former Pilgrims player Jodie Chubb and raced clear before slamming the ball in to the corner of the net.
The hosts were now in full control and a quick move down the left ended with Bleazard finding Knapman, who fired into the net.
It quickly became 5-0 when a great cross from Jones found the unmarked Knapman, who headed in her second goal.
Substitute Faye Ivall came close with a header before in a rare Yeovil attack Heatherson’s shot hit Middleton on the head before going into the net off both posts.
“The girls were superb,” said Argyle manager Leonard afterwards. “We have to put it down to the scouting report done by Trevor (Rodd), to Hannah (Robertson) getting them fit, Vicky (Fannon) doing her fitness analysis, Sparky (Marc Bonney) coaching them and me managing them.
“Those girls deserved the 245 fans’ accolade. It was a great performance and a great crowd – these days in football don’t come around that often – but we have got to keep our feet on the ground, enjoy it and move on.
Although Leonard was impressed by the whole team’s superb performance he had a special word for Bleazard, who marked the talented Wiltshire out of the game.
“It was a tactical decision and we don’t make decisions lightly,” said Leonard. “But the energy levels of the girls, their fitness their shape and organisation, they could not have done anything more than I asked it was a great performance from everyone.”
Argyle: Becky Kyle, Leah Burridge, Kate Middleton, Mollie Taylor, Helen Bleazard, Kayley Lane (Steph Beck), Zoe Cunningham (Faye Ivall), Becky Dandridge, Amber Pollock, Jessie Jones, Natasha Knapman (Ebony Dover).
Meanwhile, Argyle’s development team narrowly lost 2-1 to local rivals Plympton at Marjon University in the South West League Western Division.
Plympton have become a bogey team for Argyle as they took four points out of them last season, even though the Pilgrims won the title.
In their first home game of the season, the young Pilgrims took time to settle and Plympton who soon had them on the back foot.
Maddie Walsh, in the Argyle goal, had to be quick off her line on a couple of occasions to smother at the feet of on-rushing attackers.
But slowly Argyle started to find their feet and Lucy Solloway was first to threaten the Plympton goal with a shot across the face of the goal.
Dani Wyatt, who was a live-wire all game, then had an effort stopped before the hosts did get on the mark when a through ball from Rachel Javan to Wyatt, saw her hold off two defenders and lay on a great pass to Hannah Brock to fire home from the edge of the penalty area.
Debutant Dee Newman then had a couple of shots saved, while at the other end the centre-half partnership of Giota Papainnou and Leah Johnson were forming a formidable barrier that Plympton found hard to break down.
The second half started with chances at both ends. First, was an effort from Plympton which was well saved by Walsh in the Argyle goal. Then a great ball from Rachel Heron in behind the Plympton full-back allowed Solloway a run in on goal, but her effort went agonisingly past the far post.
Minutes after that came the game-changing moment. A high ball on the halfway line was handled by Argyle full-back Beth Cowd when her team were in possession. Expecting the free-kick Argyle left the ball, but the official played on and the hosts were caught out with a through ball that allowed Samantha Metters to equalise.
This seemed to rattle Argyle’s youngsters and Plympton got on top and they went in front when a needlessly free-kick given away on the edge of the area gave Chelsea Robinson the chance to smash the ball home into top corner, giving Walsh no chance.
Argyle slowly got their game back together but despite two late efforts from Brock and Solloway they could not find the equaliser.
Manager Rob Bonney believed there were two defining moments during the game. One was the chance that was narrowly missed to put the team 2-0 up, followed by the non-handball decision.
“It was a clear handball and we were in possession of the football at that time,” he said. “Our girls expected the free-kick and left the ball but the official bizarrely decided to play on. Even their management team could not understand the decision.”
He added: “Playing the teams who finished third and runners-up last season in our first two games has certainly been a stern test and we have run both teams close You expect naivety from such a young group and you get that, but that is certainly being outweighed by their effort, determination and technical ability. They know they have a lot of hard work to do and they know what is required to improve as a group.”
Argyle Development: Maddie Walsh, Beth Cowd, Giota Papaioannou, Leah Johnson, Jodie Randall, Rachel Javan, Rachel Heron, Lucy Solloway, Nelinha Barros, Hannah Brock, Dani Wyatt, Dee Newman, Kiara Robins, Scarlett Williams.