PLYMOUTH Argyle Ladies suffered a second narrow defeat in the space of seven days as they lost 2-1 away at Oxford United on Sunday in the National Premier Southern Division.
It followed their 5-4 defeat to league leaders Watford at Home Park the previous weekend. Prior to that loss, Argyle had been on an 11-game winning run.
The Pilgrims stay in third place behind Watford and Crawley, although Oxford have closed to within three points of them.
It was a day to forget for Argyle on Sunday. They suffered a catalogue of injuries before the match and more during the game.
They suffered a huge blow when Wales international Helen Bleazard and tireless midfielder Becky Dandridge pulled out of the game after failing to full recovery from injuries. And to make matters worse, experienced central defender Bow Jackson was injured in the warm-up.
This meant a complete re-think for manager Dave Leonard, who had to re shuffle the pack. It almost worked but a late goal robbed them of a deserved point.
Argyle, who had beaten Oxford 4-3 at the start of the month in the FA Cup, started with Katie Middleton in goal and a back four of Leah Burridge, Lydia Huntley, Ebony Dover and Mollie Taylor. Steph Beck was just in front, with and Jessie Jones and Kayley Lane in midfield, Amber Pollock and Zoe Cunningham out wide with Natasha Knapman up front. Faye Ivall and Beth Everson were on the bench.
It was no surprise that Argyle took time to settle into the new formation as Oxford started the game pressing high.
The hosts had a good chance before Argyle responded with Amber Pollock setting up Kayley Lane, who shot wide.
Middleton then had to make a good save before the game became a bit of a slugfest with the referee awarding a number of fouls.
Argyle then had a let off when Georgia Timms went down in the penalty area but the referee ignored the Oxford protests. Lauren Haynes then shot over the Argyle crossbar.
The Pilgrims finally settled into the game and a quick Zoe Cunningham break resulted in a weak Jessie Jones shot.
Argyle were eventually rewarded when in the 41st minute a great attack resulted in Knapman getting on the end of the ball in a crowded penalty area and, with a sublime touch, fired her team in to the lead.
All Argyle had to do was see out the first half but after Middleton saved from Timms and almost on the half-time whistle, Oxford drew level when Timms managed to poke the ball past Middleton and into the net.
The second half started with Argyle on the attack but a brave challenge between goalkeeper Aimee Watson and Knapman resulted in both of them receiving treatment.
Argyle found themselves on the wrong side of the referee who awarded a number of fouls against them.
The game continued to be physical with the limping Amber Pollock having to be replaced by Ivall, while Watson and Knapman once again received treatment after another clash.
Argyle kept pushing forward and Oxford defender Cat Beaver had to be alert to give away a corner.
But the Pilgrims troubles increased with Jessie Jones going off injured, although she was able to later resume.
Oxford then had an Allen shot well saved by Middleton but Argyle kept pushing for the winner but numerous crosses into the penalty area came to nothing.
With nine minutes remaining Argyle almost snatched a winner but Gemma Sim’s out-stretched foot from a great cross denied Knapman what looked like a simple tap in.
But the Pilgrims’ miserable afternoon was made complete when, after Cunningham had been sin-binned, Oxford were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area and Kayleigh Hines fired into the top corner of the net.
The visitors pushed for an equaliser but even Middleton coming up for a corner produced nothing as Oxford held on for the three points.
A dejected Argyle manager Dave Leonard said afterwards: “We are in a bit of a rut with bad injuries to Becky Dandridge and Helen Bleazard and we were just a little hung over from last week as well. Also ill discipline and decisions cost us the game.”
He added: “Oxford are a good team and organised but we didn’t perform. But, to be honest, I would have taken a point with the players we had available and what we went through but I have learnt more in these last two weeks about this team than I have in the last 12.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks off now where the girls will continue training. We can recover from the injuries although my main concern is Amber Pollock who suffered a bad knee injury but we will see over the Christmas period before we travel away again in the new year.”
Argyle: Katie Middleton, Lydia Huntley, Mollie Taylor, Leah Burridge, Ebony Dover, Jessie Jones, Kayley Lane, Zoe Cunningham, Amber Pollock, Natasha Knapman, Faye Ivall, Steph Beck. Bethany Everson.