Plymouth Argyle tore off the shackles of torrid form on Saturday afternoon as they battled to a valiant 1-0 victory over Milton Keynes Dons at Home Park.
Argyle started much the brighter of the two sides, finding a lot of room on either flank as the opposing full-backs were dragged from their posts to cover decoy runs. Ryan Hardie breached the visiting walls several times in the opening exchanges, but could not find the final product that the out-of-form hosts so desperately needed.
MK Dons eventually clawed their way back into the tie and had a decent, physically-dominating spell of their own. Culminating in a dismissed penalty appeal, the Dons looked to adventurous defender Regan Poole to drive the attack. The 22-year-old was cause of great strife among Argyle’s defensive lines but could not make ends meet with his sumptuous crossing.
Hardie continued to threaten the deadlock as the clock ticked on, but desperate defending did well to keep the Scotsman at bay. Consistent role-switching with free-scoring striker Luke Jephcott kept the Dons defenders guessing. Both attackers got in behind often, but goalkeeper Andrew Fisher was barely tested before the break.
The Dons were left rueing the best chance of the half, when a pass was fizzed across from the right flank to the feet of Lasse Sorensen. Six yards from goal, the Dane struggled to bring the ferocious pass under control, and heroic defending from Panutche Camara nicked possession and set his sprightly Pilgrims off on a counter-attack of their own.
MK Dons looked a different team to the one that left the pitch after a rocky first 45 minutes. They were well organised straight off the bat and worked well as a team to reclaim any loose balls birthed from mistakes.
On the limited occasions in the opening minutes that they did steal possession, Plymouth worked the ball quickly across the pitch. The quick transition presented an opportunity to Jephcott on the hour mark, who squandered his lines and struck wide of the near post in front of the home supporters.
The deadlock was broken with 25 minutes left to play. Plymouth engaged in another of their vapid attacks, and captain Joe Edwards received the ball in space wide on the right flank. The 30-year-old smashed a delightful ball across the box to Hardie in the centre, who smashed home his second goal of the season after trapping the pass. It spelt the 15th time in 19 matches that MK Dons conceded the first goal.
Plymouth continued to press, and the flurry of second-half substitutions from Dons boss Russell Martin did little to break the strong flow of offensive guile. Jephcott came agonisingly close to adding his name to the scoresheet in the 75th minute, with his near-post effort requiring a reaction save from Fisher to keep the one-goal deficit.
Argyle dug deep to preserve their lead, and put an end to the woeful run of six straight defeats. They move five spots up the league, into 14th, and five points clear of the once-looming relegation zone.
Takeaways from the match
MK Dons must tighten up
More often than not, the Dons defence was breached by an artful run from the Plymouth forwards. The full-backs in particular were dragged away from their position, crafting an opening for the plucky Pilgrims to explore. A distinct lack of clinical finishing from Argyle was the primary factor in keeping the score as low as it was.
Pace is key
Argyle stroked the ball confidently and quickly, which in the end afforded them the winning goal. Their transition was rapid, and in the blink of an eye play was moved efficiently from box to box. The Dons defenders found it a tough task to handle, and the quick-thinking of their hosts wore them down to defeat.
Man of the match
Ryan Hardie – Plymouth Argyle
Scotsman Hardie was the primary source of threat on Argyle’s part and scored the only goal of the game. Operating down the right wing with the odd venture into the centre, the 23-year-old exploited the cataclysmic gaps in the MK Dons defence to his advantage. He also linked up well with Luke Jephcott to heap the pressure on the frail backline.