Plymouth Argyle forged a seven-point gap between themselves and the relegation zone on Saturday afternoon with an important 1-0 win over a resolute Gillingham at Home Park.

A solitary strike from Luke Jephcott 10 minutes before halftime was enough to see off Gillingham, who had no response despite coming agonisingly close on several occasions.

Story of the match

First half

Gillingham flew out of the blocks, enjoying a long spell in front of goal in the opening exchanges. Fast passing and fizzed crosses were the order of the day as the hosts resorted to deep-laying counterattack play to keep scores level. Captain Kyle Dempsey linked up well with Vadaine Oliver for the Gills, but they could not capitalise on the numerous slips caused by the torrential Devon rain.

Oliver saw Gillingham’s best chance go begging 15 minutes in. Plymouth ‘keeper Michael Cooper stood dormant as a looping ball entered his penalty area and, in his hesitance to claim it, allowed 29-year-old Oliver to get his head to it. Fortunately for the Pilgrims, the header sailed safely over the crossbar of the empty net.

Before long, the hosts had clawed their way back into proceedings. Ever-present Scotsman Ryan Hardie played some beautiful, passing football with high-flying striker Luke Jephcott to craft fissures in the hardy Gills defence. On one such occasion, Hardie had breached the backline to find himself in the six-yard box, but a heroic sliding challenge from Ryan Jackson halted the gilt-edged opportunity.

Argyle had awoken from their lacklustre start, and, less than 10 minutes later, they put themselves in front. A delightful team goal saw the ball played across the defence before moving forward to Conor Grant on the left wing. The 25-year-old midfielder whipped in a sumptuous cross to an awaiting Jephcott on the penalty spot. The highest-scoring Welshman in the Football League slotted the volley calmly home into the bottom-right corner for his 12th goal of the campaign.

Gillingham looked under the cosh until the break, and could well have found themselves with an even bigger mountain to climb on the stroke of halftime. Grant had worked an opening following a superb one-two with Danny Mayor and rifled a low shot from the edge of the box. Gills ‘keeper Jack Bonham spilt the original strike, but gathered comfortably at the second attempt before the hordes of onrushing forwards poised any real threat.

Second half

Argyle started the second period significantly on the front foot. An opportunity to double their lead was squandered shortly after the restart as the Pilgrims broke forward on one of their familiar counterattacks. Hardie brought the ball out wide on the left before playing a neat flick into Jephcott. In turn, the striker looked to play sprightly winger Panutche Camara through on goal, but an outstretched leg pushed the chance away from plucky Plymouth.

At last Gillingham could fashion their first offensive of the half. Jordan Graham was fouled on the right wing, and the resulting free-kick was swung beautifully to the far post by Tom O’Connor. Defender Connor Ogilvie came flying in with a diving header, but the contact sent the ball just over the bar.

Argyle continued to plunder the ailing Gills defence. Not once did the Devonians look fatigued as the usual suspects of Hardie and Camara stretched the backline and presented space for the arriving cavalry of Jephcott and Mayor.

Scores stayed as they had been for the better part of an hour as referee Sam Allison brought proceedings to a close. The result sees Plymouth rise up two positions to 15th, seven points clear of the relegation zone and level on points with Gillingham. The Gills have now lost four of their last five in all competitions.

Takeaways from the match

Home nations heroics

The link between Scotsman Ryan Hardie and Welshman Luke Jephcott is one Plymouth Argyle will want to savour. Consistently on the same wavelength, the forwards have an incredible understanding of each other’s game and they work well to utilise it. On many occasions the Gills defence was penetrated by wicked passing play between the two, which crafted opportunities from the very first minute.

Jephcott, of course, scored the only goal of the game for the Devonians.

‘Keeper Cooper’s confidence

Although a young talent and usually an asset to the Argyle side, goalkeeper Michael Cooper found himself isolated far too often today, and can count himself fortunate to not have conceded. The first-half incident in which he was slow to claim a high ball was testament to a number one who is hesitant. A lack of confidence is understandable given Argyle’s woeful form and an unstable defence in front of him, but they are demons that Cooper will need to shake off before they cost him and his team.

Man of the match

Ryan Hardie – Plymouth Argyle

Hardie played a ubiquitous game today. Rarely distant from the play, the vapid youngster was a key part of Plymouth’s attack. He was unfortunate to miss out on adding his name to the scoresheet, but the Scot exerted his mouth-watering skill to bring about chance after chance for his green-clad colleagues.