MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Plymouth Argyle 3 – 0 Blackburn Rovers

MATCH REPORT 2023/24: Plymouth Argyle 3 – 0 Blackburn Rovers

Rovers entered the first international break of the season with work to do as they fell to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of newly-promoted Plymouth Argyle.

With the spirits high at Ewood following Wednesday’s record breaking 8-0 win over Harrogate Town in the Carabao Cup and a positive Deadline Day which saw the signing of forward Semir Telalović, Jon Dahl Tomasson has been unable to include the German attacker in his squad as he has yet to receive his visa. With that in mind, the Dane made three changes to the side that won away at Vicarage Road, 1-0, last weekend. Harry Pickering returned to the side after his one game league suspension to replace the injured Joe Rankin-Costello, as Callum Brittain switched over to right-back. Andrew Moran’s impressive bench cameo in Hertfordshire and his fine showing in midweek saw him come in for his first league start, whilst Sam Gallagher started a league game for the first time this season on his return home.

Whilst Telalović was unavailable, fellow new boy, James Hill was also absent from the team, meaning young Patrick Gamble remained on the bench from midweek, alongside goalscoring duo, Zak Gilsenan and Thomas Bloxham.

As the 1,148 Rovers fans who made the incredibly long trip down to Devon began to settle into the away end, it was the visitors who got the ball rolling via Sammie Szmodics, as they were aiming to cap off a fine week with a third victory in as many games!

After just six minutes, Rovers were on top as the ball broke free in the box and fell to Ryan Hedges, but the winger couldn’t make it two league goals in as many games as he missed the target.

Three minutes later, Rovers were on the prowl again as Lewis Travis made a trademark run forwards before picking out Sam Gallagher. The attacker did well to pick out the late run of Szmodics, but the reliable midfielder’s range lacked its usual accuracy as he missed the target.

Sam Gallagher looked fired up on his return to his boyhood club, as he managed to test Conor Hazard in the Argyle goal after latching onto Hedges’ cross with a header, but the former Celtic goalkeeper did well to tip the ball over.

With 21 minutes gone, the home side got their first chance, as Ryan Hardie was slipped through, but the former Rangers forward failed to make it count, as he fired wide.

Moments later, Hardie was back at it again, but this time creating as he found Bali Mumba with a deep cross, but the ex-Norwich City man could only force a save from Aynsley Pears, as Plymouth won a corner.

The Plymouth pressure soon paid off in unfortunate fashion for Rovers, as the hosts managed to take the lead via a wicked deflection from Finn Azaz’s effort. Hardie and Morgan Whittaker combined before finding Azaz who eyed up the target from long-range, but his shot found the back of the net via a deflection off a Rovers body as Home Park erupted in delight at 1-0.

With just over half an hour gone, everyone in Blue and White were up in arms appealing for a penalty, but referee Stephen Martin waved the protests away after Szmodics went down under pressure from Julio Pleguezuelo.

Whittaker was causing problems as he got the better of Hyam and tried to squeeze one in from a tight angle, but Pears was able to keep the ball out at his near-post via his feet.

The former Swansea forward was again in the action, but for the wrong reasons, as he became the first player to be booked in the game after smashing an elbow into the face of Harry Pickering as the pair leapt to meet an aerial ball.

Rovers’ tails were back up as they created two chances in as many minutes. The first saw Andy Moran play a one-two with Szmodics, before the on-loan Brighton and Hove Albion man found Travis whose effort dragged wide. The second saw Szmodics try his luck, but he forced a save from Hazard.

Moments after the Hazard save, Plymouth were up the other end testing Pears, as Whittaker tried a long-ranger, but the Rovers goalie was on-hand to deny the extension of the lead.

Ryan Hardie was booked in the 41st minute for delaying the restart.

As the first-half came close to it’s conclusion, there were two minutes of time added onto the end of the first 45, as Rovers continued to search for an equaliser.

The equaliser didn’t come, as Mr. Martin brought the first period to its end.

Steven Schumacher’s half-time analysis would have been positive, as his side continued their fine home form against a side in decent shape. The former Bury midfielder would have been delighted with the work-rate and application of his side, but also pleased that a huge slice of luck fell in their favour for the opener.

Jon Dahl Tomasson would have been forgiven for pulling his hair out at the break, in complete bemusement as to how his side hadn’t found the back of the net in the first 45 minutes. The Rovers boss would have wanted his side to continue their play, but potentially speed the game up in possession in order to try and catch the League One champions out, as they began to tire in the second-half.

Just before play restarted, Rovers made a change as Scott Wharton replaced Dominic Hyam for the second period.

With the words of both managers ringing in the ears of their respective players, the second-half was restarted by Plymouth Argyle, as they looked to conserve their lead and potentially grind out their second home victory of the campaign.

Plymouth started the second-half in the same vein as they finished the first period as Hardie saw a double chance spurned. After Pears saved his first effort, the clinical forward proved the opposite of such after the ball returned to him, as he fired over.

Rovers won a corner in the 49th minute, as Hedges’ outswinger was met by the head of Hayden Carter who saw his nod fall narrowly wide of Hazard’s goal.

Hedges was again lively in the final third as he won the ball back and cut it back for Szmodics on the edge of the area, but the attacking midfielder again miscued and dragged his effort wide of the mark.

Adam Randell did well to win the ball back in the midfield in the 54th minute as he tried his luck from distance, but his dipping shot didn’t dip enough as it ended up behind the net.

Rovers were again up the other end banging at the door, but failing to break it down as Moran and Travis again combined before Szmodics failed to get a clean connection on the return ball, as Plymouth cleared their lines.

The 61st minute brough changes for both sides as the hosts introduced Luke Cundle and ex-Rover Callum Wright, for Adam Randell and the goalscorer Finn Azaz.

Rovers, however, withdrew Sam Gallagher and Andy Moran and introduced Tyrhys Dolan and Harry Leonard.

Wright was looking to make an instant impact against his previous employers as he broke forwards and found Mumba, who delivered a fine cross for Hardie to latch onto, but the attacker’s nod flew over the bar.

With Rovers now looking desperate, Hedges found Travis in the box, who lined up an effort, but saw his shot deflected over for a corner.

Plymouth made another change in the 71st minute as Mickel Miller replaced Bali Mumba.

In the 76th minute, Dolan tried to find Travis to set up a shooting attempt, but Hazard did well to intercept the Rovers skipper’s effort.

All of Rovers’ efforts proved to be in vain, as moments later, Ryan Hardie had the ball in the back of the net and was wheeling away celebrating Plymouth’s second of the day. The ball was fed to Wright to tried a shot from distance which proved too hot for Pears to handle as he spilt the ball into the path of Hardie who poked home for 2-0.

Rovers reacted with a double change soon after as Jake Garrett and Tom Bloxham replaced Ryan Hedges and Lewis Travis.

Those changes made no difference to Rovers’ fortunes, whatsoever, as the Pilgrims soon trebled their lead. After Pears was in No Man’s Land following an aerial challenge outside the box, the ball fell to Luke Cundle whose composed lob nestled nicely into the empty net for 3-0.

Plymouth’s final changes were made in the 83rd minute as Ben Waine and Dan Scarr replaced Joe Edwards, and goalscorer Ryan Hardie.

Harry Pickering was booked for hauling down Wright in the 88th minute, as Rovers were awarded their first booking of a miserable afternoon.

As the 90th minute ticked over, Mr. Martin allocated six minutes of time, as Rovers tried to save face with a couple of last gasp attempts.

Tom Bloxham was making an impression despite the poor day, as he tried to curl one in, but forced a save from Hazard in the 91st minute.

He was again at it in the 95th minute, but his effort was blocked in what proved to be the game’s final act, before the final whistle was blown.

‘Disappointing’ doesn’t cover the feeling following this defeat. Whilst Plymouth have been impressive since their promotion, especially at home, one would have believed that Rovers were coming into the game on a high after two consecutive away victories, including the recording breaker, however, they looked completely off the pace going forwards today. Whilst the game could have been entirely different had Rovers converted their early chances, they were let down today by three ‘scrappy’ goals, including two that came from errors from Aynsley Pears.

Following that disheartening defeat, Rovers now remain in 13th place over the international break with 7 points and a negative goal-difference of -2.

When they’re back from the first international stoppage, Rovers will be eyeing up a victory to get back on track, as they host struggling Middlesbrough on Saturday 16th September at 3pm. Following that tie, they host Tony Mowbray’s Sunderland on Wednesday 20th September at 7:45pm, before the long trip to Suffolk, to face Ipswich Town on Saturday 23rd September at 3pm.