PLYMOUTH ARGYLE 3 WELLING UNITED 1
IT WAS a case of ‘job done’ as far as Argyle were concerned when they beat Welling United in the FA Cup at Home Park on Saturday.
Argyle raced into an early 3-0 lead but their performance from on did leave a lot to be desired, especially after half-time.
The Pilgrims were, without doubt, second best to their part-time opposition from south-east London following the interval.
Welling scored in the 53rd minute and had they got another goal in a spell when they were really on top, an amazing comeback could have been on the cards.
But it remained 3-1 to Argyle until full-time and they secured a coveted spot in the third round.
That was really all that mattered, with the possibility of a clash against Premier League opposition in the first weekend of January.
Most, if not all, Argyle fans would have taken a 3-1 win against Welling had they been offered it before the tie.
After all, Welling are currently only 20 positions below the Pilgrims in the English football pyramid.
There is no disguising the fact that Argyle really struggled in the second half. Their ball retention, which manager John Sheridan preaches to them a lot, was appalling at times.
Yet, they successfully avoided a FA Cup upset, unlike against Stourbridge in 2011 and Dorchester Town last year.
The key for Argyle to the game against Welling, currently 13th in the Football Conference Premier, was to make a fast start.
Sheridan’s tactics only served to emphasise that, as he reverted to a 3-5-2 formation after playing 4-4-2 in recent matches.
The aim was to get as many attacking players involved in the action as possible, and it worked.
Welling went with a 4-1-4-1 system which was clearly designed to try to contain the Pilgrims and, ultimately, to frustrate them – and the Green Army.
There was an early warning for the visitors that defending deep might not be the best approach.
Striker Reuben Reid had a sidefoot shot saved by Lee Butcher after wing-back Jamie Reckord had foraged forward on the left.
Argyle kept up the early pressure and took the lead in the 13th minute.
Reid was the instigator as he controlled the ball and then sent Andres Gurrieri racing into the penalty area.
His shooting angle was narrowing all the time but he calmly slotted the ball past Butcher.
It was only Gurrieri’s third goal in 47 career appearances for Argyle, and the first of the campaign for the Argentine.
It was early reward for Sheridan’s decision to play Gurrieri ‘in the hole’ behind Reid and Lewis Alessandra.
Welling were wobbled by his goal, and worse was to follow for them when centre-back Curtis Nelson put Argyle 2-0 up in the 18th minute.
Captain Conor Hourihane swung a free-kick deep into the penalty area and it was not cleared properly by Welling’s Fraser Franks.
The ball broke to Nelson and, from close range, he placed it to the right of Butcher and into the net.
Argyle’s third goal came in the 21st minute when Alessandra scored with a flicked header.
Midfielder Luke Young crossed into the 18-yard box after a short corner and Alessandra beat Butcher to the ball.
At 3-0 after 21 minutes it was an almost carbon copy of Argyle’s FA Cup first round replay win against Lincoln City at Home Park last month.
On that occasion, they scored twice in the first five minutes and went 3-0 up in the 23rd minute – and it was also against Conference Premier opponents.
Lincoln never posed a serious threat after that early onslaught and lost 5-0, but it was a different story with Welling.
They could have conceded a fourth goal in the 38th minute when Reid had a goalbound shot blocked by defender Blaine Hudson after a superb run and cross from Alessandra.
However, moments later, Argyle’s Jake Cole made a tremendous save to push away a fierce shot from midfielder Alex Dyer for a corner.
That was a warning for the Pilgrims and it was one they did not heed as Welling dominated from the off after the break.
Captain Lee Clarke fired narrowly over the bar from 18 yards and they forced a couple of early corners.
The Pilgrims were sluggish, uninspired and could not come up with any response, and it was no more than Welling deserved when they scored.
The goal came when Argyle centre-back Neal Trotman stumbled and allowed striker Ross Lafayette a clear run on goal.
He delayed his shot, and there was a moment when it looked like the chance might have passed, but he steadied himself and slotted past Cole.
That gave the Wings – as Welling are nicknamed – a surge of self-belief and they put Argyle under pressure.
Clarke went desperately close to a second goal on the hour mark with a chip over Cole which landed on top of the netting.
Defender Maxime Blanchard went off with an ankle injury in the 64th minute and was replaced by Rommy Boco as Argyle switched to 4-4-2.
Welling midfielder Kurtis Guthrie had a chance soon afterwards when he broke into the box but Cole bravely dived at his feet.
Guthrie clattered into Cole, who could not return to action afterwards despite treatment from physio Paul Atkinson.
Luke McCormick was sent on as his replacement and Welling’s period of pressure abated as the part-timers started to tire.
They continued to push forward but, more and more, there were chances for Argyle to hit them on the break, which they failed to capitalise on.
It was a very poor performance from the Pilgrims in the second half but their purposeful start to the second round tie meant that did not prove costly.
Probably the only drawback to Argyle’s win was that their long trip to Lancashire to play Fleetwood Town on Saturday, January 4 will now have to be rearranged.
That is the weekend of the FA Cup third round, so the Pilgrims will almost certainly have to play at Fleetwood on a Tuesday night instead.