Plymouth Argyle are back into the automatic promotion places after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Newport County. It wasn’t exactly flawless from Argyle, and they had to dig deep on a number of occasions, particularly after Gary Sawyer’s red card with five minutes to play. But the Greens did enough to see the game out and secure a vital three points.

In truth, this game wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Derek Adams era. Argyle grabbed themselves an early lead but seemed to drop deeper and deeper as the game went on. The difference between this game and the latter days of the Adams reign was that Argyle did manage to hold on despite the late barrage on their goal. In doing so, they demonstrated yet another way of winning in what is proving to be a very fruitful season.

Argyle squeeze themselves ahead

Argyle battled their way to a 1-0 lead at half-time through a variety of solid defending, fortunate deflections and a superbly worked set-piece routine.

The opening goal really was beautifully crafted and gave those taking a staunch position against short corners plenty to think about. Argyle’s two main creative talents, George Cooper and Danny Mayor, stood over the ball. The latter fed it short to the former, before a clever one-two allowed Cooper to take the ball in his stride and launch a delicious cross to the back post. Tyreeq Bakinson was on the end of it, and he could hardly miss.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen a goal crafted in a similar fashion this season. Take the winning goal away at Forest Green back in November as an example. Mayor received a short ball from, on this occasion, Antoni Sarcevic over the corner kick. Another clever one-two got the corner taker into a good position, and back then Sarcevic decided to go for goal. Via a deflection, he found the net himself.

It’s striking how much sides managed by Ryan Lowe, a manager who prides himself on fluid attacking football, can be so good at finding the back of the net with more primal methods. It’s not as if this is a new trend – Will Aimson and Adam Thompson in particular benefitted from set-piece opportunities at Bury last season.

Perhaps it’s an indication of how attacking football naturally leads to more set-pieces because it certainly wasn’t the only way in which Argyle looked threatening. A touch more power may have seen Luke Jephcott’s looping header beat Newport goalkeeper Tom King, and King was on hand again to stop Ryan Hardie’s drive from 25 yards finding the bottom corner.

Newport’s first-half rally

As a result of much of that, Argyle found themselves ahead at the interval. But focus on the attacks alone, and you may feel Argyle ought to have scored more than once. On the contrary, in fact, Newport were the side pushing hardest for the next goal as the half drew to a close.

First of all, Argyle were indebted to Niall Canavan’s defensive efforts, as his pressuring of Jamille Matt led to the ex-Argyle loanee rushing his shot and skewing it high and wide. Had Canavan not been present, Matt would surely have had a tap in. Soon after, the visitors crafted a clever set-piece of their own, this time from a free-kick. Robbie Willmott squared the ball to Padraig Amond who was desperately unlucky to see his shot deflect wide by a whisker with Palmer stranded on his line.

The resulting corner was another that the Argyle defence barely bundled wide. Lowe’s side was desperate for the half time whistle, and thankfully it came. They’d retained their slender advantage up to the interval; it was certainly hard-fought.

Seeing the game out

If Argyle narrowly edged the first half, and that point is very much up for debate, their visitors were the team in the ascendency as the game drew to a close. Indeed, plenty of nerves were shredded as Argyle tried to cling on to their priceless 1-0 lead.

Much of Newport’s pressure came down the right via Barnsley loanee Jordan Green. Clearly, Michael Flynn and his side had identified Cooper and Sawyer as a defensive weakness. It’s no surprise that Green was the victim of Sawyer’s red card challenge with five minutes to play. But whilst his pace and intelligent forward runs were impressive, Newport’s only real threat revolved around high balls into the box.

Alex Palmer was one of the stars of the show. Not only was he on hand in the first half to tip Joss Labadie’s deflected effort over the bar, but he also showed safe hands on many occasions across the second half to thwart dangerous situations before they could develop. Yes, there were some saves to speak of in the second half, but his aerial prowess was key. Newport played to their strengths and launched plenty of high balls into the area, both from conventional crosses and long throws. But Palmer was strong, brave, and claimed them when required.

Ultimately, Palmer’s actions were an example of just how much work Argyle had to do to grind out the win. It wasn’t pretty, and they had to contend with physical opponents with a numerical disadvantage. But they got their victory.

What a feeling it is to have a Plymouth Argyle side that can win in so many different ways.