Referee shows he's no Friend of Town

ONE could be forgiven for having a strong feeling of déjà vu after another feisty affair against Plymouth.Just like last October, Town scored in the opening minutes.

By Derek Davis

ONE could be forgiven for having a strong feeling of déjà vu after another feisty affair against Plymouth.

Just like last October, Town scored in the opening minutes. Back then Kevin Friend sent off Fabian Wilnis and Plymouth grabbed a late equaliser as the game at Home Park finished 1-1.

Last year, it was Sylvain Legwinski, this time it was Alan Lee inside two minutes.

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And just like the previous encounter after they had taken the early lead Town were forced back - but looked like holding on until the dismissal.

Friend sent off Wilnis in the last meeting for two yellow cards and you can understand why Wilnis may feel persecuted by the Leicestershire official, although his two-footed challenge this time was never going to be anything other than a straight red.

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What was baffling though was why Friend had deemed a strikingly similar tackle by David Norris in the first half, right in front of the Blues dug out, was worthy only of a quiet word for the home player.

Ironically, Wilnis was on for Alex Bruce, who was visibly disappointed at being replaced, although Magilton did it to ensure he didn't get a second yellow from the official Town will hope they never see again.

Bruce, who is on stand-by for the Republic of Ireland squad that play Denmark next month, put in a superb display at the back, winning headers, making interceptions and putting in blocks before being harshly booked which meant he was having to be wary of a volatile referee.

The defender was part of a unit that seemed to be keeping the Pilgrims at bay after slowly being pinned back following the early lead.

The Blues goal came from a fantastic piece of play by Town with George O'Callaghan winning the ball deep. He knocked it forward for Tommy Miller who played a slide rule pass through for Jon Walters.

Playing on the wide side of a three-man attack Walters put over a wonderful cross and the unmarked Alan Lee headed in his fourth goal in three games.

Town looked good for another 10 minutes or so with George O'Callaghan, replacing Gary Roberts, anchored the midfield to good effect and set up attacks with some simple but effective passing.

Tommy Miller was buzzing around menacingly but the play was breaking down in the final third with Pablo Counago getting increasingly frustrated with some of his touches and the pedantic official.

Argyle had been shaken at the start after learning their manager Ian Holloway had been taken to hospital 90 minutes before kick-off suffering with kidney stones.

His assistant Tim Breacker took charge and eventually his side started to exploit the weak spots behind the Town midfield's diamond formation.

They worked on the spaces left by Owen Garvan on the left and in front of David Wright on the right.

Akos Buzaky and Peter Halmosi tried their luck from distance but most things flung into the box were dealt with by the outstanding skipper Jason De Vos and Bruce.

The sting seemed to be taken out of the game when Bruce was replaced but Wilnis' dismissal lifted Argyle and their fans and suddenly Town were being pushed back even further.

There was confusion on the Town bench as they tried to sort out their substitutions.

The fourth official was not happy with Town switching between Danny Haynes and Gary Roberts, until eventually both went on.

But neither provided a good enough outlet and it was keeper Neil Alexander who came into his own with some smart saves and positive leadership of his defence.

Six minutes from the end Wright was shepherding Halmosi away from goal and the Argyle winger made the most of the contact to fall dramatically and the referee duly pointed to the spot.

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake hit an unstoppable spot-kick past Alexander who has never saved a penalty in his career and was never going to get that one.

Before the game Town would have happily strolled away from Home Park with a point but will feel justifiably disappointed not to have taken all three.

Town will be hoping the rematch at Portman Road in January is also reminiscent of last season's encounter at Portman Road as the Blues emerged 3-0 victors.

Mathias Doumbe will have to tread carefully as he was sent off in the second minute of that match.

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