PLYMOUTH Argyle, who Burton Albion host on Saturday, were without a game last weekend, but the previous midweek, saw their play-off ambitions dealt a blow in a 2-1 defeat to local rivals Exeter City.
The Grecians, who also beat the Pilgrims earlier in the season, produced an impressive second-half comeback to complete a Devon Expressway derby double.
Reuben Reid became the first Pilgrim to score 20 goals in a season since Steve Castle in the 1993-94 season when he converted a 45th-minute penalty following an inexplicable handball by Exeter captain Danny Coles.
For the second game running, though, Argyle failed to hold on to a half-time lead and allowed City to level midway through the second period through Liam Sercombe’s deflected shot.
Worse followed in the final 10 minutes, when Eliot Richards tapped home Tom Nichols’ pass from what looked an offside position.
The possible injustice of the goal was at least in part mitigated by the fact that the visitors had made the most of the second-half running.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had recalled two Pilgrims to the starting line-up after Saturday’s 1-1 disappointing draw at Accrington Stanley in local heroes Paul Wotton and Luke Young, who replaced Rommy Boco and Dominic Blizzard.
Exeter manager Paul Tisdale stayed faithful to the same side and bench that had achieved City’s overdue home win against high-flying Fleetwood Town.
A cautious beginning to the game saw the early skirmishes limited to Reid’s burst into the Exeter penalty area that preceded a shot which was shovelled away for a corner, and Nichols obliging Jake Cole to make a fairly easy save from his snap shot.
Argyle then upped the pressure, and both Young and Parsons fired off shots that required an intervention by a visiting defender to ensure former Brewers goalkeeper Artur Krysiak (pictured) was not called into action.
Reid’s muscular presence continued to unnerve the City defenders, and another awesome change of pace took him surging past Jordan Moore-Taylor to the bye-line for a cross that was all but turned into his own net by Coles.
For all their nice football, City’s attack was pretty toothless and the next time Cole was called into action was to mop up after Wotton’s defensive header had cannoned into Reid and rebounded towards the Argyle goal.
Back up the right end, Reid came within inches of giving the Pilgrims the lead when, after another powerful run, he curled a left-foot shot over Krysiak’s head but on to the angle of post and crossbar.
Reid had his joy soon afterwards, thanks to Coles’ indiscretion, as the defender met Parsons’ left-wing cross with his hand, rather than his head, and Reid strode up to the spot and dispatched the gift low and hard to Krysiak’s left.
The goal came in the final minute of the first half, but there was still time for Argyle to nearly double the lead when skipper Conor Hourihane’s fierce drive was beaten out with no small degree of grateful desperation by Krysiak.
City started the brighter of the two teams after the break and nearly levelled when Nichols created space for himself and shot low, wide of Cole’s right hand.
The ball hit the post, in more or less exactly the same spot that Scunthorpe striker Hakeeb Adelakun had found two weeks previously. Unlike on that occasion, the ball bounced to safety instead of off the back of Cole’s head and into the net.
Reid was soon back on centre stage. First, a left-foot shot was beaten away by Krysiak and then a right-foot lob, after he had teed up Wotton’s pass himself, nearly caught out the Exeter custodian.
The visitors were more in the game than they had been before the break but the threat never amounted to much and, for all their lesser possession, Argyle always appeared to have the more menace. Reid, again, asked a question of Krysiak when he broke away from the halfway line and chose to shoot early.
Exeter substitute Matt Grimes tested Cole from distance before Sercombe levelled, his shot from 20 yards apparently catching an outstretched Argyle leg to carry it beyond a wrong-footed Cole.
Suddenly, the whole game was nearly turned on its head, with Exeter immediately breaking away from the restart and Richards wasting a glorious opportunity by firing wide.
The Pilgrims responded positively, with Neal Trotman powerfully heading Young’s corner past Krysiak, only for Danny Butterfield to clear the ball from the line and Reid to eventually fire the loose ball over the crossbar.
Marvin Morgan entered the fray, bringing Tope Obadeyi’s Pilgrims’ career to an end, along with Durrell Berry, for the injured Parsons. However, Exeter still looked the team more likely to and Max Blanchard’s smother tackle on Richards was a vital block before Cole saved from Sercombe.
Sheridan played his final card with the introduction of Banton but, before he could get into his stride, Richards put the visitors ahead.
It was a lead that Argyle seldom looked like reducing.
Argyle (3-5-2): Cole; Blanchard, Trotman, Nelson; Gurrieri, Young, Wotton (Banton 79), Hourihane (c), Parsons (Berry 73); Obadeyi (Morgan 73), Reid. subs not used: Boco, Blizzard, Harvey, Dawson (gk).
Exeter (4-5-1): Krysiak; Butterfield, Bennett, Coles (c), Woodman; Moore-Taylor, Oakley, Sercombe, Gill (Grimes 58), Richards; Nichols (O’Flynn 90); subs not used: Baldwin, Davies, Parkin, Pym (gk), Wheeler.
Referee: Bobby Madley.
Attendance: 13,442 (826 away).