Plymouth Argyle hopes of Championship survival hit by defeat at Millwall

Relegation-threatened Plymouth Argyle’s Championship fate will be decided on the final day of the season after losing 1-0 to Millwall at The Den.

It was a second successive away defeat without scoring a goal for the Pilgrims and leaves them 21st in the table, just one position and a point clear of the relegation zone.

If Argyle beat Hull City at Home Park next Saturday they will be safe and can start preparing for another Championship campaign, but a draw or defeat against the Tigers will open the door for 22nd-placed Birmingham City to move above them and send the Pilgrims back into League One.

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Birmingham will be at home to fifth-placed Norwich City, who have not yet mathematically secured a play-off place, at St Andrews in their final fixture.

Argyle dropped to 21st after their defeat by Millwall, following an 84th minute headed goal from Jake Cooper, with Sheffield Wednesday climbing to 20th as they beat West Bromwich Albion 3-0 at Hillsborough.

Ben Waine replaced Ryan Hardie in the Pilgrims’ starting line-up against Millwall as one of three changes from the 3-0 defeat away to Steven Schumacher’s Stoke City in their previous match.

The New Zealand international striker got his opportunity after Hardie had gone 10 games without adding to his tally of 13 goals in all competitions this season.

Defenders Lewis Gibson and Ashley Phillips were also brought into the team, as Hardie, Julio Pleguezuelo and Adam Forshaw all dropped down to the substitutes’ bench.

Forshaw was fit to be selected, despite being taken off in the early stages against Stoke due to a tight hamstring, but there was no place in the matchday squad for Jordan Houghton, who had replaced him in central midfield at the bet365 Stadium, due to illness.

Millwall had Plymouth-born Argyle youth product Ryan Leonard playing at right-back as they played their final home match of the season safe in the knowledge they had secured their Championship survival after three successive victories.

Edwards played in central midfield for the Pilgrims alongside Adam Randell in a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Bali Mumba to the right of them and Brendan Galloway on the left.

The defensive trio was Phillips, Dan Scarr and Gibson, while Mustapha Bundu and Morgan Whittaker played in support of Waine.

Mumba made a vital headed clearance in the early stages of the game as Millwall put in a dangerous cross from the right, which was flicked on by striker Tom Bradshaw.

There was a simple save for Argyle goalkeeper Michael Cooper after a shot on the turn from Duncan Watmore, while Waine blasted a 25-yard drive far too high for the visitors when he had a sight of goal.

Cooper was out quickly to gather a through ball before the Lions’ Ryan Longman could get to it at the edge of the Argyle box and then Bundu had the visitors’ first shot on target with a fierce strike which hit keeper Matija Sarkic and rebounded out of play for a corner.

It continued to be a tight game without much goalmouth action as the half-hour mark was reached, although Whittaker did have one attempt on goal blocked behind off Millwall defender Danny McNamara.

Leonard, playing against his hometown club, then had a low 25-yard strike held onto by Cooper, which was not easy given it skidded just in front of him but he made sure to get his body behind the ball.

Longman fired over from distance for the Lions after breaking down the right and then cutting inside onto his left foot as Argyle tried to make sure they were difficult to be broken down.

The Pilgrims almost came up with a break when Randell threaded the ball through to Whittaker, who took the pass in his stride but was then immediately tackled by Leonard, who won the ball back for the home side.

The lack of cut and thrust to the game was emphasised when referee Andy Davies brought the first half to an end without playing any added time.

Argyle had been solid defensively and not given Millwall any decent opportunities to score but had also posed little attacking threat themselves.

It was a similar story at the start of the second period. Leonard did put in one decent cross for Watmore but his flicked header went nowhere near Cooper’s goal.

There was an excellent opportunity for Whittaker, though, when he was played through by Waine and took the ball into the millwall box but as he was about to shoot Leonard made a superb sliding tackle from behind on him.

Millwall threatened next when Longman got in behind Galloway and fired the ball into the six-yard area, intended for Bradshaw, but it was pushed away by an alert Cooper.

Watmore then sent a side foot volley narrowly over the bar after a cross from the right before Millwall made a double substitution as they replaced Bradshaw and Watmore with Kevin Nisbet and Romain Esse respectively.

A first Argyle change soon followed as Hardie was sent on for Waine in the 70th minute as they searched for a crucial opening goal.

Gibson had a fierce left-foot shot from inside the Millwall box charged down by Jake Cooper following an Argyle corner and the Pilgrims’ defender also sent a close range header a fraction too high from another flag kick.

The visitors were now looking to win the ball back higher up the pitch while frustration was evident among the home supporters at their side’s struggles to create chances.

Pleguezuelo was an Argyle substitute for Phillips before Millwall broke the deadlock in the 84th minute when Jake Cooper, who had gone up for an earlier corner, scored with a looping header over his Pilgrims’ namesake after a diagonal cross from the right by Leonard.

Argyle made a triple substitution soon afterwards with Matty Sorinola, Alfie Devine and Callum Wright all sent on for Galloway, Edwards and Bundu respectively in an attempt to come up with a much-needed equaliser.

However, it took a smart save from Cooper to prevent Romain Esse getting a late second goal for Millwall and despite five minutes of added time Argyle could not get back on level terms.

Randell did have one late shooting opportunity but fired well wide of the target as the Pilgrims slipped to a 13th away league defeat of the campaign.

ARGYLE: Michael Cooper; Ashley Phillips (Julio Pleguezuelo 81 mins), Dan Scarr, Lewis Gibson; Bali Mumba, Joe Edwards (Alfie Devine 87 mins), Adam Randell, Brendan Galloway (Matty Sorinola 87 mins); Mustapha Bundu (Callum Wright 87 mins), Morgan Whittaker; Ben Waine (Ryan Hardie 70 mins).

Substitutes (not used): Conor Hazard, Adam Forshaw, Caleb Roberts, Freddie Issaka.

MILLWALL: Matija Sarkic; Ryan Leonard, Japhet Tanganga, Jake Cooper, Danny McNamara; Ryan Longman (Shaun Hutchinson 90 mins), Casper de Norre (George Honeyman 85 mins), George Saville, Duncan Watmore (Romain Esse 68 mins); Tom Bradshaw (Kevin Nisbet 68 mins), Zian Flemming (Billy Mitchell 85 mins).

Substitutes (not used): Bartosz Bialkowski, Brooke Norton-Cuffy, Michael Obafemi, Wes Harding.

REFEREE: Andy Davies

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