Saints travelled to Home Park knowing that a win would almost guarantee promotion to the Championship with just one game left. It would also mean relegation to Plymouth if they lost.
Saints made three changes for the game with Danny Butterfield and Ryan Dickson coming in at the back in place of Frazer Richardson and Dan Harding. With Guly do Prado injured Dale Stephens came into the midfield with Richard Chaplow moving out wide right.
The game started with both sides playing with nervous tension apparent. Though scrappy at times both sides tried to play their way forward to create chances.
Saints forced the first clear cut opening as they won a corner. This came in and Rickie Lambert headed the ball back across the box where it was met by Radhi Jaidi who headed powerfully over.
Plymouth had loud appeals for a penalty soon after when Yala Bolasie went down under a challenge but the referee who was nearby waved play on much to the Saints fans relief.
Plymouth were playing a more physical game to counter Saints superior talent but gradually Saints settled and the game took its course with the visitors doing most of the pressing.
Chances were scarce though Plymouth were denied by a great piece of defending by Radhi Jaidi which led to a quick break forward with Saints manufacturing a chance for Dale Stephens but he shot wide.
With Argyle pressing hard to stop saints having the space to play with freedom, the game remained very tight, and the extremely windy conditions didn’t help either if players tried to send a long high pass out wide or forward.
Though chances were scarce Lallana and Connolly combined well on the left for Connolly to send in a pass to Lambert who found Butterfield racing in but his shot went over the bar.
Then Lambert picked out Jaidi but his effort was cleared, and with half-time approaching fast it looked as if there would be no time for scoring before the break.
Saints had other ideas though as Stephens fed Butterfield out wide in open space and looking up Danny then sent in a great cross which was met at the far post by Ricky Lambert who headed the ball back past the keeper and into the far end of the goal.
The tension was released immediately and the 2600 Saints fans went wild with joy, jumping and singing with a new found fervour. The players surrounded their star striker and then returned joyously to continue the game.
With the worst of the pressure lifted it didn’t take long for the Saints to get an even firmer grip on the points. After Plymouth had wasted a free-kick opportunity Saints broke and won a corner.
The corner was met by another powerful Jaidi header but it clattered against the post before being partly cleared out to our left. The ball was sent back into the box and after bouncing around it stroked home from the edge of the box by Ryan Dickson.
2-0 to Saints and suddenly we were all out attack as we went for the jugular. With Seaborne replacing Chaplow to strengthen our defensive play, and with the Saints fans in full voice we charged forward again and again.
In the 59th minute some smart passing saw Lambert running on to a great through ball only to be brought down as he was about to shoot. Dusting himself off he stepped up and drove a thunderous shot high into the far right of the goal for the third and his second goal of the match.
Plymouth tried to raise their game but Saints were more or less in total control. Aaron Martin was given more play time on 65 minutes as Saints began to look safe. Another chance was made which Hammond smashed goalwards but this time Button saved.
With Plymouth being restricted to taking pot shots from distance, we waited for full time to start celebrating in earnest. Morgan Schneiderlin was given a piece of the action 0n 83 minutes replacing Lallana, and Saints nearly struck again straight after.
With Saints in possession the ball went to David Connolly a full 35 yards out and he drifted left before unleashing a superb dipping shot which cannoned back of the bar. An inch lower and we would have had the goal of the month if not the season.
We entered the added on time and Plymouth got a consolation goal from Bolasie which was no more than he deserved as he had been Plymouth’s most dangerous player.
FT 1-3 and the celebrations began.
Nigel Adkins 7
Gave us the win we needed and used his subs bench well.
Peter Reid 7
Had his team fired up but with such a small squad and limited resources could not have done much more.