WITH no trains running to Plymouth because of track damage, the city’s football team also saw their hopes of closing in on a play-off position derailed by a ruthless York City performance.
Towering centre-back John McCombe bagged a brace in between Wes Fletcher’s penalty and an injury-time Josh Carson howitzer to earn the Minstermen a thumping 4-0 victory.
The Pilgrims could perhaps point to Neal Trotman’s 11th-minute red card as extenuating circumstances for their heaviest home thrashing in the League since 1994. But such an excuse would be detracting from the visitors’ display.
Few teams, after all, make their numerical advantage count as emphatically as Nigel Worthington’s men managed on Saturday.
The 660-mile round slog to Home Park has rarely been a rewarding one for City supporters in recent times, with their team having tasted defeat on the last four trips and failed to score in almost eight hours there prior to the latest pilgrimage.
But, having paid short shrift to severe weather warnings, the Minstermen’s travelling army of 126 fans left Devon with a sense of pride as strong as the gale-force winds that have been battering the south-west coast for the last few weeks.
Even before Trotman’s dismissal, City had forced the early pace with Fletcher seeing an ambitious 25-yard attempt sail wide on six minutes.
Shortly afterwards, Fletcher was involved in the clever move that sent Bowman clear through on home ’keeper Jake Cole’s goal with a clever reverse pass.
The ex-Hereford forward looked like he might have taken one touch too many when he opted to round Cole, but he was then upended by a clumsy challenge from Trotman when the goal was at his mercy, leaving referee Charles Breakspear with little option but to give the former Chesterfield centre-back his marching orders.
Fletcher, as reliable a penalty taker as the Minstermen have possessed since Richard Brodie, made no mistake from the spot, finding Cole’s bottom left-hand corner as the Pilgrims ’keeper dived in the opposite direction.
The ten men did initially respond with some character and, only an excellently-timed recovery tackle from McCombe, who had already been shown a yellow card, prevented Plymouth top scorer Reuben Reid from firing at Nick Pope’s goal after he broke through on 23 minutes.
Captain Conor Hourihane also went close from the edge of the box after a McCombe clearance and, in a similar position, Jason Banton called Pope into a low save down to his right.
City continued, however, to pass the ball with patience and care and, after Fletcher had headed over from a Ben Davies cross, an impressive passage of play led to a second away goal in first-half stoppage time.
Having made inroads down the left flank, the ball was retrieved by Will Hayhurst after Carson had sent in a centre that travelled across the face of the home goal.
Hayhurst then swung in a cross to the far post that Bowman always looked favourite to meet in the air and he expertly found McCombe, who used his head to calmly find Cole’s bottom left-hand corner.
After the break, Hourihane forced Pope into an early save at his near post after bursting through the left channel but, other than the occasional positive raid by substitute full-back Nathan Thomas, the hosts failed to up the tempo and compensate for being a man light.
Very few players were committed forward in an attempt to salvage something from the contest and the Minstermen showed little remorse either for the Pilgrims’ plight.
On 51 minutes, Bowman should have done better from six yards than a weak shot that failed to trouble Cole after good work by Carson and Hayhurst.
The latter was then denied his first City goal by a brilliant reflex stop by Cole after good work from Fletcher, pulling the ball back after reaching the byline.
McCombe also headed over from a corner by Adam Reed before Hayhurst wasted a terrific two-against-one opportunity with Carson when he carelessly strayed offside.
A limping Fletcher had made way, by then, for Coulson who, after forcing another decent save from Cole, did what he does best – claimed a couple of assists for City’s last two goals.
First, the former Barnsley and Scarborough winger displayed nimble footwork to tiptoe his way past Plymouth defenders into the six-yard box, draw Cole out of his goal and then square the ball for McCombe to tap into an unguarded net on 88 minutes.
Then, in added-on time, he led a swift counter-attack before feeding an overlapping Carson, who crashed a fierce 25-yard effort into a stunned Cole’s top left-hand corner.
It was the perfect finale to an afternoon that would see City climb into the top half of the Sky Bet League Two table for the first time since the opening day of the season.
The winning margin was also the visitors’ biggest in the Football League since a 5-0 thrashing of Blackpool back in April 1994.
Plymouth 0, York City 4 (Fletcher pen 12; McCombe 45, 89; Carson 90)
Nick Pope 8
Came a long way off his line to claim crosses into his box and also punched away effectively when required.
Lanre Oyebanjo 8
Tidied up when needed and stayed disciplined defensively to allow the team’s wingers to bomb forward.
Keith Lowe 8
Competed throughout and never caught out of position during a typically uncompromising display.
John McCombe 9
STAR MAN – denied Reid a possible equaliser and then put the outcome beyond doubt with two predatory goals.
Ben Davies 8
Passed the ball with confidence and composure and had the confidence to join in attacking moves.
Josh Carson 8
Kept his energy levels high and ended his recent goal drought in the kind of spectacular fashion that’s his trademark.
Russell Penn 8
Sat in front of the back four, breaking up play and cajoling his team-mates to maintain their standards.
Adam Reed 8
Provided real quality from his set-piece deliveries and also displayed a fine range of passing on a good playing surface.
Will Hayhurst 8
Proved a tricky customer for the home side on either flank and unlucky not to open his City account due to Cole’s fine save.
Ryan Bowman 8
A little unsure in front of goal but still putting in plenty of selfless work, epitomised by his headed assist for McCombe.
Wes Fletcher 8
Looked in the mood to trouble Plymouth from the off and unsettled the home back four with his enthusiastic running.
Subs: Michael Coulson 8 – clever (for Fletcher, 67), Lewis Montrose (for Penn, 79), Chris Dickinson (for Bowman, 90). Not used: McGurk, Platt, Ingham, Puri.
Jake Cole, Max Blanchard, Neal Trotman, Curtis Nelson, Ben Purrington, Jason Banton (Nathan Thomas, 54), Dominic Blizzard, Conor Hourihane, Lewis Alessandra, Reuben Reid, Rommy Boco (Durrell Berry, 54). Subs not used: Marvin Morgan, Luke Young, Tyler Harvey, Andres Gurrieri, Cameron Dawson.
Star man: Thomas – showed determination when others lacked belief.
Referee: Charles Breakspear (Weybridge).
Rating: 7/10 – got the penalty and red card right, but a little erratic thereafter.
Booked: McCombe 20, Penn 22, Lowe 65, Reid 80, Thomas 90, Carson 90.
Sent off: Trotman 11.
Attendance: 6,502 (126 from City).
Shots on target: Plymouth 5, City 8.
Shots off target: Plymouth 1, City 4.
Corners: Plymouth 2, City 11.
Fouls conceded: Plymouth 12, City 19.
Offsides: Plymouth 2, City 1.