Play-off games are rarely pretty, and this rugged encounter at Layer Road was no exception. Mark Kinsella provided one of precious few moments of quality by scoring the only goal from long range on the stroke of half- time, but Colchester's failure to profit further from all their pressure means that Plymouth are by no means out of contention as they prepare for Wednesday's second leg of this Third Division semi-final.
Kinsella, a former Republic of Ireland Under-21 international, is one of the classier midfielders in the lower divisions and, although he was allowed to show off all his skills yesterday, he still made his mark in spectacular fashion. Relieving Chris Billy of the ball in midfield, he ran forward unchallenged and cracked a fierce, dipping drive past Steve Cherry from fully 30 yards.
Before that, the grey-haired Cherry, on extended loan from Watford for his second spell with Argyle, had been troubled only twice. In the 26th minute, he had to back-pedal to tip over a deflected cross from Kinsella and, in the 38th, he was relieved to see a 25-yard shot from Tony Dennis, a former Plymouth player, clear the bar.
At the other end, Colchester's goalkeeper, Carl Emberson, had no reason to exert himself in the first half. Indeed, Argyle's most notable contribution to the game before the interval was their attempt to recreate the Le Saux v Batty Moscow boxing match. Their captain, Mick Heathcote, having conceded a free-kick in a dangerous situation, started an argument with a team- mate, Chris Leadbitter, that culminated in some heated pushing and shoving and a stern lecture from the referee, Mick Pierce.
Plymouth found it hard to make any impact, and they nearly fell further behind in the 63rd minute. The lively Robbie Reinelt, playing because the experienced Tony Adcock was suspended, snapped up a loose ball on the edge of the area and saw his cleanly-struck shot hit the post with Cherry well beaten.
At last, Argyle woke up, but they missed two chances they created in quick succession. In the 72nd minute, Heathcote's glancing header from Leadbitter's wickedly curling free-kick just missed both the far post and the onrushing Mike Evans. Three minutes later, a neat flick-on from Evans sent Billy racing through but, with just the goalkeeper to beat, he shot wide.
Billy, whose goal won a play-off final for Huddersfield last year, and his team-mates will need to do much better at Home Park on Wednesday if Plymouth's manager, Neil Warnock, is to maintain a proud record. He has been involved in play-offs three times and won them all.
Goal: Kinsella (44) 1-0.
Colchester United (4-4-2): Emberson; McCarthy, Cawley, Caesar, Betts; Fry, Kinsella, Dennis, Gibbs (Locke, 76); Reinelt (Whitton, 79), McGleish. Substitute not used: Duguid.
Plymouth Argyle (3-5-2): Cherry; Logan, Heathcote, Curran; Patterson, Billy, Barlow (Mauge, 64), Leadbitter, Williams; Evans (Corazzin, 87), Littlejohn. Substitute not used: Hill.
Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth).
Bookings: Colchester Reinelt, Gibbs, Betts. Plymouth Billy.
Man of the match: Kinsella. Attendance: 6,511.Reuse content