PLYMOUTH Argyle produced one of their best displays of recent seasons as they totally outclassed promotion-chasing Fleetwood last night.
The resounding victory did not flatter the Pilgrims, who had chances to have won by an even wider margin.
It was a superb team performance, and by far the best of John Sheridan’s 14-month managerial reign.
Argyle have now won their last three away games and that has put them in with a chance of making a play-off push over the rest of the season.
Argyle took the lead against Fleetwood in the 21st minute with a fine finish from top scorer Reuben Reid.
Midfielder Luke Young made it 2-0 early in the second half with a deflected 20-yard shot and central defender Maxime Blanchard then headed home in the 69th minute.
The scoring was completed with a stunning free-kick from captain Conor Hourihane in the closing stages of the game.
It put the seal on an outstanding display from the Pilgrims, who were even applauded off the pitch after the final whistle by the home supporters.
Argyle went into the game without Jason Banton, who suffered a groin injury in the 2-1 win away to Dagenham and Redbridge on Saturday.
Banton did not even make the long trip to the Lancashire seaside.
It was the first match he had missed since re-signing for Argyle from Crystal Palace last month.
Defender Neal Trotman returned for the Pilgrims after serving a one-match suspension at the weekend.
That was the only change made by manager John Sheridan for the clash at Highbury.
The fixture should have been played on Saturday, January 5 but had to be rearranged because Argyle reached the FA Cup third round.
Trotman was part of a three-man central defence, flanked by Blanchard and Curtis Nelson.
Durrell Berry and Matt Parsons were wing-backs, with Paul Wotton playing a holding role in midfield.
Young and Hourihane were ahead of him, with Reid and Lewis Alessandra in attack.
Fleetwood threatened for the first time in the sixth minute when Conor McLaughlin put in a low right-wing cross.
Antoni Sarcevic tried to slide in and get a touch on the ball but could not get there in time.
Blanchard then had to make an important clearance after Town striker Jamille Matt turned away from Trotman and attempted to pick out Sarcevic with a cut-back.
Argyle ‘keeper Jake Cole made a fine save in the 16th minute as Fleetwood started strongly.
A deep cross broke to Gareth Evans beyond the far post and his fierce shot was pushed over the crossbar by Cole.
Argyle’s first chance came in the 20th minute when Hourihane fired wide from 25 yards after receiving a pass inside from Young.
Seconds later, Reid had a shot from outside the box saved by Chris Maxwell, and the Fleetwood ‘keeper made an even better stop soon afterwards.
Reid raced clear of the defence but his attempt on goal was blocked by the legs of Maxwell.
But Reid was not to be denied his 16th goal of the season as he put the Pilgrims into the lead.
Berry provided the right-wing cross and Reid applied an excellent finish into the far corner of the net.
Fleetwood went close to an equaliser in the 29th minute when a low shot from winger Matty Hughes was deflected narrowly wide for a corner.
Hughes was very lively for the home team, with plenty of pace and the ability to go past players, as he demonstrated on that occasion.
Sarcevic had a 30-yard drive comfortably saved by Cole in the 40th minute, and the ‘keeper also held onto a curling strike from Evans soon afterwards.
But it was Argyle who almost took a 2-0 lead on the stroke of half-time when a long-range shot from Parsons crashed against the bar, with Maxwell well beaten.
The Pilgrims did double their advantage only a couple of minutes after the interval, however.
Berry played the ball back to Young, whose low 20-yard drive ended up in the net, with the aid of a slight deflection.
It was Young’s fourth goal of the season, and another example of his desire to shoot whenever possible.
Fleetwood sent on Jon Parkin as 51st minute substitute for midfielder Alex Marrow as they switched to a 4-4-2 formation.
There was another good attacking move from the Pilgrims shortly before the hour mark, which ended with Alessandra’s fierce shot being diverted over the bar.
It was another industrious performance from Alessandra, who has been in fine form over recent matches.
Cole came to Argyle’s rescue in the 62nd minute with a tremendous save to deny Sarcevic, who had burst into the box.
Fleetwood then changed their tactics to 3-5-2, taking off centre-back Mark Roberts and replacing him with Josh Morris.
The substitute had only been signed on loan from Championship club Blackburn Rovers earlier in the day.
Argyle went further ahead in the 69th minute with an excellent finish from Blanchard.
The French defender dived forward to get on the end of a corner from Alessandra and headed the ball into far corner of the net.
Parkin fired over the bar from a 20-yard free-kick for Fleetwood after a foul on Berry on Sarcevic.
Wotton gave excellent protection to Argyle’s defence, breaking up play and showing his leadership qualities to rally those around him.
Argyle made a double substitution in the 83rd minute with Alessandra and Reid taken off.
There was applause from Fleetwood fans for the duo as they were replaced by Marvin Morgan and Rommy Boco.
The home supporters appreciated the hard work and skill of the Argyle strikers.
Argyle were not finished with scoring goals, either, as Hourihane curled a 20-yard free-kick into the net in the 85th minute to make it 4-0.
Before play restarted, newly re-signed Tope Obadeyi was sent on as a substitute for Wotton.
The final whistle was greeted with loud cheers from the Green Army, who were saluted by the players.
Now the trick for Argyle will be to reproduce their excellent away form when they host Morecambe at Home Park on Saturday.