Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln 3

Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln City 3. I’m going to say that again, Plymouth Argyle 4 Lincoln City 3.

What a game. Attacking flair, defensive incompetence, excellent finishes and wasted opportunities for even more. Argyle rushed into a two goal lead as Lincoln’s increasingly leaky defence struck again, before another Lincoln trademark – soft penalties – turned the tide. Jorge Grant converted twice in three minutes to give them a 3-2 lead (8 of his 11 goals this season have been penalties).

Argyle came again, and Conor Grant’s floated shot was probably drifting in before it was glanced in by what looked like a Lincoln defender. Mayor saw a potential winner brilliantly blocked before Joe Edwards scored a brilliant winner to somehow seal all three points.

Michael Cooper, GK – 7

Honestly, I don’t know where to start with these ratings. Cooper made a huge impact on the game with a great 1-v-1 save against Johnson at 3-3 which would have won it for Lincoln. I seem to recall a few other good saves but, honestly, so much happened that I can’t remember exactly.

This is obviously Cooper’s first season as a starting ‘keeper and he’s doing a good job, but for him to become Championship level improve he’s going to have to save a few more chances like Lincoln’s first goal. That’s not one he should save, but it’s one he could save. Top ‘keepers tend to keep a few more of those out of the back of their net, like Palmer did last season (but not today).

Will Aimson, CB – 5

Aimson made some vital interventions, denying a 2-v-1 at 3-3 to prevent Lincoln. However, when he did make those blocks he seemed to find him in the right place through luck rather than anticipation, as a result of Lincoln’s fantastic attacking movement. Aimson’s efforts to race back for Hopper’s 1-v-1 might have also cut off the opportunity for him to square it for a tap-in.

However, there were lots of sloppy moments, not least when he gave the ball away in Argyle’s box without realising the pressure he was under with seconds remaining. The ball was scrambled clear, but that could have been costly. Ultimately, he was part of a defence that just did not know how to deal with Lincoln’s attack.

Jerome Opoku, CB – 5

That game was such a blur that I can’t remember the specifics of why I’ve given Opoku five. It’s partly because of Argyle’s general inability to keep Lincoln’s attack at bay. There was a quite visible lack of coordination and leadership in defence, throughout the game. The first goal was a classic example of this, look at the positions players ended up in: I think Watts was in RCM, Edwards in CDM, Fornah LCM, Grant RWB and Mayor god-knows where.

This is just part of the long-running trend of Argyle lacking defensive structure as a team, and Ryan Lowe needing to find answers to questions he doesn’t seem to often ask himself about defending. But it was brutally exposed by Lincoln.

Kelland Watts, CB – 5

Watts gave Argyle the lead with a good right-footed finish after Lincoln showed off their inner Argyle by failing to properly re-organise after seeing off the initial set-piece. He then made a vital back-heeled back-post clearance as Lincoln came surging forward minutes later.

Yet, Watts was one of the players dragged out of position for Lincoln’s first goal. Had he been in position instead of chasing shadows, he’d have made a simple block and the shot never would have reached the goal. Watts then ran across an attacker to give Lincoln their first penatly of the afternoon.

I know this defence makes mistakes, but does anyone ever factor in how bad Argyle’s midfield is at protecting them? Conor Grant hardly covered himself in glory while doing nothing to prevent Johnson bursting into the box.

Tyrese Fornah, DM – 5

Fornah again showed that just how good he can be at receiving the ball and distributing it. I just wish he had the confidence to drive into wide-open space when it’s presented to him. On that topic, why do Argyle always have to go wide? Do they not know that driving into the box from the centre is actually more dangerous than crossing from the wing?

Fornah made some important defensive interventions but also was caught out by Lincoln’s quick counters. When he made two fouls inside fifteen minutes and had already been booked, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to finisht the game, only a question of who would send him off the pitch.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7, player of the match

Until Edwards won the game, it was difficult to know who was going to be player of the match. But then he won the ball back in the 90th minute, gave it to Camara, received it back on the edge of the area, flicked it up and burried the volley in the bottom corner to give Argyle a victory that seemed so unlikely fifteen minutes earlier.

Edwards was hardly at his best throughout the game. He, like everyone, struggled immensely to contain Lincoln, though at least his wing seemed to be more secure than the left, down which the Imps ran riot. As Lincoln tired, Edwards – brilliantly supported by half-time substitute Panutche Camara – found his second wind. Argyle drove forward down the right into the space on offer throughout the final portion of the game. Edwards nearly flicked in Grant’s goal and was close to finishing off two rebounded shots, but it wouldn’t quite sit for him. Then, it was his moment.

Conor Grant, CM – 7

Like most, Grant was a real mixed bag. Started well, but his passing range was a bit off. Then he delivered a great cross that was cleared to Watts for his opener. Then he was barely in the game for an hour. Grant moved to defensive midfield after Fornah was pre-emtively removed by Lowe at half-time, but struggled defensively as Lincoln finally made good on their threat to draw level and then take the lead.

Then his soft-effort somehow found the back of the net. Argyle had got back on the front foot, but it was a tame shot from an awkward position that somehow squirmed in past two defenders. Grant, like virtually every player, had highs and lows throughout this rollercoaster of a game.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

HE SCORED! HE ACTUALLY SCORED! Done a massive favour by ex-Pilgrim Alex Palmer (who has had an awful few weeks, go look at the goals he’s let in recently), who possibly didn’t expect the shot given he’s played with Mayor before and knows that most of the time he’ll dribble the ball to the corner flag rather than let fly. As if to prove the point, Mayor actually did that a few minutes earlier, turning down a chance to shoot just outside the six-yard box and ended up being dispossessed on the left wing.

Mayor nearly won the game too, seeing his effort brilliantly blocked after a neat lay-off by Lolos. Sandwiching these two highs were an hour of largely poor defending – one awful moment when he just stopped running, allowing a 1-v-1 that Cooper saved at his near post – and an inability to get his foot on the ball. When he did, he often had no outlet and was pressed by at least three red shirts.

Adam Lewis, LWB – 5

Struggled defensively and lacked coordination with Mayor. Surprised to see him take an early free-kick from what I would define as Conor Grant territory; even more surprised that Grant wasn’t stood over any of the set-pieces at all…

Energetic, but lacking an understanding of the game at points. Lincoln drew him in and exposed the space behind him consistently in the first half. Not too surprising to see him withdrawn and Grant moved to wing-back as Argyle chased the game.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Surprisingly returned to the starting line-up at the expense of top scorer Luke Jephcott and he justified his place in the team. Worked hard, linked the play and got into dangerous positions. The only thing missing, as it has been most of the season, was the goal.

He had a great opportunity after the ball broke for him 1-v-1, but he declined the first-time finish (lifting it over Palmer) and tried to take it around him. He got the ball around him, but his shot was easily blocked from a narrow angle.

Niall Ennis, ST – 5

Ennis struggled to get in the game after Lincoln took control in the first half. I can understand what Lowe was trying to achieve in going with two, fast strikers and an attempt to out-counter Lincoln, but Ennis struggled once Argyle started lumping it under pressure.

Would have benefited from Lowe switching to 3-4-1-2 and putting Mayor in the hole. That would have offered an out-ball on the counter rather than just clearing it downfield, and had a player to pick up loose balls in midfield rather than letting them fall to a red shirt.

Substitutes

Panutche Camara, CM – 7

Camara made very little impact in the first half hour after coming on. Lincoln dominated the ball and Argyle provided no threat at all. Yet, in the last 15-20 minutes, Camara came to life. He pressed, won the ball back, and used his fresh legs to drive forward on the counter. His first assist for Grant was little more than recycling possession, but his cut-back for Edwards was smart and well executed, unlike his earlier waste of a counter attack.

Just as Ennis changed the game off the bench against promotion changing Portsmouth, Camara had a similar impact here.

Sam Woods, CB – 6

Woods came on after Opoku couldn’t finish the game following a knock he picked up in the first half. He showed a smart reading of the game to win the ball back and benefitted from tired Lincoln legs being unable to stretch the game as much as before. Nevertheless, Lincoln continued to create chances and could have won the game before Argyle snatched it.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 6

Jephcott tried hard but struggled to get into the game for the most part. No chances fell to him and Camara wasted the best chance for him to get a shot off in the box. Surprising ommission from the starting eleven.

Player Ratings: Portsmouth 2 Plymouth Argyle 2

Plymouth Argyle threw away two points by conceding twice in two minutes, with just three minutes remaining, having survived the storm, battered but unblemished on the scoresheet.

Argyle started the match well, but from the fifteenth minute Pompey were dominant, pressing Argyle back into theif defensive third and laying siege from set-pieces. The hosts failed to take advantage of those chances and were punished by the super-sub Niall Ennis, who had a huge hand in both of Jephcott’s goals.

Kell Watts’ clanger let Pompey back into the match and a free header moments later threw away two points in what would have been a bit of a smash and grab. Yet, Argyle went to Fratton Park and took points off promotion hopefuls, meaning 8/12 points taken from the past four away games, a significant improvement.

Michael Cooper, GK – 5

Suicidal passing at the back – not that he was the only one – helped Pompey dominate the first half. Pompey crossed the ball into the box 28 times, yet Cooper recorded no high claims and only one punch (though I could have sworn he made two). At a time when Argyle badly needed him to come and claim the ball to kill the chain of set-pieces. For a reminder of what this looks like, go back and watch Alex Palmer last season.

Cooper made one great save after another suicidal pass – Camara this time – and held on well after Marquis headed right after him from a matter of yards. He surely can’t be blamed for either goal, not to say he couldn’t have saved them but such a close-range header left him with little chance.

Will Aimson, CB – 6

Aimson started shakily but grew into the game and gave Watts a masterclass in how to deal with Curtis when he came on: don’t fall over. Now that Aimson has the right studs, he’s not falling over again, which is nice. Made a big block right before Jephcott’s second.

Aimson struggled under the high-ball from set-pieces, a factor that would be more emphasised in his score if Pompey had taken advantage of this. Once again though, he held up his wing under pressure and even carried the ball forward as Argyle started to grow into the game. Four blocks and seven clearances helped Argyle survive the Pompey siege.

Jerome Opoku, CB – 6

He, like many on the pitch, seemed half-asleep at times in the first half, taking precious seconds to react to Pompey’s swift counter-attacks. However, his recovery speed made up for this and his defending of the near post was largely strong throughout the game.

Threw his body on the line to help deny Portsmouth, but struggled in the air, both in open play and set-pieces. One area he has to work on is being dominant when he goes to win a header. His aerial duel success is now below 50%, the worst of all Argyle’s defenders and he only wins 1.4 headers per-90, less than half Canavan’s 3.4 from the centre of defence. No wonder Argyle struggle from crosses. Argyle survived Pompey’s set-piece barrage in the first half because they failed to hit the target with their headers, not because Argyle defended them well.

Kelland Watts, CB – 4

Watts was on for a 7 having started the game very well, made a goalline clearence in the first half and largely read the game well against the tricky Harness. Then he did that. Shocking defending allowed Curtis in and Pompey to get back in the game. That would be worthy of being dropped, if there were anyone to drop him for. And if he were not Lowe’s favourite (for some reason, Watts is the only player to have never been dropped, despite a raft of mistakes throughout the season that has seen every other CB lose their place in the team).

It was then Watts and/or Opoku who failed to clear the next cross into the box, which was headed home by James Bolton. I won’t lay blame here, because I honestly can’t remember exactly who should have won the header, but it was in the left-of-centre zone. Can’t be allowing free headers from that distance at any stage in a game.

Tyrese Fornah, DM – 4

Is Fornah alergic to the football? At best, he doesn’t show for the ball. At worst, he blocks players from passing or dribbling into space and helps opposition teams press the team. To be honest, I’m absolutely sick of Fornah’s utter inability to take advantage of his obvious passing and dribbling skill. Please, can someone teach him to:

  1. drop into space that opens a pass for a teammate;
  2. receive the ball facing forwards, not backwards;
  3. run into the $*%£ing space rather than always shying away from it.

Or, when Argyle are camped around the edge of their opponent’s area, show for a shot? Rather than standing in the way but declining to take the ball. The contrast between Ben Reeves and Fornah is stark.

Defensively, Fornah was awful in the first half. A non-presence when defending set-pieces, which is all the more shocking when he was marking Sean Raggett. SEAN RAGGETT. One of their primary threats from set-pieces. Fornah is surprisingly good at winning headers… in open play. Why ask Aimson to mark space and Fornah to mark Raggett. Swap that around, obviously.

Fornah ended strongly, winning the ball back more in the last fifteen minutes than he did in the rest of the game, but that didn’t mask the fact that he was the weak link in possession and aided Pompey’s play in the first half rather than disrupting it. Based on recent performances, has little chance of keeping his place in the team if Lewis Macleod is ever fit again.

Byron Moore, RWB – 5

Disappointing return to the team. Defensively fine, but a no-show in attack. Had so many chances to attack Charlie Daniels, who obviously doesn’t have the speed to keep up. 20 touches in the final third, but only two in the box. Only attempted four crosses, none successful. No shots. Only one dribble attempted, not completed. Edwards will hardly be worried about competition for his place based on that.

Panutche Camara, CM – 7

Suicidal first-half pass aside, he was quiet for the most part. Stuck out on the wing and unable to make anything happen alongside Moore. Dug in and won the ball, as always, to try and counter Pompey’s pressure.

However, it was the final 20 minutes when Camara came to life. His pressing won the ball back and his shot rebounded to Jephcott as Argyle snatched the lead against the run of play and from then on he looked dangerous on the counter, gliding past Pompey players as spaces opened up. Not his best performance, but he made the difference in what should have been the winning goal.

Danny Mayor, CM – 6

Calm as ever in possession and most of Argyle’s best moments in the first hour (well, fifteen minutes) came down the left. Unable to get in the game for the next hour as Pompey dominated, though did deliver the cross for Aimson to head right at the goalkeeper from 12 yards.

Turned down all chances to shoot, even when spaces opened up for him to cut inside and bend the ball to the back-post. This at a time when Argyle looked unlike laying a glove on their opponents.

Worked hard in defence, but he needs to work smarter. You can see he was a winger before becoming a midfielder in his awareness of defensive space. The back-three take a lot of stick, sometimes deserved, but they get so little protection from the midfield three ahead of them at times.

Conor Grant, LWB – 6

Brilliant first ten minutes, followed by the most mediocre eighty. Whenever Mayor worked hard to generate space for Grant, he just threw the ball into the middle first-time, which was meat and drink to Pompey’s centre-backs. Still, at least he did something to try and effect the game, unlike his opposite wing-back.

Largely anonymous for most of the game. Unsurprisingly offered little in the shape of defending set-pieces. Could have topped the cross from going into the box for the second, if we’re being picky.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

SHOOT MAN. JUST $*%£ING SHOOT. Can someone just take him to the training ground and just cross balls into him all afternoon? Shock him or something every time he takes more than one touch before shooting. Why does Jephcott score more than Hardie? Well he shoots. Of his 25 goals for Argyle, Jephcott has only required more than one touch to score on three occasions. Even then, he only needed two touches.

When Argyle’s best chance of the match falls to Hardie? He takes four touches, given the defender and keeper all the time in the world to compose themselves, others to close in, and block the shot. SHOCK.

Hardie was fine otherwise, denied a potential opener by a fantastic block by Raggett. However, his place is now under major threat from Niall Ennis. Perhaps a scoring streak might prevent that from happening. Which, of course, will require he SHOOTS.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 8

Jephcott wasn’t in the game at all. And then he was. Potentially a lesson as to why substituting your leading goalscorer even when he’s not in the game is a dangerous move.

In the first hour, he had no touches in the box and made three passes, one of which was the kick-off. In the last half-hour, he had four touches in the area, two goals, a blocked shot and his cut-back for Hardie.

With his double he stretched his lead at the top of the goalscoring charts, two ahead of Clarke-Harris, scoring a goal every 97 minutes. He recorded a quarter-century of goals for the club and only ten players have netted more this decade.

Although, surely Jephcott was offside for his opening goal, right? I presume I’m missing something, or maybe that was the linesman.

Substitutes

Niall Ennis, ST – 9, player of the match

Stealing the best player award is Niall Ennis, who was one of two Argyle players to change the game (the only one to change it for the better, mind you). It may have gone unnoticed, but in the build up to the first goal it was Ennis’ pressing on Marquis that prevented a Pompey counter and set up the opportunity for Camara to win the ball back. Then, a brilliant piece of skill to get away from his man and cross for Camara, whose shot rebounded to Jephcott for the opener.

After, as the cameraman zoomed in on Charlie Daniels after Will Aimson blocked his close-range shot, Ennis streaked away from Pompey’s defence before squaring for a Jephcott tap-in. Brilliant play off the bench by Ennis for the second time in a week, already paying off his transfer fee. I’m usually hesitant to give such high ratings to substitutes, but he earned this one.

Adam Lewis, LWB – n/a

I usually don’t bother with the late substitutes because they do little, but a shout-out to him for throwing his hat in the ring for worst defensive clearance of the season. He’s not going to beat Byron Moore’s effort at Fleetwood, but sterling work. $*%£ me.

Player of the Month: December 2020

After a dark beginning to December, light finally emerged in the week before Christmas Day. Argyle’s worst month this season saw four consecutive defeats after capitulations against Ipswich, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers, followed by an identity crisis against Crewe as Ryan Lowe turned to a back-four to start a game for the first time in his tenure as manager of Plymouth Argyle.

Thankfully, a hard-earned victory over MK Dons finally broke a six-match run of defeats and saw Argyle victorious in League One for the first time since Swindon on the 3rd November.

A 2-2 draw away at Charlton followed, meaning Argyle are still without a win or a clean sheet away from home in the league, and the month closed with another disappointing defeat, this time to Oxford, after a promising start to the match.

Player of the Month: Luke Jephcott (10.79)

It will come as little surprise to anyone that the player of the month was Luke Jephcott, the man who scored five of the seven goals for Argyle in December. Jephcott has come a long – long – way since he was loaned out to Southern League Truro City. Yet, at the age of 20, he still has even further to go before he can become the best player he possibly can, but his finishing is so impressive that it would be a real coup for Argyle to keep him next season, assuming he doesn’t leave for another club in January.

Despite his ridiculous goal scoring rate, Jephcott is still far from the complete package at this level, and may yet struggle if he moves to another team that cannot provide chances for him at the rate that Lowe’s Argyle have. Yet, the flip-side of that coin is that Argyle will struggle if they lose Jephcott, since a whole raft of players (other than Jephcott) have conspired to miss as many goals as possible in spite of the chances created for them. December was, of course, another reminder of just how valuable the Welshman is to this team. Creating chances means nothing if the ball doesn’t actually go into the back of the net.

Jephcott doesn’t always get the highest ratings, mostly because his style of play is largely geared towards getting on the end of attacking moves.That’s not to say that all Jephcott can do is finish – far from it. No, it is merely a reflection that 17 of his 20 goals in 2020 have been from a first-touch finish, while the other three were with a second touch, all of which came inside the box at an average distance of 5.7 yards from goal. It’s not for nothing that nearly a fifth (18%) of Jephcott’s completed passes this season have been kick-offs. Or that he has recorded no assists in 2020 (and no big chances created), compared to a combined 16 among his strike partners.

Yet, there can be no doubt that he is deserving of player of the month in December, after coming second in November, when he once again carried the goal-scoring burden for Ryan Lowe, possibly saving his job in the process.

To put his remarkable 2020 in context, Jephcott is the first Plymouth Argyle player since Reuben Reid (2014) to score 20 goals in a calendar year. Reid scored 22 at a rate of one every 193 minutes, Jephcott scored 20 at a rate of one every 116 minutes. However, Reid played a full, regulation season. Jephcott lost 9 games (potentially 12 had Argyle ended up in the play-offs) due to the curtailment of the 2019/20 season, and an anywhere between 3-7 games because of the late start to the 2020/21 season.

If you’re a betting man (unless you’re an addict, in which case seek help), you’d surely want to put your money on Jephcott to receive a senior call up to Wales’ national team at some point in his career. He started the last year in the Southern Football League Premier South, and ended it as the second highest scorer in League One. And as the player of the month, of course.

2. Will Aimson (10.57)

Aimson might be a surprise appearance at second, notably because he has deservedly earned a nickname as Bambi ever since he developed a habit of slipping over at least once per game starting with the 2-2 draw with Portsmouth. Fortunately (for Aimson and us) these slips haven’t led to immediate catastrophe and I hope that he can put it behind him in the near year (given how ridiculous it is).

Leaving that aside, Aimson ended the month poorly by giving away a needless penalty against Oxford. Regardless of the fact he got the ball, he went through the back of the player and had no need to make the tackle at that point. Yet, prior to the walls caving in on him during the final minutes of the month, he was otherwise solid. Mostly excellent against Charlton, particularly when red shirts started to find cracks in Argyle’s midfield, he was similarly solid against MK Dons to prevent any frights late on to secure Argyle’s first win since Swindon. Even against Crewe, another bad night for Argyle, he himself was impressive, at least relative to the rest of the team, and put in one of his personal best passing displays of the season. Of course, Aimson was largely spared the humiliation of the Rochdale debacle after starting from the bench.

That’s not to forget his highlight of the month, galloping back to make a superb last-ditch tackle to thwart a 1-v-1 and help Argyle to a much needed (and deserved) victory against Ipswich… oh wait I just remembered how that ended. Alas, as the PM might say.

3. Conor Grant (10.10)

With news that George Cooper is going to be injured for some time, it’s a good thing that Conor Grant has emerged as an able back-up since he was first injured against Crewe. Though he maybe does not provide the same quality as Cooper does (or maybe that should say as Cooper can, given he hasn’t hit top form yet this season), he certainly offers a similar quality of crossing from the left wing, leading to the opening goal against Ipswich and more recently the opening goal against Gillingham (though that does not count to this given it took place in January.

Grant has plenty to learn about this new role, particularly defensively, but it’s been a good enough start thus far and it’s been wonderful to see him finally blossom in a green shirt. The biggest question for him will be whether he can keep Byron Moore out of wing-back, particularly given the success of his relationship with Danny Mayor in that position back in late October and early November.

4. Joe Edwards (10.05)

Player of the month in November, Joe Edwards continue to impress from wing-back and keep Byron Moore out of the team. Though Edwards offered less in attacking during December than he has since winning his place back in the team, he still offers powerful, direct running infield from the wing, while helping to guard the right-flank of the defence when without the ball. During a month of defensive howlers, he’s largely done that job well, though more cracks have been emerging than since he broke into the team and its possible that he needs a rest, given how much running he seems to get through when on the pitch.

Edwards’ highlight of the month of course came from setting up Ryan Hardie’s much-needed winning goal against MK Dons, powering past static defenders with another direct run in from the wing and crossing for the finish. In a game in which Argyle were overly cautious and created little, he provided the inspiration that finally got three points back on the board.

5. Ryan Hardie (9.83)

Ryan Hardie has finally returned to something like his best form, and what a relief it is. Sure, he started the month slowly, but the winning goal against MK Dons was a predatory finish, the likes we haven’t seen enough of. Following that, he provided two assists for Luke Jephcott away to Charlton and then a third assist – and fourth goal involvement in three games – as Panutche Camara scored his first league goal for Argyle against Oxford.

Hardie also created another big chance for Jephcott away to Bristol Rovers, but Hardie himself missed three great chances in that game, overshadowing his otherwise good performance and leaving him with an average score of 4. Playing well means nothing if you, as a striker, miss a hat-full of chances yourself.

Last, an honourable mention to Camara, who does not feature in this list since we only cover the top five, but he finished sixth by 0.13 points and was of course voted player of the month by readers of Plymouth Live. Like Hardie, he finished the month strongly and it was great to see him get off the mark in the league. Hopefully this will translate into even more attacking output from him in the coming months.

Previous winners:

September 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Danny Mayor (11.61)
  2. Will Aimson (10.31)
  3. Conor Grant (9.86)
October 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Kelland Watts (11.20)
  2. Danny Mayor (10.56)
  3. Joe Edwards (10.26)
November 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Joe Edwards (11.86)
  2. Luke Jephcott (10.38)
  3. Michael Cooper (10.12)

How we calculate the score

Each player receives a match rating from 1-10 and one player from each match receives a man of the match bonus. Players who played fewer than 15 minutes of a match do not receive a match rating unless they made a significant impact. The players are scored by a variety of individuals who have witnessed every match this season.

The scores are aggregated and weighted against the number of appearances, before the man of the match bonus is added. In this way, we are ranking the impact of a player across the season. The more often they have played and the better they have performed, the more of an impact they have made on the team’s season, and therefore the higher they rank.

The formula also adds weight to higher scores. A player who gets 6s and 7s every week would average out at the same rating as a player who got a 9 one week and a 4 the next. Yet, that 9 rating implies a player made a match-winning impact and that should be rewarded. So, players who score higher ratings receive higher scores, even if their average rating is the same as a player who gets consistent middling-scores.

This way of ranking players enables us to be more impartial when speaking of the impact made by each player across a season, as it significantly reduces:

  • recency bias (players who hit a spell of form often have their season-wide impact overstated because of their recent performances).
  • statistical bias (players with lots of goals or assists relative to their position tend to be rated above those whose performance levels have been consistently superior but are not involved in goal-scoring, often because it is hard to visualise a player’s impact across a season without resorting to these stats. It explains why attackers, or defenders involved in a high-number of goals, predominantly receive most recognition throughout a season – we’re looking at you, Garth Crooks).
  • conformation bias (fans who favour some players tend to fixate on their positive performances while neglecting to factor in their bad performances when ranking them across a season).

Green & White: How to turn this around?

Plymouth Argyle are now on a run of six consecutive league defeats after losses to Bristol Rovers and Crewe Alexandra. How can they turn it around?

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Believe this can be turned around, because it can

Plymouth Argyle have now lost six consecutive league games. They haven’t won since the first week of November. The team has fallen from two points off the play-offs to two points from relegation in a month.

Seventeen conceded in six, averaging nearly three goals in the back of our net per game. In the other net? Only three goals scored total.

Luke Jephcott has scored all of them, and all the league goals since the 2-2 draw with Portsmouth, a game he only missed because of international duty. Excluding the EFL Trophy, Jephcott has now scored 9 of Argyle’s last 19 goals since the beginning of October. He started on the bench last night.

Things look bleak. But that doesn’t mean they will be this entire season. I know it might be hard to read, and to believe, but this can be turned around. You don’t have to look too far back to see it. It’s worth remembering that three years back Argyle had five fewer points at the same point in the season. The club finished three points from the play-offs.

That doesn’t mean it will turn around. It just serves to highlight that you might be feeling negative right now, but you need to remember that seasons don’t end in Decemb… actually, maybe we should retire that “seasons don’t end in X” after last season…

Rebuilding confidence

The biggest issue this team faces right now isn’t tactical, it’s mental. There are other problems. Selection, formation, and style are all being criticised. I would agree with some of them and disagree with others.

But the big issue at the moment is confidence. Ahead of a game, do you believe that Argyle will win? Or are you half-jokingly asking how many the team will concede. Half-joking because to think too seriously about it would be depressing.

How does that feeling affect you? How does the belief that Argyle will lose – probably heavily, embarrassingly – affect your mood? How do you act differently? What do you do differently, just because of this one thought.

That’s what this entire club must be going through right now. Think in a professional capacity: when you’re at work and something’s going wrong, people disagree about the reason for it. How often do you challenge your boss because you disagree with them? Doubt seeps in. It affects how you work. It affects how you work as a team. How you trust each other’s decision making.

When the first goal goes in for the opposition, how must the defence feel? How must the midfield feel? How do they play differently because of it? Does it impact their decision making? Does the way the team operate change because some disagree with how their teammates should be playing?

Why have mistakes increased in the past month? Why are forwards – Jephcott included, don’t forget – choking even more in front of goal? Why are we finding new, innovative ways for the ball to end up in the back of our net?

Pressure. Ever growing pressure.

Growing pressure

This is why it’s important to take things one game at a time. Forget about the last match. Ignore the next match. For 90 minutes, you decide your own fate, regardless of how the season will end.

Failing to do this has consequences. The nagging reminder of past failure, or the creeping uncertainty of the future, stops you from focusing properly. How can you calmly put the ball into the back of the net if you’re afraid that missing will cause your team to lose? As a defence, or an individual, how can you choose whether to press or drop?

It might seem far away, but one win changes the picture. How much better will you feel when Argyle get that win? The current certainty of defeat will fade slightly. How different will the players feel? Taking things one game at a time is a cliche because it can be hard to do. Like telling yourself to fall asleep as though that will break your insomnia. Breaking the pattern of defeat will make it easier to push those negative, distracting thoughts to the back of your mind.

Argyle could – should – have beaten Ipswich. That might have ended this current spell. One stupid red card sunk the ship. Maybe the side would have capitulated without it, but based on the display I think they would have hung on. How that may have changed things? But other opportunities will come regardless.

A month ago, a run like this seemed inconceivable. Sure, some might have expected a lot of goals conceded, but even the most pessimistic didn’t think we’d concede a combined nine goals against Rochdale, Bristol Rovers and Crewe, scoring just one in return. That just goes to show how quickly fortunes can change. For the worse, but also the better.

If you could speak to Ryan Lowe

This is one thing I’ve been increasingly thinking about in the last week. When we record our next podcast, it’s something we’re going to discuss. If you could speak to Ryan Lowe, just you and him in a room, what would you say? What would you want to tell him?

Of course, you’d probably be angry, but I think that would fade when faced with the opportunity to just talk about the club’s current situation. I think you’d soon be talking about how to get thing going the right way again, rather than shouting about past mistakes.

Last week, I’d have said something very different. Two days ago I’d have said something different. But after tonight? I’d probably tell him to trust himself.

It must be difficult. As is the nature of being a football manager, every decision you make will be challenged by at least someone, somewhere. That includes four people on a weekly Plymouth Argyle podcast.

Last night, Lowe used a back four for the first time since he became manager of Plymouth Argyle, and I actually think for the first time since he became a permanent football manager. That really worried me because it said to me that the lack of confidence had reached him too.

I would tell Lowe that he built a good team that was going through an awful patch. I would tell him to trust his best team – at least what I perceive to be his best team – to play the way he has spent 18 months coaching them to play. I think that is the best way to get out of this spell.

I would tell Lowe that his biggest job right now is to sit down with each and every one of his players and make sure they believe in the way they need to play. And to guarantee that they understood that six games, ten games, twenty games don’t completely define a season.

Most of all, I would tell him to believe that this can be turned around, because it can.

Player of the Month: November 2020

Plymouth Argyle’s promotion hopes took a hit in November as the team picked up 4 points from 12 in a tough run. Fleetwood battered Argyle’s poor defence, Peterborough threatened to do the same, while Pompey created little but still managed to score twice and take a point from Home Park.

However, there was positive news in the FA Cup as Luke Jephcott netted two goals and Mike Cooper kept two clean sheets as Argyle saw off two off the strongest possible sides at this stage by knocking out rotated Charlton and Lincoln sides.

All in all then, a positive month, but one that Argyle will need to build on in December to prevent the play-offs from slipping out of reach, while the club is still without an away win – or clean sheet – in the league.

Player of the Month: Joe Edwards (11.86)

Joe Edwards continued his strong end to October with a solid November to net the player of the month award. After struggling to break into the team following Byron Moore’s return from injury, it seemed as though Edwards was set for a long period on the bench twiddling his thumbs. Then, with George Cooper’s covid-enforced absence, he returned to the team at right wing-back with Moore switching to the left and it’s all clicked into place.

His surging runs infield from the wing have been a hallmark of his performances, starting with his goal against Swindon and ending with an outstanding display against Lincoln in which he was the beating heart of Argyle’s attacking play, receiving scores of 9 from every rater.

At the other end, Edwards has paired well with Will Aimson to make the right wing the more defensively solid flank of the defence. His work-rate has been particularly impressive, driving up the wing in possession and flying back down the other end when the ball is lost. A well earned award.

2. Luke Jephcott (10.38)

With five goals in the month, including two winners in the FA Cup, Luke Jephcott unsurprisingly takes second place. After injury interrupted Jepchott’s start to the season, appearing in only two of the first seven games (excluding the EFL Trophy, of course), the Welshman has finally reached the level of fitness required to make himself a mainstay in the team.

He has 8 goals from as many starts, a remarkable goal-scoring rate that he surely can’t keep up for the entire season, can he? It’s not just the rate of goals, it’s the technique involved: his awareness of space, timing of runs, understanding of his teammates play, and the calm, clinical nature with which he is finishing chances. If Argyle had another striker even half as composed as Jephcott, they might be in the top 4! Just think how many big chances have been missed by Telford, Nouble and Hardie!

Given Argyle seem to struggle unless they get the first goal, Jephcott’s early strikes against Swindon, Charlton and Lincoln all set them on the path to victory, making his goals all the more important.

If he keeps up his current form, he’s surely a favourite for player of the month in December.

3. Michael Cooper (10.12)

For a player with only two league clean sheets, Cooper is still ranking highly in our player rankings tracker (at the time of writing, he’s the third-highest ranked player and looks like he’s going to move back into second in a game or two). This is partly because there has been heavy rotation throughout the season, yet Cooper has been an ever-present along with Danny Mayor and Kelland Watts.

Cooper finished 4th in the September and October player of the month results, but finishes third here. He put in good performances against Portsmouth and Peterborough, regardless of results, but his two best performances were against Lincoln and Charlton. Cooper spilled a couple of shots against Lincoln, both of which could (should?) have ended up in the back of the net, but otherwise he was solid, and made two good saves to keep out Charlton in first round.

An awful performance against Fleetwood sandwiched these games, but comparatively Cooper was one of those who received a higher rating than some of the players around him.

4. Ryan Hardie (9.70)

Ryan Hardie had a stop-start month to match his stop-start season, but makes the player of the month top five for two reasons: his superb, double-assist performance against Swindon Town and his comparatively better performance against Fleetwood, as he was one of few to come out of that game with a respectable score. It was hardly the greatest month for Hardie, but surrounded by bad performances and consistent rotation, he makes the top five.

5. Panutche Camara (9.21)

Like Hardie, Camara did not have a great month (he actually received a score of 1 from one of the raters for his efforts against Fleetwood, when he was substituted after 11 minutes. His average rating for that game was less than 2, so not much better. That performance aside he had an above-average month, putting in hard-working performances against Swindon, Charlton and Lincoln. Given the nature of the game, it was odd that Camara didn’t start against Peterborough, regardless of his performance against Fleetwood on the weekend. That seemed like a game for him, but Lowe thought otherwise. Perhaps he wasn’t in the right mental state.

Previous winners:

September 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Danny Mayor (11.61)
  2. Will Aimson (10.31)
  3. Conor Grant (9.86)
October 2020 Player of the Month
  1. Kelland Watts (11.20)
  2. Danny Mayor (10.56)
  3. Joe Edwards (10.26)

How we calculate the score

Each player receives a match rating from 1-10 and one player from each match receives a man of the match bonus. Players who played fewer than 15 minutes of a match do not receive a match rating unless they made a significant impact. The players are scored by a variety of individuals who have witnessed every match this season.

The scores are aggregated and weighted against the number of appearances, before the man of the match bonus is added. In this way, we are ranking the impact of a player across the season. The more often they have played and the better they have performed, the more of an impact they have made on the team’s season, and therefore the higher they rank.

The formula also adds weight to higher scores. A player who gets 6s and 7s every week would average out at the same rating as a player who got a 9 one week and a 4 the next. Yet, that 9 rating implies a player made a match-winning impact and that should be rewarded. So, players who score higher ratings receive higher scores, even if their average rating is the same as a player who gets consistent middling-scores.

This way of ranking players enables us to be more impartial when speaking of the impact made by each player across a season, as it significantly reduces:

  • recency bias (players who hit a spell of form often have their season-wide impact overstated because of their recent performances).
  • statistical bias (players with lots of goals or assists relative to their position tend to be rated above those whose performance levels have been consistently superior but are not involved in goal-scoring, often because it is hard to visualise a player’s impact across a season without resorting to these stats. It explains why attackers, or defenders involved in a high-number of goals, predominantly receive most recognition throughout a season – we’re looking at you, Garth Crooks).
  • conformation bias (fans who favour some players tend to fixate on their positive performances while neglecting to factor in their bad performances when ranking them across a season).