Lessons from Argyle 0 Liverpool 1
1) Ben Purrington has if anything come back even stronger. After a month-long lay-off due to injury, Ben Purrington has come back into the Argyle side for 2017. In what has undoubtedly thus far been a coming of age season for Purrington, some fans may have been worried that he wouldn’t carry his good form forward after his spell out. These fears have been dispelled however in the last three games and especially last night where Purrington put in a tour de force. Defensively he was as solid as a rock, letting very little past him on Liverpool’s right hand side. He is physically fit, demonstrating pace and strength. He is good in the air and very composed with the ball at his feet. He also put in a fantastic cross for Paul-Arnold Garita in the second half that the striker just couldn’t quick get to in time. Purrington will either take Argyle up through the leagues or he’ll make us a lot of money.
2) Argyle continue to show more mental mettle this season. There are many reasons why Argyle failed to go up last season but inarguably one of the biggest ones was our poor performance under pressure. In games in the second half of the season such as Exeter, Accrington, Cambridge and Crawley, we were fine in the early stages but when it came to the business end of things, we crumbled, sat too deep and imploded. This season, we have shown very few signs of mental weakness and our performance last night is equally good for the prospect of Argyle continuing to hold their collective nerve. Argyle were at no stage wowed or overawed by their Premier League opponents. We kept our heads held high and tried to attack at every stage in the game. When we went behind in the 19th minute, it could easily have been the cue for a collective loss of self-belief. But we didn’t scare easily, we didn’t implode, we took that as our lead to take the game to Liverpool even more. Such a mentality should serve us well over the last 21 games.
3) Bulvitis up front is a failed experiment. In the dying stages of the Liverpool match, Derek Adams (whilst admittedly limited in his options due to a personnel crisis) took the unorthodox step of chucking Nauris Bulvitis on up front. It’s not as though I can’t see where the decision came from. Rooney had already come on and the only other option on the bench was youth forward Alex Fletcher, who whilst a promising talent was not built for a physical and direct game. Bulvitis however, was the wrong choice ultimately. Whilst he is tall, he is not especially strong. This is doubly so with his back to goal. He ultimately didn’t win a single long ball in the entire time he was on the pitch. A better option would be the much more physical Bradley up front and Bulvitis into centre-back, or indeed switching to a 4-4-2 system such as that which worked at Newport in the cup replay (with Slew and Rooney as the strikers on this occasion). Surely an experiment which Derek Adams will not try again.
4) Ryan Donaldson should only be considered as a back-up option. I don’t want to try too hard to find negatives on what was by and large a positive occasion for Argyle, but Donaldson’s performance was probably our weak link. On a day of a fantastic team performance collectively, Donaldson was our weakest individual. It isn’t that he’s terrible. He does the simple things well enough. He doesn’t have a horrific first touch like a Chadwick. He doesn’t pass the ball awfully like Soukouna nor does he lose shape horrendously like Blackman. He’s very much better than all of those dreadful players of years gone by. If you put him in an Argyle side of 2013, he’d look a good player. Right now though, he isn’t of the standard required for a title-chasing side and last night proved that. His distribution wasn’t as clever as Fox and he didn’t do as much as those around him in terms of sticking right and regaining the ball. He’s a player who puts in a 5.5 out of 10 performance in every game. I hope he proves me wrong of course- but he should between now and May, be only considered as a back-up to my mind.
5) Argyle got Home Park rocking again. The atmosphere at Home Park last night was nothing short of incredible to behold. Before the game, all four corners of the ground including the Mayflower were off their feet and singing. That’s something that very rarely occurs even during games never mind in the build-up. Although Argyle made some serious mistakes with the temporary structure (not least blocking the view of other supporters), the effort made to get the ground as full and excitable as possible is to be commended. The ‘clappers’ on each seat (to which I was initially sceptical) proved to be instrumental in drumming up noise and getting even the casual fans cheering the lads on. Whilst mistakes were indeed made, this was a sign of what can happen when Argyle look at the bigger picture rather than the smaller one. Of the many thousands of fans who attended last night, hopefully enough of them will be gripped to come back for our next home game against Exeter- and then again for the run-in.