- Argyle’s style is too direct to work this season. Many fans are baffled that Argyle continue to stutter their way to the start of the League One season, given the excellent way we performed with a fit team in the second half of last season with a similar personnel and defensive set up. What then has changed for such a distinctly slipshod start to this season? The obvious answer is the defence and keeper…they’re an entirely different five to the five on our run of good form. Yet, this doesn’t really tally. Macey if anything is an upgrade on Matthews (see more later) and the defensive line has stayed relatively sturdy with Argyle yet to concede a goal from open play.
The attacking personnel is almost the same, with Conor Grant coming in for Sarcevic being the only difference so far. The front three of Lameiras, Carey and Taylor remain the same as do Ness and Fox making up the midfield. Yet, here is the paradox. Whilst the attacking personnel are the same, this is the area whilst we are most lacking. Whilst it is comforting that we haven’t yet conceded from open play in four games…we haven’t scored from open play either. The answer is the total change of style. Whereas last season, Argyle whilst not afraid to play balls up long to Taylor when needed, would also largely play the ball along the ground, with excellent passing coming from the three midfielders and Carey/Lameiras coming inside to link up play.
Now, the two ‘wide forwards’ are largely hugging the touchline and the defence largely seem to play long balls as a matter of course rather than merely as one option. The more possession based style of early 2018 was to thank for a lot of good results and this unwarranted style change is largely responsible for the poor start. Argyle can only hope that the arrival of Antoni Sarcevic back into the side will see more play gel through the midfield.
- Managerial decisions continue to cost Argyle this season. Not only is the style costing Argyle games, but self-imposed moments of madness from manager Derek Adams also have to be attributed. There’s no denying that Adams is and has been a fantastic manager for Argyle but over the first few games, he seems to have made a few errors of naivety that would be more suited to Sheridan or even Fletcher’s reign.
For example, his seemingly knee-jerk reaction to Walsall scoring just before half-time on the opening day was disappointing. Argyle had dominated the last twenty minutes and the hosts scored very much against the run of play. Adams’ switch to 4-4-2 at half-time saw us overran without the extra man in midfield and we had to change it again to 3-5-2 before we got control back. In the Coventry game, Adams made the bold decision to keep the same team that had won at Bristol City in the cup days before. The old adage ‘never change a winning team’ is an oft-repeated cliche but it is just that, a cliche. The team fielded then was suited for a backs to the wall defensive display but far from suited to a game where we should have been going out to compete with Coventry from the off. The selections just made us even more prone to play hoofball and every time we cleared the ball away from our penalty area in the first half, it went straight back to Coventry. Adams must put Lameiras, Fox and Taylor back in for the visit of Wycombe and get us playing football again.
- Moments of madness need to be rectified. I think the previous lesson shows that if Adams team selection had been better, Argyle could easily have gained more points than we did from the season’s two away games. However, the other pertinent point is that individual moments of madness on behalf of the playing staff are also costing us points that we could have gained even in spite of mistakes made by the manager. Joe Riley’s reckless lunge and Ryan Taylor’s inexplicable duck in the wall for Walsall’s free-kick cost us preventable goals on the opening day, as did Taylor again against Southend bringing a player down in the box when he was not anywhere near being able to put the ball into the net.
Against Coventry, it was the turn of Ness and Carey to make the blunders. Carey performed a Riley-esque lunge to give away Coventry’s first penalty. The only difference being, Coventry’s attacker wasn’t in such a good position to get a shot away as in the Walsall game, making it an even more stupid blunder. You could argue that a yellow card on the halfway line was harsh on Jamie Ness, but the fact remains that when you deliberately stick out an arm, you give the referee a decision to make. Adams had made changes, we were getting on top of the game and being a man light immediately limited our capability to break down the defence.
- Matt Macey continues to shine. Ok, we’ve covered enough negatives, let’s look at a positive. It’s early days but Matt Macey seems like the best goalkeeping acquisition Argyle have managed to snap up in quite some time- yes, including Remi Matthews. His shot-stopping has been pretty much flawless, not conceding a goal from open play in four games and keeping some pretty good shots out that were heading straight into the corner.
His command of area from set pieces is also second to none, plucking the ball out of the air at set pieces with ease. His handling in the first game looked a bit questionable but that has vastly improved since then. His kicking is one area where he has seemed worse than Matthews so far but it is hardly terrible and he is better than the former Norwich loanee too in his decision making around the box. Let’s hope he keeps it up and doesn’t have to keep bailing us out.
- The full-backs are all potential and not enough immediacy. Two players who can neither be said to be fully good or bad so far are the two main full-backs who have played since the Southend game (and before in the case of the latter): Tafari Moore and Ashley Smith-Brown. The early indicators are positive for both. Both are players of good stock, coming from the academies of Arsenal and Manchester City respectively. Both do their defensive jobs well, with most of the serious opportunities for the opposition coming from either dead balls or through the middle of the park rather than down the flanks. Both too are capable of getting up and down the line well, providing as much width as Oscar Threlkeld offered on the right side last season and even more than Gary Sawyer offered on the left.
There are a few rough areas however that really need ironing out if they’re both to become the players they’re capable of being. Smith-Brown for example whilst having an exquisite first touch, bringing balls sent to him from range and at pace down excellently, doesn’t really seem to know what to do with the ball when he does have it under his control. On Saturday for example, he crossed the ball into the box in a panic with absolutely no Argyle runners anywhere near the direction of the ball. Yes, perhaps it’s true that there should have been runners where he crossed it but there weren’t and he should have thought harder about it. Moore on the other hand has the issue of being too hesitant and ponderous- as well as not quite having the same level of technical proficiency. If the two can iron out these weak areas, they can be pivotal players for us this season. As it is, they re-enforce the feeling of a side that has potential but is not quite the finished article.