Lessons learned from Argyle 4 Stevenage 2
1) Connor Smith’s importance for the rest of the season cannot go understated. Smith has not been the most widely praised of players this season with many Argyle fans accusing him of flattering to deceive. It is true that in some games, Smith has been an unremarkable presence in the centre of midfield. Off the bench, there have been occasions where it has taken him a while to warm into proceedings, for sure.
Against his old club Stevenage however, Smith showed Argyle fans exactly what he is made of and what he can offer for the rest of the season, with Argyle’s squad stretched by injuries. He produced a performance of a fantastic box-to-box midfielder, regaining the ball through tackling and pressing in equal measure to his fantastic distribution.
It was his crunching tackle that led to Argyle’s fourth goal and his cutback that assisted Jake Jervis for Argyle’s second. Argyle fans will be hoping that his form in games like these is replicated on a more regular basis when he recovers from his ankle injury.
2) Long balls up front to Goodwillie do not work. For most of the second half, Argyle looked fairly confident defending their lead. Whilst Luke McCormick was tested during that timeframe, it was mostly through speculative long effort and Stevenage for the most part did not seriously look like breaking Argyle down. The exception to this however, was very much the ten minute period when David Goodwillie was a lone striker, before Nathan Blissett came on up front moved Goodwillie out wide.
As good as manager as Derek Adams undoubtedly is, he does not yet seem to have realised that every time we have David Goodwillie as a lone striker, long balls up front to him do not work. It’s not as if it’s his fault. He battles as best he can, but he’s a man of 5 foot 7 against defenders usually well over 6 feet in height. Each time we hoof long balls up to him, they almost always come back down to our defence.
Goodwillie up front in an attacking 4-2-3-1 could work- as long as we played balls along the ground and had three players behind him to help out. This was not what we tried against Stevenage however and nor would it have been suitable for such a game. Needless to say, it was in this ten minute interval that Argyle looked closer to conceding than at any other time in the half. Hopefully when Nathan Blissett settles in, we’ll see an end to this practise.
3) Our season could still rest on the form of Luke McCormick. During the aforementioned interval, one thing that stopped the scoreline from being levelled to 3-3 was a fantastic one on one save from Luke McCormick. He came off his line with excellent timing and angled his body superbly to stop the shot from nestling into the net. However, McCormick’s performance was hampered by some poor kicks and his poor command of his six-yard box for Stevenage’s opener. I don’t blame him for their second as a wicked deflection threw him off kilter, but he could certainly have done better for their first.
In many ways, this encapsulates the enigmatic nature of McCormick’s performances for Argyle since the start of the 15/16 season. In Adams’ first few months at the club, he was second only to Carey in his reliability of pulling off a guaranteed 7/8 out of 10 performance each week. In the second half of the season, I do not think it would be unduly harsh to say McCormick collapsed. The man himself said in an interview with the local press that he suffered a rare crisis on confidence.
This season too has been mixed blessing. He was very good for the first two months of the season and the most recent month or so, but the spell in between was fraught with errors. McCormick has certainly shown mettle beyond that which he showed on the high pressure occasions last season- his performance at Anfield was nothing short of his sublime and his save prevented a certain goal. Time will tell as it goes on however, whether there will be any more moments like that which led to Stevenage’s opener.
4) Jordan Slew’s renaissance continues to be a classic Adams success story.
We’ve seen it all before haven’t we? Players who came to Argyle with poor reviews from most of their former clubs and yet have thrived under the leadership of Derek Adams. Jake Jervis, Sonny Bradley, Graham Carey and Gregg Wylde primarily spring to mind. Nobody however quite encapsulated this meme quite so much as Jordan Slew.
Since a big money move to Blackburn in his youth, he flopped from club to club, neither scoring goals not impressing fanbases pretty much anywhere that he went. At Argyle however, he has finally found his home. His goal against Stevenage was his 6th of the season by mid January…a figure more impressive when you realise his record total in a season until now is 2. Slew’s general play has also improved. You can see his decision making on the pitch is far cleverer than it once was due to Adams tuition. He has become far less one-dimensional and is getting a few ‘poacher’s’ goals to boot. His good movement for the goal yesterday and the one against Wycombe are two good examples of how he has lost his marker using intelligence as well as mere pace.
5) The season so far has not quite captured the imagination of the Plymouth public. Usually, seasons in which Argyle compete at the top end of the season tend to follow a certain pattern. The crowds are more ordinary before Christmas, but at some time shortly after Christmas, crowds tend to rise quickly as long as we stay in the promotion race late on.
Saturday’s crowd of just over 8,000 however was the smallest we have seen since we played Hartlepool in September. This can perhaps be attributed to a lot of unexpected expenditure for supporters with the Liverpool game and subsequent replay taking up a lot of the causal supporters’ disposable income. Whilst I’d be the first to argue that ticket prices are too high, the fact remains that this should in theory be the time of year where crowds go up not down. It will be interesting to see (in the expectation of a plucky defeat to Liverpool) what the crowd is like when we play Blackpool on January 28th.