Argyle do not need to rush to sign Remi Matthews when the January transfer window re-opens. Former Norwich loan goalkeeper Matthews who has won the attention of hundreds of Argyle fans on Twitter lately has been dropping countless hints that he will be returning to the club (at least on a loan basis) next month. Whilst he is an excellent option for the medium-term, the excellent form of current loanee Kelle Roos has shown that Argyle do not need to rush the deal through.
Roos’ form since coming to Argyle four matches ago has largely been excellent, bar one near-howler against Gillingham when he almost let the ball slip under his body. Since then, he has only conceded 3 goals in 360 minutes of football for the club. Furthermore, none of the goals he did concede were particularly as a result of goalkeeping errors. His good start at Argyle was made all the more undeniable by a good display in Milton Keynes where he made a couple of smart saves in addition to good command of his area and distribution as Argyle got the 1-0 win they needed to take them to 19th in League One.
It’s wrong to write off players too early. It cannot be argued that many amongst us, this writer included, had written off Ruben Lameiras as a lost cause until very recently, less than a week ago in fact. In the two games since he has been brought back into the starting eleven, however, the Portuguese midfielder has finally shown Argyle fans what made Derek Adams prioritise him as one of the summer signings to make upon our return to League One.
The versatile Lameiras cannot yet be said to be perfect- there were occasions in the game yesterday where his defensive discipline was found wanting, he did not always offer the necessary tracking back to protect his full-backs. However, he was better in this regard than in previous games and his attacking display was unrecognisable. He played a peach of a defence-splitting ball to play in Gary Sawyer for Argyle’s only goal of the game and in general he looked a danger with the ball at his feet, running at defenders, forcing them to backtrack and as such gaining Argyle those extra five to ten yards of territory that meant we did not need to sit deep for much of the second half. His close control is truly excellent and the place in the side is his to lose.
Argyle do not necessarily need a recognised attacking midfielder in the midfield three to improve our performances. When Argyle’s upturn in form first began with the midfield trio of Songo’o, Fox, and Diagouraga, the wins were purely built on counter-attacking prowess. In the home games against Northampton and Gillingham, we had either Antoni Sarcevic or Graham Carey in the midfield (rather than Songo’o) to add more attacking balance to the midfield and as such had a greater level of control over both of those games.
However, the last two matches have shifted the paradigm yet again. Argyle reverted to the aforementioned midfield trio of late October/early November and have continued to not only grind out wins but play football to a good quality and entertain a lot more than they were previously doing. The lack of a recognised attacking midfielder has been mitigated by the wide players (Carey and Lameiras) cutting inside more regularly than Jervis or Grant tended to do as well as the ever-versatile Toumani Diagouraga showing that he can drive forward with the ball and press high rather than merely sit deep. He’s been a real find and Argyle fans will have the finest late Christmas present imaginable if he puts pen to paper on a new contract.
Oscar Threlkeld still needs to regain a bit of freshness upon his return to the team. The return of Threlkeld has been eagerly awaited by Argyle fans all season, since he first picked up his injury in the Bristol City match in August and all the more so since his failed return to the side against Fleetwood in October. Threlkeld’s December return from injury appears at last to be a genuine one but he has not quite yet lived up to the standard of performance that Argyle fans may have hoped for, in spite of two excellent wins.
Certain signs of the old Threlkeld have undoubtedly been in place: for example, his energy, commitment and pace appear to be up the scratch. However, it seems some of his traditional weaknesses have been somewhat exemplified. For example, he too often overcommitted in a rush to get the ball, resulting in the MK attackers bypassing him and him having to be bailed out by the excellent Ryan Edwards. As well as this, he did not quite seem as keen as usual to overlap and support in the attack on the right side though he did do this on a couple of occasions. Argyle fans will be hoping the flaws are ironed out as he gets back into the groove of regular football as there is undoubtedly a very good player in there still .
Argyle have got their spirit back. It is inarguably cliched and overused to attribute all defeats and victories to the curious intangible of ‘mentality’ alone. However, taken alongside other more tactical considerations, it still has a part to play. It is widely reported that Argyle’s players held an internal inquest into the dreadful start to the season after the Fleetwood game on October 7th. The difference in the (apparent) attitude of the players before and after that inquest has been truly staggering. Before it, Argyle’s heads dropped every time a goal went in and more often than not it would spell the end of our hopes of getting anything from the game. That’s not to mention the plethora of red cards that were obtained in that period. The general demeanour on the pitch was one of panic and unhappiness.
Since then, we have only had one (questionable) red card, no goals conceded in the first twenty minutes of any game (bar, again, a penalty from Edwards’ highly debatable red) and appear overall to be a side completely refreshed when it comes to determination and keeping composure on the pitch. The return of David Fox who is a strong talker and for all his lack of energy off the ball is the picture of composure on it could have a large part to play here. The improvement since the inquest has been born out statistically- Argyle have gained 6 wins, 4 draws and 2 defeats from the 12 league matches since it occurred. Whatever is behind the improvement in mindset, it is a welcome change from the flakey Argyle side that began this campaign.