2018/19 Season Review:
Plymouth Argyle played just four games in February. All four of them can be looked back upon fondly for one reason or another. Despite ending January with a bitterly disappointing defeat in Wycombe, Argyle managed to carry over the momentum they had gained in 2019, going unbeaten for the entirety of February.
A welcome surprise
Argyle kicked off the month with a trip to Peterborough which, considering the hosts’ league position and Argyle’s previous game, was an ominous prospect. The Greens had even more reason to be worried considering Peterborough’s tactical choices. Darren Ferguson, only recently reappointed by Posh at that stage, opted for a diamond formation, something Argyle notoriously struggled against all season. The 5-1 defeat at Luton, a side who played a diamond, was perhaps the nadir of Argyle’s season…before April at least.
However, this was one of the rare occasions in 2018/19 where Derek Adams changed his tactics to combat the specific threats of an opposition. Daunted by the prospect of another drubbing, Argyle matched their hosts by dropping Yann Songo’o and playing a diamond of their own. This still wasn’t perfect – the inability of Ryan Taylor and Freddie Ladapo to play up front together limited the Greens in an attacking sense. However, their shape was hard to break down, and left Argyle on an even keel with Peterborough for much of the encounter.
The game took a crucial turn, however, right on the stroke of half time. Moments after being booked, Lee Tomlin sent Ryan Edwards tumbling to the floor, receiving his marching orders for a second bookable offence. Was it a deserve red? That’s up for debate. But Tomlin was incredibly stupid for giving the referee a decision to make.
Argyle saw more of the ball in the second half – they were always likely to do so. However, it took until very late on before they finally broke through. Ruben Lameiras was the hero, notching his tenth goal of the season with a splendid effort from just inside the area. Delirium in the away end, and three more pleasantly surprising points for Argyle.
Sharing the spoils
Argyle’s next game a week later saw them face a familiar foe in Portsmouth. Back in September, Pompey humbled Argyle at Fratton Park. However, things were different this time. Argyle went into the game in good form, and Portsmouth came to Home Park with injury problems ravaging their side.
Adams sprung another tactical surprise before the game, changing a winning team that functioned successfully in the previous game. This proved beyond all doubt that the diamond shape was deployed to counter Peterborough and Peterborough alone. The changes were not necessarily for the better. Reverting back to the 4-2-3-1 formation with David Fox and Yann Songo’o as holding midfielders gave Argyle little to no midfield control, and frustratingly meant they were not able to take advantage of Portsmouth’s weakened midfield.
One of those Portsmouth midfielders did in fact give the visitors the lead early in the second half. Ben Close pounced well following a set piece to drill the ball past Kyle Letheren. It was Close’s first goal of the campaign. Could Portsmouth hold on? No. That was almost entirely down to Graham Carey.
In the last half hour, Argyle’s talisman of the last four years delivered a stellar performance. Not only did he whip in a sumptuous free kick from 25 yards to level the scores, he also produced one of the best pieces of skill Home Park has ever seen as the game drew to a close. 1-1 was the final score. Considering the league positions of the two sides, that had to be seen as an acceptable result.
The next game was certainly the most difficult one to see in a positive light. On the back of two strong results, Argyle travelled to lowly Bradford, knowing that a win against a struggling side would put them in a superb position. They didn’t begin to challenge for that win, however. Only goalkeeper Kyle Letheren emerged from the game with any credit.
Letheren made a superb save in the second half to deny Eoin Doyle as the Bantams pushed for a winner that would bolster their own survival chances. They couldn’t find a way through, however, and both sides had to settle for a goalless draw. That result was disappointing, and certainly still is looking back with hindsight. However, Argyle kept a clean sheet on the road and kept Bradford at arm’s length.
Rochdale visited Home Park in the Greens’ final fixture in February. It was surely the highlight of Argyle’s season.
The Pilgrims were dominant from start to finish as Keith Hill’s visitors were put to the sword. Freddie Ladapo scored the opener with a smart finish on the turn, and Argyle could well have been out of sight by half time. After that, it threatened to fall apart. A glaring error from Ryan Edwards allowed Matt Done to level the scores early in the second half. However, after Ethan Ebanks-Landell was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity by handling the ball, Argyle never looked back.
First of all, Edwards atoned for his error by slotting in Argyle’s second goal just after the hour mark; there was more than a hint of handball to the goal. Then, Ladapo took advantage of more dire Dale defending from Ryan Delaney to double Argyle’s advantage. Then Oscar Threlkeld and even Ashley Smith-Brown got in on the act as Argyle ran riot. Rochdale were awful defensively on the day, and offered no protection from midfield areas. However, Argyle still had to beat what was in front of them. 5-1? Job done.
That was that for the month of February. Argyle had taken eight points from four games, and it was clear there were worse sides in the division than them. Surely, the Greens were safe from there?