2018/19 Season Review:

After a somewhat positive resurgence in the month of October, November too had some positive indicators for the Green Army. However, the month was bookended by two losses as well as having one stinker of a defeat smack in the middle. Argyle only picked up three points from a possible twelve in the month with one win and three defeats, albeit they were facing a difficult slate of fixtures.

Argyle also played the deadest of dead rubbers in the Checkatrade Trophy, losing 2-0 to Newport whilst playing what was essentially a youth side after already being eliminated. On a more positive note, they did beat Stevenage 1-0 in the first round of the FA Cup. Not an amazing achievement on paper, but the narrow nature of the result did not reflect Argyle’s dominance in the game.

None of that can detract from Argyle’s poor league total, however and the Pilgrims ended the month a worrying five points from safety.

Signs of promise

Argyle’s opening game against Sunderland did inarguably show some signs of promise, in spite of the scoreline being a 2-0 win for the Mackems at Home Park. Derek Adams was very slowly edging towards his best available team. Niall Canavan was proving a revelation at centre-back and Yann Songo’o was deputising ably whilst Ryan Edwards was out of the side with illness. Conor Grant was an unorthodox choice but certainly was continuiting to improve at left-back and Adams was at least picking his three best central midfielders, albeit not in their best positions with the persistence in 4-2-3-1 remaining. Joel Grant and Freddie Ladapo kept their spots in the side but it would have been harsh to drop them on their form.

Sunderland’s quality eventually showed. Aiden McGeady ran at the Argyle defence and fired into the far corner to give the visitors the lead. It was Argyle’s only real defensive weak line in the shape of Tafari Moore who gifted Sunderland their second goal with a clumsy tackle giving away a penalty which McGeady duly converted. A 2-0 defeat felt harsh, but Argyle went toe to toe with a much better side and had plenty of chances to score.  Not a bad performance by any stretch – Argyle’s fans clapped off a valiant display in spite of the loss.

 

The Stevenage FA Cup fixture combined an assured performance with getting the job done too, though Argyle did leave it late. Substitute Ruben Lameiras smashed home a winner deep into stoppage time to prevent what would have been an undesirable replay.

Bump

If October’s game against Oxford brought Argyle back down to earth with a bump, the trip to Kenilworth Road was akin to falling off a tall building. Argyle travelled to Bedfordshire with what was, on paper, a well-rested and ready team given the vast majority of the first team had been rested for the 2-0 loss at Newport County in midweek. It did not work out so easily in reality.

A James Collins hat-trick won the day for Luton, with goals from Lee and Justin giving them an unassilible 5-0 lead. Joel Grant’s stunning effort with a minute to go did put a dent in Luton’s clean sheet but it was scant consolation for the Argyle fans who had travelled so far to see such a miserable performance. Whilst 4-2-3-1 did prove to be effective against teams who sit deep, its midfield impotence was demonstrated against a side like Luton who were so good at exercising midfield control in a 4-3-1-2 shape. Argyle matched up their diamond at half-time and the performance did improve accordingly, but it was damage limitation at this stage.

The last line of defensive protection (Smith-Brown who was in for the injured Grant, Moore and Macey particularly) did not have good games but it was fundamentally a lack of midfield protection that saw Argyle cut through like a knife in butter. It was perhaps this that prompted such a radical change from Adams in the next game…

 

All too brief

Argyle’s fixture at home to Fleetwood Town saw one very major sign of improvement. For the first time since August, we played a proper 4-3-2-1 formation. David Fox sat deep as the midfield pivot with Jamie Ness and Antoni Sarcevic winning balls ahead of him. Argyle played a lone central striker with two wide forwards either side of him interchanging their positions and being creative with the ball. Joel Grant took to the role well but wasn’t quite as good as the suspended Graham Carey and nor did Ladapo link-up play as well as Ryan Taylor.

It would be churlish to deny Ladapo credit though. He did after all score the two goals that secured Argyle’s win. Having a formation that was conductive to good midfield control worked wonders for Argyle. They had numerous chances before the goal, producing what was certainly the best performance of the season up to that point (and arguably since). Argyle’s only problem was their finishing and the margin of victory should have been more: 2-1 very much flattered the visitors.

Argyle had a chance to build on this success immediately with the trip to struggling Shrewsbury. A great chance to continue playing our best system and hopefully get a good run of form together. Truth be told, it wasn’t the performance that many of the advocates of the system were hoping for by any stretch. Shewsbury played a diamond system, clearly Argyle’s kryptonite, and gained midfield control. However, Argyle did still make three good chances in the first half, all of which were missed. Shrewsbury netted with a long range effort.

Whilst it wasn’t the perfect performance by any means, the extra men in midfield did mean we were able to create some opportunities. Our lack of possession could be traced back to the lack of Ryan Taylor on the pitch: last season in games where midfield control wasn’t assured, we were at least able to go direct. We didn’t have that option in this game and Ladapo didn’t make up for it with good finishing. Argyle panicked at half-time, matched Shrewsbury’s diamond system and an even worse half followed. The experiment with our best formation was all too brief. Argyle went into December with some signs of hope but nonetheless needing urgent improvement to have a hope of survival.

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