Plymouth Argyle got back to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Burton on Saturday, and managing to get such a result over the line was delightful.
In recent weeks, including the fixtures against Leyton Orient, Hull and Wimbledon, Argyle have played well for large spells of their games. And yet, they’ve struggled to get the result over the line ever since beating Blackpool on opening day. Performances can only keep the mood high for so long, and a few more disappointing results may have had us wondering when the winless run would come to an end. Saturday’s result immediately puts any talk of that to bed.
It was a win that was hard earned and well deserved – nobody put in a sensational performance, but nobody dropped a stinker either. Instead, it was a solid team effort that saw the sum of Argyle’s parts greater than that of Burton’s. And one particularly encouraging aspect of the win was Argyle’s game management, as they nipped much of Burton’s threat in the bud late on to secure the win.
Argyle becoming streetwise
Avid followers of this site will be familiar of our belief in the importance of dictating the tempo during games. You’ll have heard it in our Green and White podcast, and other areas of the site as a whole. But what does it mean exactly? And why is it so important?
In short, a team that dictates the tempo usually allows any given game to be played on their own terms, but it’s exactly what those terms are that is important. The teams who control tempo the best are those who use in-game intelligence to ascertain what their next move should be – take a midfielder, for example, having to take the decision as to whether to try a risky pass or play safe and keep possession.
David Fox was very good at it, as was Conor Hourihane to some extent; yes, his career was in his infancy at Argyle, but he seemed to have the knack of knowing when to play that short pass, and when to drive his team forward.
Sometimes the decision is obvious. Of course, you don’t want to be playing simple passes and keeping the ball at the back when chasing a goal in the dying minutes. Well, unless you’re the England national team from 2016.
However, sometimes it can be harder to tell, and that’s when the in-game intelligence comes into play, when leaders come to the fore, and coaches earn their stripes. If the opposition are having a good spell do you try to slow things down and see it out, or push hard and try to catch them out? It can be tough to get right.
Pleasingly, this weekend saw Argyle get it right. Often this season, and indeed across last season, we have seen Argyle attempt to fight fire with fire when slowing things down would have been more prudent. And yes, that seems like an odd thing to complain about – we spent years yearning for Argyle to treat us to some attacking football. But it needs to be done in moderation. The game against Wimbledon, for example, is one that Argyle would probably have won but for some poor game management.
It would appear, however, that Argyle are becoming streetwise. Against Burton, we saw a concentrated effort to slow the game down, then speed it up again when necessary. Tyrese Fornah impressed in this area on debut, able to play the ball backwards when required but still looking as though he could get Argyle going from deep. Mike Cooper showed that he’s still learning rapidly, with an ability to change the pace of his distribution depending on the match situation. And how about Frank Nouble’s ability to keep the ball in the corner? I’d trust him to do that from minute one if Argyle only needed a point…
It’s a step in the right direction, and even though attacking football will remain the norm, a little bit of tempo control can be just as pleasing.
Still not perfect
There’s still a bit of work to do in order to make Argyle’s approach seamless. The Greens were better than Burton on Saturday; of that there is no question. But no performance is perfect, and there are a couple of aspects Ryan Lowe will be working on in training across the next week.
Based on the way Argyle have developed lately, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him continue to drill in the benefits of game management. As we’ve discussed, Argyle have undoubtedly improved in this area in recent weeks, but there have nonetheless been a few teething problems of the new approach.
One moment that sticks out came in the second half on Saturday. At 2-0, Danny Mayor brought the ball forward as Argyle looked for a third to put the game to bed. Outside him, George Cooper made a lung-busting run forward into the space on the left. But when Mayor tried to thread him in, he found his pass blocked, and Burton broke away using the space at the other end. Argyle were fortunate that Stephen Quinn’s resulting shot was tame and straight at the ‘keeper.
Again, that seems a fairly odd thing to have a grievance with – the way Mayor and Cooper link up on Argyle’s left is one of the beauties of Lowe’s setup. But against a better side, Argyle may have been punished on the break, turning their comfortable lead into a nervy one. At 2-0 up, there’s certainly an argument that Argyle needn’t have been quite so gung-ho in this specific situation.
Lowe will no doubt also be continuing to work on his squad’s sharpness in an attempt to cut out individual errors, particularly in defence. The Greens have improved on that front since they seemed to be plagued by them on a weekly basis, but again things aren’t quite perfect. Shortly after Argyle scored their second on Saturday, Will Aimson totally misjudged a routine header to leave Aston Villa loanee Indiana Vassilev one-on-one with Cooper. He missed, but it was a huge let-off.
Again, this is the sort of thing that may be symptomatic of a long break from football, and will improve with more work and match practice. Aimson, for his part, has certainly been a net positive for Argyle this season, even if he hasn’t been immune from the odd clanger. But if Argyle can continue to cut down on them, and continue their upward trend on game management, more positive results may await.