Plymouth Argyle will not be the force they have the potential to be at this level without sorting out their glaring mental deficiencies. That is the simple reality at the moment.
It’s been a path well-travelled in recent days, but let’s explore it again. On the 70-minute mark against Ipswich at the weekend, Argyle were in control. By the 75-minute mark, they were a goal and a man down. Danny Mayor lost his mind to get sent off before pure panic in the Argyle ranks led to them conceding two goals in as many minutes. Somehow, from a position of extreme strength, Argyle had thrown it away in the time it takes for me to…no, I won’t finish that.
Anyway, the worst part of all of this is that it’s hardly the first time we’ve seen Argyle fall apart this season. It almost seems to be a weekly occurrence. Stopping these mad moments in games surely has to be Ryan Lowe’s number one priority.
Mayor loses his mind
I’m a fan of Danny Mayor. I think that’s a sentiment shared by most Argyle fans. But his performance on Saturday was exceedingly stupid. It was his red card that sparked the Greens’ capitulation, and looking back, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a dismissal made up of two more ludicrous bookings.
The first could be considered a little unlucky, but I don’t have a great deal of sympathy. Lowe’s argument in the aftermath was that Mayor’s yellow card for timewasting shouldn’t have been awarded because a couple of Ipswich players were preventing his corner from being taken. And I’m not totally dismissive of that argument; indeed, it looked as though the defenders were closer to five yards away from Mayor than the required ten on occasions.
What Lowe didn’t mention was that Mayor had already dallied over taking the corner before this happened. He’d already been warned that he was taking too long before he started complaining about the enclosing defenders. He really didn’t need to insist on playing the corner short if he was worried about picking up a booking. Regardless of the circumstances, getting booked for timewasting with around 40 minutes still on the clock is a little silly.
That pales into insignificance, however, compared to the mind-numbing stupidity of his second booking. Already on a yellow card, he saw Armando Dobra advancing downfield with the ball and just…tripped him up. No attempt or chance of playing the ball, he just tripped the man. For a player who, I must repeat, was already on a yellow card, this was the absolute nadir of dim from the 30-year-old.
As I’ve already mentioned, I like Mayor. He’s definitely the most talented player at the club in a number of areas. But considering the wages he eats up, can a player with his decision making really be considered value for money? The jury is very much out.
The state of panic
Mayor’s mindlessness has been well covered, but it wasn’t the only reason for Argyle’s collapse at the weekend. Rather, his red card was the catalyst for panic in the ranks from which the Greens ultimately couldn’t recover.
Nobody wants to see one of their players receive their marching orders – that goes without saying. However, when it does happen, you need to have some sort of plan. Tighten up and drop back if you must, but continuing to keep your head is imperative. You may have to soak up pressure with ten men, but if you play with intelligence and calmness you’ll give yourself a decent chance of keeping your opponents at bay, particularly if you only have to do it for around 20 minutes.
Alas, Argyle’s reaction was the complete opposite. As soon as their premier playmaker was sent from the field, every player to a man seemed to lose their heads. Nobody took control, nobody showed leadership, and nobody played for the next five minutes as well as they had for the first 70.
The collapse itself happened in the blink of an eye. Rushed clearances were the order of the day, and Argyle scarcely looked capable of calming things down just by keeping the ball for a few moments. They could easily have done so after kicking off following Ipswich’s equaliser, for example. Both of those are mental issues, and clear and obvious examples of the sheer terror in Argyle players’ minds following Mayor’s dismissal.
Lowe mentioned after the game that Argyle would’ve had players blocking both of Ipswich’s goals had Mayor been on the field. I’m not convinced. But I’m certainly confident that Argyle would’ve avoided the issue entirely had they not lost their minds in the wake of the red card.
How do you stop the rot?
Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
A dip into the transfer market must surely now be in the offing with January just around the corner. Each of Argyle’s defenders has shown they have talent this season, but few of them have demonstrated any level of leadership. Niall Canavan is perhaps the exception, but he doesn’t seem to have Lowe’s trust at the moment, particularly after the mistakes against Rochdale in midweek. It may sound simplistic, but I wouldn’t be against the idea of a big noisy b*stard coming into Argyle’s defence this winter. A Sonny Bradley type player would be just what this team needs.
The management also have to be questioned on a run like this. I’m not calling for Lowe’s head at this time; that would be a knee-jerk reaction to the extreme. But it’s clear that work needs to be done on game management, and it’s been clear for a while. To respond to a red card, that was already ridiculous, by conceding two goals in as many minutes against a team who hadn’t scored in over five hours of football is unacceptable. I remarked after the final whistle that this was some of the worst game management I had ever seen, and I stand by that claim.
As painful as it may be, it may simply be a case of learning from experience. Ipswich’s two goals on Saturday, Nolan’s in particular, were superb finishes. Had they not found the net, we’d have been praising an Argyle side capable of winning in the face of adversity, rather than dissecting a capitulation. And Argyle have shown they can “win ugly” before. Think Blackpool this season, or the trips to Cheltenham and Forest Green last term. Maybe Argyle just need to get through a similar game again to get the confidence flowing.
Blame certainly needs to be shared. Argyle’s players have natural talent, but how good can they really be considered as footballers without the concentration and composure to back up their skills? Similarly, Ryan Lowe is a good young manager with a bright future ahead of him, but if he had the foresight to take a tiring and booked Mayor off the field, a horrible situation may have been avoided. Clearly, he still has a lot to learn.
Argyle have all the tools to be a success at this level. But as I say, they will not become the force they have the potential to without sorting out their glaring mental deficiencies.