Plymouth Argyle were unlucky not to beat Charlton on Boxing Day. That’s my take anyway.
Ryan Lowe’s side had an excellent first half, and deserved their lead through two quality finishes from star striker Luke Jephcott. That they didn’t win can be put down to two unfortunate goals against – one which looked suspiciously like a foul on Kelland Watts, and the other a moment of magic from Marcus Maddison that not many sides at this level would’ve been able to stop. I also felt Argyle ought to have had a penalty for handball midway through the second half, but perhaps that’s my bias coming to the fore.
There were plenty of positives to take from the game at The Valley. Primarily, Jephcott again proved his worth to Argyle with two fine poacher’s goals. It means he’s already hit double figures in the league this year, and as a player who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, you sense he’s far from finished. Still only 20, there has to be an argument now that he’s the greatest striker at any club in League One.
The raw stats
It’s been shared pretty widely over the last day or so, but it’s worth repeating. Luke Jephcott is now the joint-second top scorer in the league, with only Peterborough’s Jonson Clarke-Harris having scored more. However, Clarke-Harris has been on the field far more often than Jephcott this season, and the Argyle striker’s stats compare very favourably with the rest of the league.
|Player||Goals||Assists||Goals/90 minutes||Mins per goal||Conversion Rate (%)||Shot accuracy (%)|
Jephcott’s early-season injury and international experience have hindered him in the race for the League One golden boot. Because as we can see, he has a far better minutes-per-goal ratio that the vast majority on the list. He outscores both Clarke-Harris and Joe Piggott, the only two players ranked above him at the moment, comfortably. And of all the players to have scored six or more this season, only Charlton’s Chuks Aneke beats his record. But Aneke only has six goals compared to Jephcott’s ten, making his sample size smaller. Plus, any neutrals watching on Boxing Day wouldn’t have a hard time deciding upon the better striker.
But there are stats there even more remarkable that minutes-per-goal. Look at his shot accuracy, which sits at a princely 68%. Hitting the target around half the time is usually a decent barometer; to do it around seven times in ten is excellent. Only Fleetwood’s Callum Camps hits the target at a better rate than the 20-year-old.
What really separates Jephcott from the rest of the field is his conversion rate. Indeed, there is quite a difference between making the goalkeeper work and actually beating him. In that regard, Jephcott’s record is unrivalled, with 40% of his shots this season finding the net. It’s a particularly remarkable statistic – Jephcott has only had 25 shots in the league all season, and found the back of the net with ten.
Add in the fact that Argyle haven’t won a penalty all season, so Jephcott hasn’t had the chance to add to his tally from the spot, and his numbers become even more revealing. Statistically at least, Jephcott is right up there with League One’s best marksmen.
Effect on Argyle
What makes Jephcott so effective at the moment is how perfectly he fits into Argyle’s system. This isn’t a Freddie Ladapo in 2018/19 situation we have on our hands, when one player almost monopolising chances ultimately acted as a detriment to the team’s efforts. (I should say, that doesn’t mean Ladapo was a bad player. Rather, Derek Adams’ preferred system asked much more of the lone striker than simply scoring goals. I suspect Ladapo would have thrived at Home Park had he played under Ryan Lowe.)
Jephcott, meanwhile, has proven to be just what Argyle have needed in Lowe’s tenure. For the first few months, a lack of clinical finishing saw Argyle drop points unnecessarily, but Jephcott managed to fix that immediately upon his recall from Truro. With Ryan Hardie not hitting the back of the net quite so often this year, Jephcott has almost single-handedly kept Argyle going. The partnership between the two, however, remains very strong. After Boxing Day’s showing, there can surely be no doubt that Argyle are better when both Hardie and Jephcott start.
There are also huge benefits Jephcott brings to Argyle that we may not see immediately. Most obviously, should he be prised away from Home Park, Argyle can expect to be reimbursed with a hefty transfer fee the likes of which we probably haven’t seen since the Championship days. And how about the boost he’s giving to the academy? Nobody could have foreseen Jephcott’s meteoric rise this time last year, but now every youngster at Argyle knows they have a path to the first team if they perform well, even if they are sent on loan to the depths of the non-league pyramid. It’s bound to help.
I know this is all gushing, and it feels as though I’m a step away from declaring my undying love for the man, but it needs to be said. In a terrible year for just about everyone, Jephcott’s emergence is by far the best thing that has happened to the club.
So, is he the best striker in the league?
There are many relevant things we’ve discussed that can be considered when answering that question, and some less relevant. Jephcott’s age, for example, is of little help in deciding how good he is now, even if it does suggest he has a higher ceiling that most at this level. It’s also important to remember that goals aren’t everything. Ryan Taylor, for example, was a magnificent striker for Argyle when fit and utilised correctly. You’d hardly call him an assassin in front of goal.
That being said, it’s incredibly difficult to argue against Jephcott’s numbers. To be going at a rate close to a goal a game this side of Christmas is remarkable. Whether he’s the best all-round striker in the league is up for debate; I’d personally like to see him get a few more assists to claim that crown, even though I do appreciate his influence in Argyle’s general play. But is he the best goalscorer? The best poacher? On current form, I don’t really see how one could argue otherwise.
But even if they did, it’s ultimately all academic. Best in the league or not, Argyle have a phenomenal player (and asset) on their hands. Managing him well could be key to the club’s success both now and for many years to come.