After a tough week in the league, Plymouth Argyle returned to winning ways in fine style with a 2-0 win over Lincoln in the FA Cup. The result was well deserved on balance, particularly after a strong second half performance. It puts the Greens into the third round of the competition for the first time since 2017, when a couple of games against Liverpool provided some unexpected January flavour. Who knows what joys await in the third round draw this year?
Many Argyle players came out of the encounter with their heads held high after their respective solid displays. However, there’s one we ought to focus on following his sterling showing not only against Lincoln, but in many matches across recent weeks. Many, including myself, were not entirely enthused by the prospect of Joe Edwards being Argyle’s first choice on the right for the first season back in League One. But that feeling has been truly quashed in the face of his recent performances.
In truth, Edwards himself has come on in leaps and bounds, and now seems to be the perfect choice for the position in Ryan Lowe’s preferred system.
All the attributes in attack
Remember last season when we suggested that Antoni Sarcevic would be an ideal fit on the right side for Argyle under Lowe? I still reckon that would’ve worked, but it didn’t matter in the end. Argyle were promoted, and Sarcevic won the player of the year award from a more central position.
Anyway, the arguments in favour of Sarcevic playing at wing back were down to the attributes we all became accustomed to from the Mancunian. Namely, his energy and pressing gave us all confidence that he could get up and down the pitch quickly when required, and his dribbling and forward runs made him the perfect threat for running onto through balls from Argyle’s creative hub in the middle. We never got to see it in action, but do you know who was able to demonstrate those skills from that position this weekend? Joe Edwards.
The 30-year-old has been a man reborn in recent weeks. Against Lincoln he was able to drive his team forward on the ball, pick out a pass incisively, and regularly offer an option out wide. And Argyle needed that sort of player. Without the talented Danny Mayor in the middle, Lowe’s side had a little less creativity coming from the central areas, and needed to find another way of troubling a solid Lincoln side. Edwards was the key.
And it surely showed in his output. To my horror, there are no websites that keep stats on FA Cup games to the extent we see for league games, but I have no doubt his distance covered and key passing stats would reflect very kindly. And whilst he wasn’t able to notch an assist, he came very close on a few occasions, particularly with a cross that narrowly evaded fellow wing back George Cooper at the back post.
We know Edwards has attacking qualities – the way he left a Bradford defender on the floor last season is a particularly potent memory. But honestly? I didn’t expect him to be as good going forward as he has been this year. It’s been a blast.
Body on the line
Call me out for stating the obvious, but it’s the ability to contribute in both attack and defence that makes a player so valuable in a fluid system such as Lowe’s. We’ve already discussed the benefits of Edwards going forward, but on Saturday he was also able to demonstrate his qualities at the back to help Argyle see out the win.
One particular incident stands out. With Argyle already 2 goals to the good, Lincoln started to throw men forward in a desperate attempt to get themselves back into the game. They almost managed it too – after working the ball well on the right, the Imps played the ball into the middle and seemed to be one-on-one with Mike Cooper. That was, of course, before a flying block from Edwards right in the middle of the box prevented a near-certain goal.
Argyle finally cleared their lines when Panutche Camara blocked the follow-up. And there you have an example of two players willing to put their bodies on the line for the cause. Camara’s cameo was superb, and the fact that Edwards was even in the middle of the box to cut out the attack was remarkable. It was exactly the sort of energy and commitment that Argyle needed under such pressure.
Another perhaps understated aspect of Edwards’ game is his leadership. He captains the side in Gary Sawyer’s absence for a reason – you’ll very often find him gesticulating and guiding players into position with the opposition on the attack, particularly helpful if you’re looking to blunt attacks on Argyle’s right side. He, alongside the excellent Niall Canavan on return, ensured that Argyle’s back line looked enormously more solid than some of their recent displays; Fleetwood, for instance.
A key presence in attack and defence? You don’t need me to tell you that’s not too bad.
Fitting in perfectly
What seems to make Edwards such a good fit for Lowe is that he strikes the perfect balance for the wing back role. In the past, we’ve seen Joe Riley deployed on the right, who simply didn’t have the attacking qualities to be successful. And on the other side, whilst George Cooper is an excellent player, and he has improved in the area somewhat, he still leaves a little to be desired defensively. Edwards, meanwhile, has the lot.
He’s a player enjoying his best spell in an Argyle shirt, at the highest level yet. And he’s rapidly becoming a key cog in Lowe’s Argyle machine. With the way he fits perfectly into his position, it’s not hard to see why.