It feels like a remarkable rarity to be feeling this positive when analysing a Plymouth Argyle game, and that’s not just because the match in Crewe was the first time the Greens have taken to the field competitively in three months. A far cry from the defensive and ultimately doomed era of Derek Adams, Ryan Lowe’s team were a joy to watch this weekend.
The side created, and admittedly conceded, many chances. It was indeed an pretty open game, but Argyle took their chances better than their opponents on the day. That was vital: Argyle’s attacking pattern play – which Lowe has been working on throughout pre-season – meant they were able to turn their own good spells into goals, whereas Crewe struggled to do the same. Argyle’s methods of attacking in this sense were key to securing their opening day win.
Over the summer we were promised that safety-first football was a thing of the past. Instead, Ryan Lowe’s idea, apparently born out of the fact he was a striker himself, was to attack with regularity. He was willing to bank on the fact that no matter how many the opposition could score, he’d always back his players to score at least one more.
His style has been praised by the likes of Jurgen Klopp amongst others, and has regularly been described as “gung-ho” by many admirers. After years of turgid football, this was music to the ears of many a supporter. It built summer optimism, but it didn’t necessarily mean it was going to work. Just setting up with many attacking players is one thing. Getting them to set up in a functioning, coherent system is quite another.
As we know, at Bury, Lowe opted to line his forward-thinking side up in a 3-1-4-2 formation. Saturday marked the first chance we had to see that system up close. Delightfully, it worked – though there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Overloading the area
There was one specific moment in the first-half that demonstrated the way Lowe likes his sides to play football: the first goal.
This is how Lowe intends to hurt opposing teams in the final third. The move started with Byron Moore putting the ball across goal in the first instance. This didn’t fall to Sarcevic or Grant, but Crewe were unable to clear. Instead, wing-back Joe Riley was on hand to keep Crewe under the cosh.
His cross-cum-shot wasn’t perhaps as accurate he’d have liked, but the nature of it meant Crewe were again only able to manage a half-clearance. From there, the other wing back, McFadzean, got involved and, when Joel Grant headed the ball back into the danger area, he was there to capitalise. And let’s give a quick mention to the finish – it was a superb, acrobatic effort, and certainly not one you’d expect from a player who didn’t find the net once last season.
Perhaps the absolute key to this goal, as we dig into it even further, comes just before McFadzean hit his goalbound shot. As the ball fell to him and he was about to tuck it away, Argyle had six players in Crewe’s penalty area. The two-wing backs McFadzean and Riley, and the two strikers Grant and Moore, were joined by both Danny Mayor and Antoni Sarcevic from the midfield positions.
This was exactly how Argyle were able to make their breakthrough. Even if they didn’t execute something to perfection – think of Riley’s effort in the midst of all of this – they put Crewe under such pressure that they were unable to get it clear. A breakthrough in these circumstances felt almost inevitable, and refreshing in itself. After just four minutes of football, Argyle had battered down the door of the opposition.
Pattern play on show
As well as throwing numbers forward at each available opportunity, we saw some signs of the pattern play that will continue to develop throughout the season and be used to break down opponents. The best example came late on, as Conor Grant created an opening at the near-post for Ryan Taylor, but the angle was too tight for him to squeeze the ball past the ‘keeper.
In the end, the move consisted of two simple passes and two simple runs, a charge to the near-post and an easy cross. Conor Grant overlapped down the left, Baxter ran across him to take a defender inside with him, and that left Mayor with a simple pass to give Grant the space to put the ball in. Easy to do, but good football is often as simple as pass and move. You don’t need a defence splitting pass if you can engineer the space in another way.
Though Mayor was more peripheral throughout the match than he might have expected, especially in the middle-third of the pitch, he was involved in more of Argyle’s attacks than any other player. Twice Mayor dropped his shoulder to get a shot off, most notably when he sprinted past Perry Ng and saw his low shot well saved.
Add to that his involvement in the aforementioned chance for Taylor, and his late sprint to set up McFadzean’s killer third goal, and no player was more involved in an attacking sense than he.
Not players who can attack; players who will attack
It wasn’t a perfect performance. Plymouth Argyle had to rely on a man-of-the-match display from Alex Palmer in goal, But isn’t it refreshing to see an Argyle side looking like they can score whenever they go forward?
We’ve been given a taster of what to expect from a Ryan Lowe side. Games are set to be open, and Argyle won’t necessarily always dominate. However, they will always back themselves to entertain and score more goals than their opponents. I for one can’t wait to see them at Home Park.
The positivity seen as Argyle threw players forward for the opening goal, or as Joel Grant smashed in an opportunistic second from twenty-yards, was the most promising sign. Lowe showed that his style doesn’t just include players who can attack, it includes players who will attack. It makes the rest of the season almost feel like a mouth-watering prospect.