Plymouth Argyle, playing in their first league game since that dreadful defeat in the Devon Derby, bounced back with a 1-0 win away at Forest Green Rovers. The hosts were top of League Two heading into the encounter, but Ryan Lowe’s side stood firm, battled strongly when required, and secured an excellent away win. In the process, the Pilgrims became just the second side to beat Forest Green at the New Lawn this season.
The performance itself was highly unusual. It was the sort of ugly, gutsy away win we had become so used to under Derek Adams, at least during the days in League Two with the Scot in charge. And yet, had anybody said Argyle would be winning games in this manner when Lowe took the Home Park reigns, they’d have been declared mad.
However, here we are, with Argyle securing a well-managed 1-0 win away at the league leaders. Was it pretty? God no! But the fact they got the job done may well mark a coming of age for Lowe’s men.
A very un-Lowe performance
As we’ve mentioned, what made this game so odd was the fact it was so far departed from what we’d expect a fixture with Ryan Lowe in the winning dugout to look like. When the Liverpudlian was employed by the Greens, and indeed in the weeks and months since, we have seen and heard plenty about his famed attacking style. One of the main attractions, of course, was the fact his Bury side scored over 100 goals last season.
Conversely, the stats from Saturday’s game paint an entirely different picture. Lowe’s side had just 42% of the ball, and completed over 100 fewer passes than their opponents (440 to 322). More than one in every five Argyle passes was a long ball, and it resulted in the Greens having just one shot on target across the ninety minutes. Their total pass success was a fairly poor 61%. Those are stats that would be enough to cause alarm in most games, but at the weekend, it was enough.
So why did it work out? There are probably a few factors to point at here. The first would be Argyle’s defensive setup, which allowed their opponents little space to work in, despite Argyle’s natural attacking instincts. Indeed, for all of the possession they had, Forest Green managed just one shot on target in the game, just as many as Argyle. The Pilgrims hit the net with theirs, whereas the hosts saw theirs saved – unconvincingly, but saved nonetheless – by Alex Palmer.
When Argyle were building their squad across pre-season, there was cautious optimism around Home Park. Despite a heart-breaking relegation on the final day of last season, it was hard not to be excited by Lowe bringing in players to suit his ideas.
And yet, there were still a few of areas of concern when he named his first competitive starting lineup against Crewe. For instance, the defence still included Scott Wootton, who appeared to show last season that he wasn’t cut out for professional football at any level. In addition, Antoni Sarcevic’s inclusion in attacking midfield was worrying – he didn’t seem to have the creative talents to operate there in Lowe’s system. On Saturday, both were stars.
If things continue as they are, we’re going to have to start wondering who this new defender is, and what he’s done with lookalike Scott Wootton. His numbers were remarkable, and the ex-Manchester United defender deservedly picked up the player of the match award. He won a staggering 12 aerial duels – the second highest was Gary Sawyer with five – and was the player tasked with taming big centre back Matt Mills when he was sent on up front by Forest Green.
Antoni Sarcevic, meanwhile, found himself as Argyle’s match winner for the second time this season, his previous winning goal coming against Colchester United in the Greens’ first home game of the campaign. His goal this weekend certainly looked like a good finish at first viewing, and though we’ve since been able to see that it took a slight deflection, it’s still encouraging to see Sarcevic taking shots from those positions. His goals against Colchester and Carlisle have demonstrated just how deadly he can be.
Aside from his goal, Sarcevic also provided Argyle with an added midfield punch. He completed a couple of dribbles, and won a few tackles with his heavy pressing style to keep Argyle ticking across the game. He also took the chance to display his lesser-spotted creative side, with a superb backheel setting Byron Moore free shortly before Sarcevic himself broke the deadlock.
Is it sustainable?
The win on Saturday afternoon was lovely – who knows how vital a win at Forest Green will prove at the end of the season with the table tightening up? With the manner of victory being as it was, however, we have to ask whether or not Argyle will be able to keep things going.
Much of their success at the weekend relied on two players few would have expected to make such a positive difference. It’s hard not to be delighted for the pair of them, but the hard work for Wootton and Sarcevic is still to come. They need to prove that their current form is more than simply a flash in the pan. It would be very harsh to drop them based on their recent performances, so Argyle may well have to rely on the pair of them again in the coming weeks. They need to be up for that challenge.
As for the style of the performance, it would certainly be surprising if we saw too much more of it across rest of the campaign. Argyle did what they had to do at the weekend, and did it very well. But this certainly isn’t the style of football Ryan Lowe enjoys. One would suspect Argyle will look to get back on the front foot when Bradford visit Home Park next weekend.
That being said, if Argyle do what’s required on the road, and entertain at home, we could be in for a superb campaign yet.