Plymouth Argyle got a much needed 2-0 win over Carlisle at the weekend to rocket themselves up to eighth place in League Two. With the Greens now one point, and one position, outside the playoff places, the fact they are now on a four-game unbeaten run in the league is beginning to feel significant. Saturday’s victory has gone a long way to easing the disappointment of recently droped points against Scunthorpe and Swindon.
What makes this win feel even more important, however, is that Argyle managed it without the services of the suspended Danny Mayor. The side’s primary playmaker picked up his fifth booking of the season away at Swindon last week, forcing him into a watching brief for the Carlisle fixture, but Argyle still had enough about them to secure the points at Home Park.
It’s led people to ask questions about whether Argyle really missed Mayor, and whether it would be a problem if he is forced to miss further fixtures as the season progresses.
Don’t underestimate his influence
Mayor is a player who at times appear to have the weight of the entire club on his shoulders. It’s not a surprise – Argyle fans are so used to being carried by playmakers, especially at League Two level. The Green Army have of course been treated to seeing the likes of Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras grace the Home Park pitch over recent years. With the pair of them moving abroad this summer, and Mayor arriving with good pedigree, it’s no surprise that expectations for the player have been high.
It also has to be said that the pressure on him has hardly been eased by comments from his own manager. Upon taking the hotseat and signing Mayor in the summer, Lowe declared that he was better than both Carey and Lameiras. Whilst he was simply trying to back his player, this was an early faux pas in Lowe’s reign. Not only did it belittle players Argyle fans have become fond of over the years, it also ramped up the pressure on Mayor yet further.
For many, Mayor has not hit the heights they expected. However, it’s important to distinguish what that means in practice. Mayor may well have not hit those heights, but that’s only because the expectations were far too high to begin with. Just because he’s been having a lesser impact than many hoped, that’s not to say he isn’t having an impact at all. Quite the contrary.
He’s already shown how comfortable he is with the ball at his feet, not only completing more dribbles than anybody in the team, but more than anybody in the league as a whole. In addition, his presence is often more than enough to give Argyle more space in attacking areas. Newport were the first team this season to recognise Mayor’s talents and effectively ‘double up’ on him this season, but if Argyle are clever and have the right personnel on the field, they can exploit the resulting space to great effect.
And despite the fact opponents have invariably focused their entire defensive plans on stopping Mayor, he’s also been able to make goalscoring contributions. He was instrumental, for instance, in both of Joe Edwards’ goals against Crawley last month, and did of course score a superb goal himself to equalise against Salford in the opening weeks of the season.
Yes, Mayor could have been better in some aspects. Despite that goal, his finishing hasn’t exactly been top drawer – he missed a golden chance to level proceedings when Cheltenham visited Home Park in September. However, many are only expecting him to improve because his ceiling is incredibly high.
When that’s the case, it can be easy to underestimate a player’s influence. With a player as talented as Mayor, that’s an important thing to avoid.
Factoring in the opposition
That’s all well and good, you may say, but Argyle still didn’t miss him at the weekend, did they? Well, in terms of the result, no. However, plenty of that is down to Argyle’s opponents on Saturday afternoon. As was mentioned in our Opposition View, manager Steven Pressley was under a little pressure heading into Saturday’s game. His side’s performance will have done nothing to ease that pressure.
The Cumbrians, now sitting 20th in the League Two table, were atrocious throughout, and will surely be in real relegation trouble if things continue as they are. In possession they were frightfully poor – despite having 52% of the ball, they gave it away on countless occasions. That not only allowed Argyle to play the game on their terms, it also allowed them to play it with much more space on the field. After all, the Greens generally stole the ball back whilst Carlisle were trying to form an attack of their own.
It perhaps speaks volumes that Carlisle only came close to breaking through via good fortune, or problems that have been plaguing Argyle all season. The visitors hit the crossbar twice. First, a Jack Iredale cross almost looped over Alex Palmer and into the net.
Later, Argyle were almost caught out by a set piece once more – Byron Webster hit the woodwork with a close-range header.
Aside from that, Carlisle barely offered anything.
That’s probably the most obvious explanation as to why Argyle didn’t necessarily ‘miss’ Mayor at the weekend. The main things he can offer, namely technical prowess and midfield control, were not required. Carlisle simply surrendered control of the midfield to Argyle, with predictable results.
Argyle can easily dominate opponents like Carlisle without Mayor in the side. Imagine what things would have been like had he been available.
Straight back into the side?
After winning against Mansfield at the end of last month, Lowe let his Derek Adams side out and played the same system against Scunthorpe the following week. If this is a tendency he is likely to show again, we have to ask whether Mayor will be straight back into the side to face Leyton Orient this week, now his suspension has been served.
There can be no doubt that he ought to be. Yes, Leyton Orient are a side Argyle should be beating; the Greens’ victory in the first round of the EFL Cup demonstrated that well enough. However, they’ll almost certainly be better than Carlisle, and one would suspect Carl Fletcher will be desperate to get a result at his old stomping ground. It’s therefore vital that Argyle have their best team out on the field. Put simply, Argyle are a better team when Mayor plays.
Whether Lowe does stick with his most trusted playmaker remains to be seen. Leaving him out would constitute a huge risk. Surely, it’s one he won’t take.