On the face of it, Plymouth Argyle’s attacking out-put is hardly their greatest cause for concern. Fans are far more concerned with the defensive elements of the game which have seen Argyle ship needless goals throughout the season. With a more resolute rear-guard, the team could be looking at five more points at least, enough to put the side in the play-offs.
Yet, Argyle’s attacking play has declined since mid-September, beginning with the failure to score in two out of three matches (Port Vale and Cheltenham). The team has created fewer chances, but also been more profligate with them.
In the four league games prior, the team averaged more than three big chances per-match. Though the games only yielded one win, they were the most progressive, attacking performances in the league to-date. While the rate at which Argyle have created big chances has dropped by nearly 15% in that time (from 3.25 to 2.8 per game), the rate at which goals have been scored has halved (2 per game to 1).
After the draw with Oldham, only two teams had scored more goals than Argyle, but now ten sides have scored at least as many. Given Ryan Lowe arrived having led a team to more than a hundred goals in a season, this represents a disappointing haul at this stage of the season. The rate at which goals are scored would have to drastically increase for Argyle to get anywhere near Bury’s total from last season.
Rudden wasteful again
Back in September, in the 2-2 draw against Oldham, Zak Rudden had a huge chance to win Argyle all three points in the final seconds of the match, but fluffed his lines from a matter of yards.
Against Swindon, he repeated that feat. Twice he ran clean through – on neither occasion did he find the back of the net. First, a neat one-two between Sarcevic and Joel Grant saw the former put Rudden clean-through, but the loanee opted to try and take the ball around the ‘keeper. In the end, the ball went out for a goal-kick without a shot being taken.
Yes, he was under pressure, but you can’t help but feel that he delayed taking the shot for too long. You could even have justified shooting with his second touch, even though he was outside the area.
Worse came later, after he was played clean through by Danny Mayor – on his strong foot this time – but hit his first-time shot straight at the ‘keeper. In a pretty lousy first-half, Argyle somehow carved out two big chances and failed to take them both.
Then, with just seconds remaining before half-time, League Two’s top scorer Eoin Doyle showed how to score under pressure as he lifted the ball over Alex Palmer when one-on-one. That was the difference between the two sides, both in the half and in the current league tables. Swindon buried their chance but Argyle wasted theirs.
In the end, Joel Grant rescued a point with a neat finish from a tight angle – having been put clean through by George Cooper. Creating chances remains an area where Argyle largely aren’t struggling, but finishing is.
Argyle among League Two’s most wasteful teams
Put simply, Argyle are one of the most wasteful teams. Their shot conversion rate is just 9%, which leaves them ranked 18th out of the 24 teams in League Two. When that is restricted to shots inside the 18-yard box, the conversion naturally rises, but only to 12%, 21st compared to their league opposition.
Those conversion rates are shockingly poor.
They are made to look even worse when put further into context: 90% of all of Argyle’s shots are taken following a short-pass. This is significant because short passes tend to be more controlled and enable their teammates to have more control over the ball when they strike it, making it more likely that they score.
Argyle’s rate of 90% is not only the highest in the league, it is also notably higher than the average (79%). Additionally, the team ranks toward the bottom (21st) for headed shots per-match. Headed shots are statistically far less likely to be converted than shots taken with your stronger foot, so yet again this demonstrates that Argyle are consistently presenting their strikers with a higher volume of controlled chances compared to the rest of the league.
And yet, the conversion rates are ridiculously low.
The need to convert chances – good and bad
Teams should not attempt to sustain form based on converting half-chances. Argyle tried that last year, and as soon as the run of goalscoring form ended (particularly Lamerias’), the goals dried up and so did the points. Teams that rely on their strikers to convert half-chances will inevitably hit a dry spell during the season and fall away.
Lowe’s Bury side largely sustained their goalscoring by consistently creating big goal-scoring opportunities throughout the season – it’s the best way to guarantee a consistent stream of goals.
Argyle mostly create enough of these chances to outscore their opponents but they aren’t taking them. Rudden missed the winner against Oldham. Danny Mayor missed the chance to pull Argyle level against Cheltenham. Rudden missed two chances to give Argyle the lead at Swindon. Byron Moore and Gary Sawyer both missed big chances against Northampton.
Meanwhile, Argyle are also being wasteful with half-chances. Cast your mind back over recent goals and think how many of them were snap-shots, or first time efforts under pressure?
Joel Grant scored twice and Riley once in the past week against Swindon, both from good opportunities. Aimson scored twice from a cumulative distance of about seven yards against Scunthorpe. Joe Edwards’ back-post header against Crawley came from yards away. Both the goals against Oldham were excellent opportunities. The list goes on.
Argyle have scored some half-chances, but given the volume of shots the team is taking, they should have scored more. Even if our conversion rate was just average in the league, that would add up to another two goals, enough probably to gather four extra points. Were the team finishing chances at a rate slightly above average, the team would probably be seventh at least.
So, while defending is a major area of concern for the team, goalscoring is also emerging as an avenue in which the team is underperforming, and it’s starting to make a big impact.