Plymouth Argyle drew 1-1 away to Bristol Rovers in their first serious pre-season test. The game was somewhat reminiscent of last season: Argyle were clearly on top in the first half, wasted chances to build a two-goal lead, conceded early in the second half following a defensive error and looked the weaker side the longer the match went on.
Of course, the endless flow of substitutes ruined the second half from an entertainment perspective and demonstrated the need for further signings to bolster the squad’s depth, but there were plenty of positive signs to come out of the first hour.
Michael Cooper, GK – 7
Ultimately, the young keeper did not have a lot to do in a first half that the Greens largely dominated. However, on the rare occasions he was called upon, he dealt with his challenges well.
He plucked a couple of crosses out of the air with consummate ease and did very well in a testing situation towards the end of the half. A long ball was lofted forwards out of the Rovers defence and the home striker looked to be in a position to go one v one but Cooper calmly came out of his area and headed the ball to a teammate.
He will be disappointed that his run of facing penalties without saving one (now 0/8) in an Argyle shirt has continued but he can hardly be blamed for that in isolation.
James Wilson, CB – 7
Wilson looked solid defensively for the most part, though there were moments when Rovers attackers snuck in behind him. By and large, his pressing was good and showed an instinct to win the ball that was lacking from certain defenders particuarly at the back end of last season.
The biggest concern coming out of the game was Wilson’s passing. An over-powered backpass to Cooper in the first half meant he wasn’t able to clear properly, a couple of poor passes from his teammates put him under pressure a few times in the second half and he did not look totally when they happened. Those moments are going to come during the season and Wilson will need to polish up his ball control and awareness to prevent turnovers in dangerous positions that could prove costly.
Dan Scarr, CB – 7
Strong start for Scarr, who was dominant in the air and mopped up most that came his way. It would be unfair to call his first half duels with Ayunga a contest – there was only one winner, and that pattern largely continued in the second half, wave for one moment when he lost balance and was shrugged off by Langlais.
It’s clear that Scarr isn’t that quick, but he was just able to anticipate the danger on each occasion that a quick forward looked primed to break in behind – that or it was mopped up by a teammate.
For all the talk by Walsall fans that Scarr can’t pass, the early signs are promising. The back-three as a unit sometimes got too cocky in the second half and ran the risk of giving away possession, but Scarr’s passing was good overall. As time passes, it should hopefully continue to improve.
Macauley Gillesphie, CB – 6
It was a very good first half for the new defender who built positive momentum from an imposing performance at Saltash in midweek. He won headers well and looked comfortable carrying the ball out from the back.
One moment of madness however, put a dampener on his display. A needless push in the back to a Rovers striker on the border of the penalty area, just two minutes after the interval, gave them the spot kick they needed to get a draw. Let’s hope we can just put it down to a lack of freshness.
Jordan Houghton, DM – 7
Had he made it into the second half, Houghton would have probably been an 8, but his impact was reduced sinec he didn’t even make it to half-time. After a slow first fifteen minutes in which he demand the ball from the defence and failed to play the quarterback role, missing three out of three long passes, he took control of the game.
Changing tack and playing a short-passing game, he found space in the middle of the pitch, called for possession and slid nice passes through the midfield press to release the likes of Mayor and Grant. Dominated the midfield from then until his injury.
His defending, the big question mark arond Houghton, was good enough, though Rovers players twice skipped past him. He’ll have to stand up to tougher tests against better players and teams, and if Houghton and Randell are Lowe’s two options at DM, then that’s an almighty gamble that might not pay off.
Joe Edwards, RWB – 6
Worked hard off the ball but was rarely on it. As was the case last season, while Mayor and Grant ran the show on the left, Edwards and Camara created fewer openings but looked more solid defensively. That’s pretty much all that can be said, given how quiet Argyle’s right flank was.
Panutche Camara, CM – 6
Camara continues to be a player that offers more off the ball than on it. His attacking movement almost saw him get on the end of a couple of crosses from the left wing, his pressing off the ball almost saw him steal the ball and run clean through, and his defensive work supported Wilson and Edwards.
However, when he had the ball, Rovers almost always had players behind it and so Camara almost always opted for the sideways or backwards pass. He remains a player who probably shouldn’t start in games that Argyle are expecting to see the vast majority of the ball, as Conor Grant or Adam Randell could probably do a better job unlocking those defenses. That does mean that he’s quite likely to stand out in the upcoming matches against Championship opposition.
Danny Mayor, CM – 7
Mayor’s trademark drop of the shoulder was on display once again. However, once again, no goals or assists. It’s harsh, I know. He does a lot for the team, he gets us further up the pitch than we otherwise would be, but every game against a side like Rovers that he doesn’t score or assist against is a reminder that, with his wonderful talents, he can do so much more.
Superb challenge charging back to prevent a Rovers counter-attack, though that’s all I can remember of him from the second half before he was subbed.
Conor Grant, LWB – 7
Combined wonderfully with Mayor at times in the first half and delivered some good crosses, but nothing exceptional. Best cross found Ennis somehow – what was going on with the defending?! – unmarked at the backpost, eight yards out, but he headed wide with the aid of a deflection (on first glance, looked to me like it was going wide anyway).
Switched seamlessly into centre-mid after Mayor went off and almost made space for a trademark long-range screamer with minutes left, but couldn’t get it out of his feet properly.
Luke Jephcott, ST – 7
Weird rating for Jephcott, who was only inthe game twice before he was substituted. He won the penalty after being budled over as he attempted to control a long ball by Wilson right on the edge of the area, then scored expertly. And he picked up a loose ball to perfeclty thread it through for Hardie’s one-on-one.
Otherwise, he rarely saw the ball and – worryingly continuing a trend from the second half of last season – got on the end of no passes into the box despite plenty of Argyle territory and pressure. It’s not that the chances weren’t there, just that Jephcott was never in the right place to receive any. That needs to change.
Ryan Hardie, ST – 5
Movement: excellent. Finishing: poor. That’s probably generous.
Hardie had all the chances – as in, apart from the penalty, every chance before he was substituted fell to him. Two headers, both of which he didn’t get enough on, a snapshot too close to the keeper, a terribly executed lob when one-on-one, a cross-cum-shot that found neither the target nor a teammate. He should have scored at least one. He could have had a hattrick on the right day.
On a positive note, Hardie sometimes struggled to get in the right positions last season, but this time he was making perfectly timed surges into the right position. Now he just needs an apprenticeship at the Paul Wotton school of finishing in Truro that so clearly worked for Jephcott.
Adam Randell, DM – 8 (38 for Houghton)
In the unusual position of being forced on shortly before half time due to Jordan Houghton’s injury, Randell adapted well to a testing situation. At first, he looked a little wobbly defensively, not quite dropping into the right places as well as Houghton had before him.
That said, let’s not let it take away from a very promising performance from the Plymstock Pirlo [editor’s note, grow up] on the whole. He would often attempt brave incisive passes, some of which cut through the Rovers defence and nearly created goalscoring opportunities, but for a slight lack of composure on behalf of some of the strikers.
He was always open to receiving the ball and recycling it across the field with a short pass where necessary and his defensive work vastly improved as the game went on. One late interception on the edge of the penalty area could have been particularly vital. Overall, he showed himself to be a strong contender for the season to come.
Niall Ennis, ST – 6 (54 for Jephcott)
Ennis was another player who had an up and down game. The general standard of play got worse when he was on the field, but that was more due to the ebb and flow being disrupted by substitutions more so than any errors on his part.
On the rare occasions Argyle did threaten, his dynamic movement pulled defenders out of position and he looked the most likely to cause problems.
However, we can’t get away from that miss. He really should have won Argyle the game late on when he had a header unmarked and in a great position from a Conor Grant corner but unfortunately he wasn’t able to direct the ball on target. He scores a lot of goals, all things considered, but his finishing can still let him down at times.
Callum Burton, GK – 6 (62 for Cooper)
Burton came on for Cooper part way through the second half and, like his goalkeeping counterpart, did also not come in for a lot of testing.
He had to save one serious effort and did so very well, beating away a sharp, low shot that would surely have won Rovers the game. His one wobble came moments later, coming a long way off his line for a free kick that he did not connect to. Thankfully, nor did the incoming striker. Otherwise, the game would have been won with its final real moment.
The only other thing worth noting is Burton’s passing, which was a noticeable drop off from Cooper and contributed to Argyle’s poorer second half, in which they struggled to get on the ball as much as before.
Brendan Galloway, CB – (66 for Gillesphey)
A mixed bag from Argyle’s trialist who showed the Green Army that they some reasons to be excited, whilst also demonstrating reasons to remain grounded. After being introduced, he looked more than a little sluggish. Perhaps this is to be expected from a player who has had only five competitive starts in as many years.
That said, he did grow into the game as it went on, making some good interceptions to stop home attacks. He also showed some good overlapping runs down the left wing. If he isn’t needed at centre-back, you’d think he’d be eminently capable of covering the wing-back position
Rhys Shirley, ST – 6 (75 for Hardie)
Argyle fans were excited to see what this youngster could do after a very promising cameo at Saltash the other night. Alas, despite some promising runs and good touches, he did not find himself with the same space to be able to exploit against professional league defenders.
That said, he made some runs into the right areas and displayed good game awareness, even if it did not quite pay off for him with the ball at his feet.
Ryan Law, LWB – 6 (69 for Mayor)
Law came on for Danny Mayor halfway through the second half, forcing Conor Grant inside into the central midfield spot. Whilst the young substitute was defensively competent, it’s tough to argue we didn’t lose a little bit of the crossing threat from wide areas that Grant provided.
Law seemed a little too keen to impose himself on the central areas and less keen to offer a regular outlet out wide. That said, he made no obvious errors and helped see the game out as a draw.
Ollie Tomlinson, CB – n/a (84 for Scarr)
Tomlinson came into the side with just a few minutes to go and whilst not directly attributable to any error, will perhaps be disappointed that Rovers’ best two chances occurred with him on the pitch. Perhaps the vocal voice of Dan Scarr was missed?
Finley Craske, RWB – n/a (84 for Edwards)
Alongside Tomlinson, Craske came on with minutes to go and didn’t really have much of a chance to stamp an impression on the game. A couple of touches of the ball in congested areas are not sufficient evidence from which to draw conclusions. However, it’s worth noting that he looks considerably stronger than he did during his brief run outs for Argyle last year, which should increase his chances of being successful with the club in the long-run.