Bristol City edged out Plymouth Argyle in another well contested pre-season friendly against strong opposition.

For the third consecutive game, Argyle lost by a single goal to near-full strengh Championship opposition, which is a promising sign, though a win against Torquay feels required after the Pilgrims have thus far squandered opportunities to get the right results that their performances have deserved against professional opponents.

Michael Cooper, GK – 6

Difficult performance to grade for Cooper. Passing was as composed and accurate as you could expect. Gave away the penalty, showing his inexperience to plough through the back of O’Dowda but not claim the ball, only to then save Chris Martin’s poor effort, the first penalty he’s saved in nine attempts. Had few other shots to save and had no chance with the only goal of the game. Not that City didn’t have chances, just that Palmer, Martin and Weiman wasted some great openings.

Cooper wasn’t totally error prone himself last season, and will need to iron out those silly mistakes to avoid costing Argyle needless goals in the season ahead.

James Wilson, CB – 7

Read the game very well at times, closing passing lanes and blocking off space. Strong in the air alongside his fellow centre-backs, a welcome sight after the last season.

Most impressive was how he fared up against O’Dowda, a fast, dangerous winger. Yet, he more than held his own, impressively using his experience to ease him out on occasion when you’d expect the difference in speed to tell. However, he switched off when he fouled O’Dowda but the referee somehow waved play on while both players involved waited for the whistle, allowing the winger to get up and set up a huge chance for Ciry to kill the game off. In Wilson’s defence, he did receive a stray elbow as O’Dowda went down that gave him a nose bleed.

Dan Scarr, CB – 8

Experience isn’t always the answer, but Argyle’s defence was crying out for it after last season and Scarr, together with other signings, look like they’re going to leave Argyle with a far stronger foundation at the back.

The mark of a good defender is to go unnoticed as much as possible: they read the game and make deal with danger quickly and efficiently before it becomes too threatening. Thus far, Scarr has largely ticked those boxes despite facing some tough opposition. That Scarr is not the fastest but has been able to beat quicker players to the ball when teams are on the counter speaks to the way he reads passes.

Likewise, Scarr is clearly not the best passer, but has remained calm and composed when under pressure and avoided making any clangers  – that I can recall – despite some strong pressure on him. Equally, he’s clearly a far better passer than Walsall fans give him credit for.

Brendan Galloway, CB – 6

A couple of great defensive moments, as he stuck close to Wieman early on and make the first opening of the game significantly harder than it otherwise would have been. Similarly, he provided excellent covering, racing back to prevent a City second on the counter, intercepting as O’Dowda tried to put Wieman clean-through, though the question could be asked – why wasn’t he there in the first place?

However, he was beaten by Wieman to create a brilliant chance for Martin – though that could be expected of a player who will be rusty, given he’s barely started any professional games over the past four seasons.

Looked comfortable dribbling the ball forwards when space opened up, but less so when the press was put on him. On first viewing, his passing possibly the worst of the four CBs we’ve seen (still no sight of James Bolton), though maybe he doesn’t have the confidence to attempt passes he could otherwise make.

Jordan Houghton, DM – 7

Set the tempo nicely, though should have done more in the first fifteen as Bristol City dominated the ball. After that, he and Mayor in particular teamed up to hold possession, take the sting out of City and give Argyle the platform to create chances of their own.

Two things in particular impressed me: first, Houghton’s willingness to break the lines and burst forward through the middle, which we almost never saw last season and rarely in 2019/20. Second, he knows when to not get involved. Always demanding the ball makes him an easier target to close down Argyle’s passing route out of defence. Allowing the ball to pass him by at times as City crowded the centre of the pitch with their four attackers allowed Mayor to pick up the ball either in space or with no protection behind the next line of players, or for the wide centre-backs to carry the ball forward themselves.

Poked in and won the ball back here and there, but overall Argyle’s centre of midfield remains a big problem area defensively and Bristol City created some openings, by making space to run through it with simple pass and move. As the deepest player, doubts will lead to questions about whether he is secure enough defensively if that occurs during the season.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

Nearly turned the ball home, but the cross was just too far behind him and he struck it wide on his left foot from a signature late surge into the box to meet a Grant cross. Similarly, he had the last effort of the game after Shirley went down in the area, but his snapshot through the crowd was too close to Bentley, who saved well.

Overall, pretty quiet and didn’t deliver any dangerous crosses, unlike his brilliant ball against Swansea for Ennis to waste.

Panutche Camara CM – 7

Pressed superbly in spells, though didn’t turn over possession as effectively as he has in previous matches. Tidy but quiet in possession and failed to offer any late runs into the box of quality, which he should have been aiming to deliver given some of the crossing opportunities for Grant on the left.

Needs to find another gear sometimes,

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Created Argyle’s best chance of the game, dropping his shoulder in signature Mayor style to beat two midfielders, driving at the centre of defence rather than at a full-back, before reading Jephcott’s late dart inside and playing a perfectly weighted pass to put him through. If only he had the finish.

Like the rest of the team, seemed timid, or overawed, or inferior during the first 15 minutes as City dominated. Yet, for the next ten Argyle’s midfield asserted themselves and began to create chances. The final twenty were more balanced, but Mayor was the creative spark more than any other player, and deserved an assist from the game.

Still needs to learn that ALWAYS SLOWING DOWN THE ATTACK is not a benefit. Sure, he’s maybe better set to deliver a cross instead of playing it first time on his left foot, but guess what? The number of players defending the opposition box has doubled in that time and you’re going to end up passing backwards. Infuritating.

Conor Grant, LWB – 6

Delivered some good crosses, most notably the one that fell just behind Edwards. Set-piece delivery wasn’t as good as it should have been. Defended competently and played some lovely passes inside that kept attacks moving, but it was a relatively quiet game for Grant otherwise.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 4

Desperately needs to work on his shooting on the run. Go back and look at his goals for Argyle: he’s almost never sprinting with the ball at his feet. The big chances he’s had when on the run – the first ones that spring to mind for me are Bristol Rovers away, Doncaster away, Swansea a week back and tonight – never seem to find the net.

Here, he was largely anonymous. He was dominated in the air when Argyle went long and a bit sloppy in possession when the ball came to his feet, but came to life with that dart inside Rob Atkinson to be put through by Mayor, only to waste the biggest chance of the first half.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

For most of the game, he worked hard but saw little of the ball. Ran the channels as well as you’d expect him to, but a tough game with no chances falling to him – until Ennis slipped him in behind on the angle and he drilled an excellent left footed shot towards the top corner, but Bentley parried away. Argyle’s best shot of the match, but it still came to nothing.

Not that it was Hardie’s fault tonight, but over pre-season he has been the biggest waster of chances, along with Jephcott and Ennis. Surely at least one of them has to find their scoring boots and start finishing these chances, else Argyle’s season is not going to start well at all.

Substitutes

Macaulay Gillesphey, CB – 7

More willing to take a risk with the ball than Galloway, including some nice switches of the play. Defended tidily and looks to be a good member of the trio at the back along with Scarr and Wilson. Personally, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t start the season first choice, but if he makes sloppy mistakes – as he did against Rovers – then the door is definitely open for Galloway to come in.

Niall Ennis, ST – 8

Instant impact off the bench, injecting the energy that Jephcott struggled to offer and knitted together Argyle’s midfield and attack, particularly on the counter. Started or ended almost every chance Argyle had in the final half hour.

Had a deflected shot that nearly spun in, burst beyond the defence, cut inside and shot at Bentley, hit one from range that was parried away and nearly got in behind right at the very last. Created the chance for Hardie and almost put him in behind five minutes prior. Was dangerous every time he got the ball and if Argyle were to score, it seemed as though was going to involve Ennis in some way.

Staked his claim to start away at Rotherham.

Adam Randell, DM – 6

Randell has done no harm to his chances of raking up the minutes during the coming season after another good display in pre-season against another near-full strength Championship side.

Unlike Houghton, Randell displays that extra level of fearlessness so often associated with youth. Houghton can be more passive in possession and take fewer risks; no such cautiousness from Randell! A graduate of the school of Mayor, he’ll drop to receive the ball, spin, and try to get things going whenever he can. Excellent range of passing, even if a couple were just out today.

Shame about the two, poor set-piece deliveres right at the end as Argyle chased an equaliser, but I won’t be surprised when he gets an extended run ahead of Houghton in defensive midfield during the coming season, I’m increasingly sure it’s going to happen. Maybe even in centre midfield.

Rhys Shirley, ST – n/a

Wasted a chance in behind by running it too close to the defender, though won a coner that Randell wasted. Should have won a penalty I think – looked to be clipped as he poked the ball to Edwards as the ball bounced around the box from a set-piece.

Ryan Law, LWB – n/a

Came on but had nothing to do, save a nice pass inside to Randell. Only had a few minutes at the end.

?>