Plymouth Argyle went down to a shocking 4-0 defeat at home to Rochdale, ending the unbeaten run in dramatic fashion. After no losses at Home Park since New Year’s Day, this was some way to start. The game was virtually beyond us by half-time, going in three down. The second half was a bit better but not notably so. Whilst we did create some chances, we were brutally picked apart on the counter and made a catalogue of ridiculous individual errors in defence.

Starting XI

Mike Cooper – GK, 3

It was once again a disapointing evening for Argyle’s young keeper who seems to be fast estabishing himself as a player of feast of famine. He didn’t do a LOT wrong. If we’re being charitable, we could even say that he did well for the first goal, forcing Beasley to a tight angle following the initial defensive mix-up. That said, he really didn’t do a long right either. His kicking was unmemorable and I can’t actually remember a save he made. Most of the time, his hands were only on the ball to pick it out of the net.

This is before we mention his decision to inexplicably play tiki-taka football with Byron Moore on the edge of his own penalty area, leading to the fourth goal. Moore was dispossessed but it was a ridiculous pass by Cooper to go short in the situation. Moore had a man on him and could have done nothing other than, at best, boot the ball out of play.

Scott Wootton – RCB, 3

Truth be told, there was a time that I was willing to cut Wootton some slack tonight. Argyle were 2-0 down after some kamikaze defending contributed to both goals. But of all of them, Wootton was probably least culpable. He also did produce a couple of excellent blocks to prevent the scoreline looking even uglier.

Then, and there’s no way of making this sound better, he saw the ball heading into the bottom corner and just…let it go in. Let me repeat: he just watched the ball go into the goal. Despite having the means to deal with it comfortably he decided, and I need to drill this in because it still shocks me, to watch the ball nestle into the bottom corner while thinking “yep, this is fine.” Honestly, he was an active hinderance to defending the danger. Had he not been there, at least he wouldn’t have distracted his own goalkeeper.

Cue a half time substitution, and another clanger to add to the collection.

Niall Canavan – CB, 2

Contrary to popular belief, playing to the whistle isn’t the first thing kids are taught when they start playing football. But yes, by the time they become highly paid professionals, they should be aware that you can’t just stop playing whenever you feel like it. Niall Canavan, inexplicably, failed at that very objective against Rochdale.

Was the ball out of play for the visitors’ second goal? Maybe. The perspective from every camera Argyle had in operation made it impossible to tell. But Canavan assuming it was going to be called was scandalous. He wasn’t the only man at fault in the omnishambles that followed, but had he decided not to suddenly have the night off, the issue would have been stopped at source.

As an advocate for Canavan starting up until this game, this was not a night to remember for me or the Irishman.

Kelland Watts – LCB, 4

Uhh. Not a memorable night for the Newcastle loanee, which I have quickly discovered is a running theme. He was completely caught out for the first goal when he tried to play the offside trap and failed miserably, and his defending for the fourth (I still can’t believe I’m writing that after a home game against Rochdale) left a fair bit to be desired.

What really grated in this one though was his profligacy going forward. Honestly, how many times did he give the ball away during his time on the field. Well, I could probably look it up and find out, but after watching 90 minutes of that I don’t have the will to look up the stats just yet. But it was a lot, is my point.

Against a side as good on the counter as Rochdale, with a defence as hapless as Argyle’s, that was suicide.

Tyrese Fornah – DCM, 3

Tyrese Fornah seems absolutely fine on the ball. Perhaps that’s what makes Lowe like him so much. We saw as much with Jerome Opoku starting in the centre of defence to start attacks. However, much like we’ve seen with Opoku, Fornah is failing in his primary role in this system: defending.

In his position, and particularly against good counter attacking sides, Fornah needs to be the player cutting out attacks and stopping the simple passing avenues for the opposition. Against Rochdale, he almost seemed to do the opposite. He was so weak in the tackle when attempting to stop the first, and on many occasions he was nowhere to be seen for the second balls he ought to be eager to mop up.

I’m happy to be proved wrong in the coming weeks, but if Argyle are looking for this season’s Josh Grant behind the midfield, Fornah isn’t the man.

Joe Edwards – RWB, 7. Player of the Match

I can only assume Lowe recognised the game was already lost at half time, and he wanted to trial something new. Because bringing off Joe Edwards at half time when he was the only attacking threat Argyle possessed for the first 45 minutes would be mesmerically stupid otherwise.

Much like Saturday, Argyle looked most dangerous down the right in the absence of Danny Mayor. Edwards was a key cog in that, and almost set up Luke Jephcott for an equaliser soon after the game restarted after the first half injury delay. It goes without saying that this wasn’t as good as his Lincoln performance, particularly in defence, but he still stood out amongst the dirge in the first half.

I sincerely hope Lowe was just giving his right wing back a rest for the second half.

Conor Grant – RCM, 7

Grant, alongside Edwards, is the only other player to come out of this omnishambles with any credit. He was quiet in the first half and missed a half-decent chance for what would have been 1-2, fairly early in the second half. That said, he did really grow into the game as it went on. His best spell, curiously, was when he was moved into the wing-back role just after half-time.

He got up and down the line well in this position, ensuring that Argyle’s left hand side was secure. As well as this, he did also deliver some decent crosses into the box. Unfortunately, nobody had their finishing boots on to get on the end of them.

Ben Reeves – LCM, 4

Picture the scene: Argyle kick off the second half needing an Istanbul-style comeback to save the game. Within two minutes of the restart, the ball falls to Ben Reeves on the volley on the edge of the box, just days after he scored a screamer in similar circumstances against Lincoln. Once again he catches the ball on his left foot and sends it…wide. It just wasn’t to be for Reeves tonight.

He was far from the worst player in Green, and his second half performance was enough for me to consider bumping his rating up a little. However, his overall influence (or lack of) was a little problematic. The lack of Mayor in the middle has left a huge creativity void, and thus far Reeves hasn’t been able to fill it. Edwards has been great in the last two games, but he shouldn’t need to be Argyle’s main source of attacks.

Perhaps Reeves will be better alongside Mayor. Will we find out one day?

George Cooper – LWB, 5

George Cooper, with a 5, escapes as one of Argyle’s better players on the day by virtue of not having played much of the game. Yep, that’s how bad it was.

It has been notable in the last couple of games how much he struggles without Danny Mayor alongside him, but we can’t really pass much judgement on that from tonight’s showing. He may have been playing injured from the start – who knows? Hopefully both will be back soon an we’ll be able to see Argyle’s attack at its fluent best.

Frank Nouble – ST, 4

Nouble gets a 4, but it’s certainly closer to a 3 than a 5. In the first half he was very quiet, generally failing to get involved in any of Argyle’s admittedly limited attacking moves. And in the second, when he was involved, he was annoyingly wasteful. He squandered a couple of headers that could have put Argyle back in with a shout, and was barely involved in the creative side of the game.

Credit has to go to him for putting his body about, and still trying to develop openings for his side with his physicality. He was certainly better in the air than he was against Fleetwood last week, for instance. However, that’s hardly an achievement, and tonight certainly wasn’t his game.

Luke Jephcott – ST, 5

Jephcott is an excellent young striker who, all being well, will be hugely beneficial to Argyle’s promotion chances or Argyle’s bank balance one of these days. Maybe both. That said, it wasn’t his day today. He was busy and energetic, like he always did. He got into deadly positions through electric movement, like he always does.

Where he did unusually let himself down was his finishing. Argyle’s best two chances of the game both fell to him at close range. The first one was tapped against the post and the second he couldn’t get a good connection on. You’d usually expect him to finish one or both of those chances. Today, it wasn’t to be.

Substitutes

Byron Moore – LWB/RWB, 4

Moore came on for Cooper, and despite a good run of performances when he was rushed to LWB of part of Argyle’s COVID inspired reshuffle, he was pretty awful today. He replaced the injured Cooper and immediately managed to make a bad situation worse, offering next to no end product. One well delivered cross onto the head of Nouble was the one exception to the rule.

He also has to take a lot of blame for the catastrophe of the fourth goal. Yes, Mike Cooper played him into trouble, but Moore should have put his foot through the ball to clear it. Instead, he too tried to be too cute in his own penalty area and was dispossessed.

Will Aimson – RCB, 4

Aimson came on at half-time for Scott Wootton and, whilst there was some merit in sending a message to the dreadful defence, he was pretty anonymous. He didn’t do loads wrong but his passing was aimless.

He probably would be a five out of ten but he totally missed a chance to clear the ball before the fourth goal, after the Cooper/Watts fiasco. Not good but he’ll still probably return to the team for the Ipswich game, if only by default.

Jerome Opoku – CB, 6

Opoku was the best of the five Argyle centre-backs to play today and he still didn’t play especially well. He’s closer to a 5 than a 7. He didn’t do anything outstanding and there are some questions to be asked about his passing out from the back.

But, he didn’t look like he was playing with a blindfold on and he didn’t make any errors that led directly to goals. That at least is a step above the others.

Ryan Hardie – ST, 4.

I’m getting a bit numb with Hardie at the moment. Usually this season he works very hard, gets in good scoring chances but just can’t find the net. Today, he got in one semi decent area but that was about it and he spent much of the game anonymous, not really making any clear runs or effort to get the ball.

Is it time to ask the question? How long does his blip in form continue to be called a blip? How long before we question if perhaps last season was the blip after all? He needs improvement and he needs it soon. The worry is that nobody can score without Jephcott.

Panutche Camara – CM, 5

Well…he came on, he ran a lot. That’s about it. Certainly none of it appeared to be to great effect. Camara is a good player for us but on days like this, you just have to accept that nearly everyone has had an off day. He missed a good chance for what would have surely been a totally worthless consolation goal in stoppage time. The best you can say is that he got into good positions.

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