It was another afternoon where, whilst he had by no means a shocker, there were some questions raised over the performance of the Arsenal loanee. Could he have done better for their first goal, scored from a very tight angle? Should he be claiming more high balls played deep into our penalty area? Does his kicking need some serious work? He made a few decent saves but the negatives outweighed the positives today.
Joe Riley – 6
Somewhat debunking the thinking that our full backs only look bad due to lack of protection Riley had a decent game and was generally solid in defence apart from a few robust challenges (one of which saw the referee take his name). He also provided a couple of dangerous underlapping runs in the first half without getting caught on the counter-attack at the other end. There was one instance from an Oxford counter when he backed off a little too much, but mostly he was fine. Given Tafari Moore’s bad run of form, Riley now has an opportunity to make that right-back slot his own.
Yann Songo’o – 4
Unfortunately, whilst his defensive work was decent (he kept Jamie Mackie fairly quiet), his distribution out from the back which can normally fairly passable was very poor today. On occasion he even shanked the ball out of play under no pressure from opposition forwards. A disappointing afternoon for him.
Canavan – 6
Just like his defensive partner, Canavan did a decent job at his defensive duties. His distribution was by no means John Stones-esque, but it was at least satisfactory. He certainly looks to have one of the more secure starting spots in the starting 11 currently.
Smith-Brown – 5
It was another “what might have been” afternoon for the young left-back. He once again showed that he is technically capable with both feet, able to hold his own in the air and have the pace and energy to charge up and down the line and offer us width in attack. Sadly, he was caught out for the opening goal, and needs to show more quality when crossing the ball.
David Fox – 7
The 4-2-3-1 system played by Adams meant that Fox was higher up the pitch than best suited and had to do a lot more chasing and pressing than he would in his preferred position in the 4-1-2-3. Considering the job he was asked to do, Fox did well. Both of Oxford’s goals came from exploiting space left by Fox being higher up the pitch. It is harsh to blame him for that as it is of the manager’s doing.
Jamie Ness – 6
Ness was another one to find himself booked before half-time, albeit the referee stopping play to book him rather than playing an Oxford advantage probably saved Argyle! Ness didn’t use the ball as well as he did in the Fleetwood game, and is continuing to have a topsy-turvy season with regards to form.
Antoni Sarcevic – 7 – Man of the Match
A strong performance full of energy and industry which also saw him net his second goal of the season with a delightful flick. Whilst the 4-2-3-1 has its flaws as highlighted above, it does allow Sarcevic to find space in the hole behind the striker and play as an out-and-out attacking midfielder, a role which he was lethal in when playing for Fleetwood and showed again today.
Graham Carey – 7
It’s still not quite the Graham Carey we all know and love and still he isn’t quite firing on all cylinders. But he’s not a million miles away. There was still the odd moment where it looked like frustration had got the better of him, and some sloppy moments where he misplaced passes in the attacking third. But his cross for our goal was excellent, and the raking 50-yard pass to set Joel Grant free for his first-half chance was even better.
Joel Grant – 7
Argyle fed a lot of high balls to Grant in the first-half especially, and his ability to bring them down, hold off his marker and lay the ball off was superb. His dribbling also gained us valuable territory when he was supplied with the ball to feet. What let him down a little today was his end product, in particular the aforementioned chance from the first half. He sold the defender with a really smart dummy, but then put his shot from well inside the box into the side netting. He has to be hitting the target from there.
Freddie Ladapo – 4
Ladapo has won us a lot of points this season with his invaluable goals, but the familiar issues regarding Ladapo’s hold-up play came to the fore again today. His first touch was poor, his movement in deeper areas wasn’t good, he made the wrong runs, and when presented with a golden chance to play in Grant in the second half, he completely overhit the through ball. He needed to be more physical, win his aerial duals and bring the midfield into play but he was unable to do it. Opposition teams will no doubt look at his aerial difficulties and press our defence into playing long balls up to him as a result.
Ruben Lameiras – 5
Ruben had limited time to try and salvage a replay for Argyle and his first action was a pointless dummy which lost possession and led to an Oxford counter-attack. This was cancelled out by a wonderful volley at the death which hit the outside of the post and nearly salvaged Argyle’s day. It wasn’t to be.
Ryan Taylor – 7
Curtis Nelson probably quite enjoyed his dominance over Ladapo for the majority of this match, but once Taylor came on the aerial duals were far more of a contest. Taylor showed his quality in the short time he was on, providing the kind of link of play that Carey and Lameiras thrived off last season.