For the sixth time this season, Plymouth Argyle found themselves locked at 2-2 in League Two. However, away at Salford, they bucked the trend, scoring a 92nd minute winner to steal all three points.

Ryan Hardie scored a memorable late solo-goal to win the game, his forth in just four substitute appearances following a run of no goals in three starts. Prior to that Antoni Sarcevic stole the show, delivering an inch-perfect cross for Byron Moore to open the scoring before scoring a screamer to make it 2-1 just as Salford seemed to be turning the game around.

Alex Palmer, GK – 7

It was a game of two-halves for Palmer and Plymouth Argyle’s defence on the whole. In the first half, led superbly by Niall Canavan, Salford barely threatened. In the second, they scored two and could have had three more. So, while Palmer was quiet initially and could have done better to prevent James Wilson’s first from squirming in, he did also deny Wilson a hattrick to put Salford ahead not once but twice.

Scott Wootton, CB – 6

Neat and tidy for the most part, but like the rest of the defence he looked uncomfortable when Salford started to put together wave after wave of attacks, which culminated in a string of good chances for Argyle’s opposition to win the game, far more than Argyle probably deserved to on the balance of the whole match.

Wootton’s highlight was an expertly timed intervention to block Adam Rooney from converting an excellent right-wing cross by Ashley Hunter right in-front of goal. However, he also failed to pick up Rooney later on when the big-striker completely failed to connect from five yards to make the score 1-1 and was perhaps drawn out to the wing too-easily when Salford scored their second equaliser, distorting Argyle’s defensive shape so much that Bakinson was left marking danger-man Wilson.

Niall Canavan, CB – 6

Canavan enjoyed a dominant opening hour as he helped keep Salford’s dangerous (and very expensive) front four at bay. That was, until ex-Man United player James Wilson came on… Canavan’s evening can be easily split into BW and AW, that is before-Wilson and after-Wilson. Before, Canavan was around an 8 and well in contention to be named the best performer in green. After Wilson’s arrival, things changed almost immediately.

Wilson beat Canavan to the ball to equaliser a first time and failed to intercept the cross for the second equaliser. Then, Wilson easily ran beyond the Irishman, only for Salford’s pitch to conspire against him and bounce the ball behind his run, putting him off and making Palmer’s double-save decidedly less tricky. Finally, he was exposed to a 2-on-1 by some lackluster midfield play, with Wilson going clean-through again, only for Palmer to thwart his would-be-winner.

Callum McFadzean, CB – 6

Starting with the positives, McFadzean was very much Argyle’s ace in the hole during the first half. The benefit of having an unmarked winger starting at left-back is that they can maraud forward virtually unmarked and create space for others. We saw this with the opening goal – it was he that made the initial break – his near-assist for Byron Moore, when he found himself in his common position beyond the defence, fed by Danny Mayor, and when he drove forward and was unfortunate to see a last-ditch interception prevent Moore running clean-through.

However, defensively there were big question-marks. He positioned himself far too often as a left-back rather than a left-centre back, creating big problems for his fellow defenders. Just take Rooney’s missed chance in the second-half, caused by McFadzean’s poor positioning dragging Canavan out of position and opening the space for the cross into Rooney. Had Canavan not been sucked out of the centre, he would have easily intercepted the cross.

Additionally, he should have been marking Wilson for the second equaliser, as Sawyer would have, rather than Bakinson. Instead he was focused on Hunter, the winger, who should not have been his man. It’s not entirely surprising that this was the case, given he is a wing-back by trade, but this is no doubt worrying going into another big game against Crewe on Saturday.

Tyreeq Bakinson, CDM – 5

Despite some rave reviews, Bakinson still has many areas of improvement left in his game, and defensively they were on show tonight. One of his biggest problems is a relative lack of defensive awareness, that is an ability to sense the danger before it appears. Instead, he’s far more comfortable tracking a player and getting up-close, which means he can be susceptible to following a runner. That tends to open up space behind Sarcevic and Mayor for opponents to charge into, and Salford regularly took advantage of that.

Joe Edwards and Josh Grant are far more comfortable when patiently occupying space, holding their nerve and block passing lanes. So, while Bakinson gets up in players faces and turns the ball over more often, he can do so at the expense of opening big gaps to be exploited. That’s not to mention that Bakinson was (albeit expertly) shrugged off by Wilson to level the scores and was at fault (along with Sarcevic) when he allowed Canavan to be exposed 2-on-1, leading to Palmer’s 1-v-1 save to deny Wilson a hattrick. Oh, and he struggled in the air, winning 2 of 9 headers.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 7

Edwards was hardly that good tonight, but the game just appeared to suit him better. Despite facing some very dangerous opponents, he was resolute defensively and largely held-up his flank during the waves of second-half Salford attacks. He and Sarcevic also interchanged nicely on a bumpy pitch that suited their more direct style than more the intricate passing of Mayor and Cooper on the opposite flank.

Antoni Sarcevic, CM – 8, player of the match

He wasn’t the match-winner but he deserved to be. Firstly, that cross was perfect for Byron Moore to score the opener – as a striker you could hardly ask for a better delivery. Then, to top that, he scored a goal of the season contender, striking on the outside of his right-boot through a crowd of players into the top corner from 20 yards.

I’d love to say that it helped to swing the momentum, as Salford had been building up pressure before getting their equaliser only for Sarcevic to burst the bubble, but they equalised within minutes and then should have gone in-front, so, yeah…

Nevertheless, the Manchester Messi (come on, grow up people) Sarcevic was a constant source of drive and energy in an attack badly lacking it on a bad pitch that was compounded by terrible weather conditions. It was always a game that would suit he and Edwards over Mayor and Cooper, and so it proved. Sarcevic took advantage of that and played a critical role in delivering three massive points towards the promotion push.

Danny Mayor, CM – 5

This was not a game for Mayor. The centre of the pitch was cut-up before the game even started and thus his passing and dribbling was never going to be at the level we know it can be. Worse, Salford lined up with two strong defensive midfielders tasked with closing him down quickly, denying him the time and space he likes to construct attacks (it didn’t work for Sarcevic though, who loves to take on a high-pressing midfield and bully his way into the space beyond).

Aside from that, Mayor was untidy, giving the ball away far too much. He looked at his best when he was able to work his way into the corners of the pitch where the turf was more even. He helped get McFadzean in behind in the first-half and dropped his shoulder wonderfully a few times from set-piece routines, though the cross didn’t come to anything.

George Cooper, LWB – 6

Cooper was largely anonymous throughout the game, spending less time in the opposition half than Joe Edwards (which is a very rare eventuality). However, he gets a 6 rather than a 5 because of two factors: first, he delivered three fantastic crosses, any one of which could have been scored. Antoni Sarcevic was probably the main guilty party for failing to convert one. Second, despite struggling a bit defensively, he did a decent job against a trio of very accomplished wingers.

Byron Moore, ST – 6

Almost a candidate for miss off the season when he failed to convert Sarcevic’s perfect cross from just three yards. Fortunately, his failed attempt at a shot actually trapped the ball under his feet, leaving opposing ‘keeper Letheren on his arse – as if he were facing a 55-yard shot against a teenage Southend debutant… – and allowing him to pivot and sneak the ball into the empty net.

Otherwise, Moore was quiet, strangled by Argyle’s lack of threat in the final third. There was lots of running but not much to show for his efforts, though he was twice nearly a beneficiary of McFadzean’s forays forward. Moved to wing-back after Cooper came off and Lowe chased a winner.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 4

Quiet. Very quiet actually. Only touched the ball fifteen times in his hour on the pitch. Like Moore, stifled by Salford’s deep defending in the first half and domination in the second. Unsurprisingly, won 0 of 5 aerial duels as Argyle were forced to play long balls toward him.

Substitutes

Joel Grant, ST – 6

Came on for Jephcott to provide fresh legs and help Argyle see out the lead after Sarcevic’s goal, only for Wilson to equalise within seconds. Struggled for involvement from then on, like the rest of Argyle’s strikers, though I am pleased to report that he has learned to hold the ball in the corner after his ridiculous antics against Stevenage last month.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 7

Wow. Super-sub strikes again. Four substitute appearances, four goals. This one was something to behold: partly because of the amazing effort to run half the length of the pitch, batting away three defenders in the process, and score from a tight angle’ partly because of the dreadful effort Salford made to keep him out.

Particularly amusing was Touray’s attempt to wipe Hardie out from behind and give away a penalty when he was clearly not in the best goal-scoring position anyway. Other highlights include Letheren being beaten far too easily for the goal – it was a very tight angle and he barely seemed to react to the shot – and two dreadful attempts at a tackle on the half-way line by Burgess and O’Conoor.

Josh Grant, DM – n/a

On for a few minutes at the end with the score locked a 2-2, but once Hardie got the winner he did a job in helping Argyle see out their victory.

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