Three pre-seasons matches for Ryan Lowe’s Plymouth Argyle, two losses. After Truro dispatched the Pilgrims a week ago via a fortunate winner, Torquay battered Argyle’s defence repeatedly and a further goal would not have been unfair.
13. Alex Palmer, GK – 6
Hardly the best debut for the new keeper, but he didn’t have much of a chance with the goals he faced. Things started poorly when he sliced a clearance straight out of the stadium with his first touch of the ball, but from then on his kicking was improved. He struck the ball flat and direct, a big improvement on both Macey and Letheren in that regard.
His command of his area was slightly passive, both vocally and when attacking crosses. The high point came when he saved a 1-on-1, but it should be noted that the effort was not a particularly good one as the striker hit it too close to Palmer. Otherwise, he wasn’t given much of a chance with Torquay’s goals.
28. Mike Peck, RCB – 5
Peck started again as Wootton came in on the bench and Aimson continues his recovery from injury. He had some good moments in defence, most notably when he flicked the ball to safety following Palmer’s saved 1-on-1.
However, he was not strong enough in the air, regularly losing headers and allowing Torquay to bring the ball down in dangerous positions, and his passing was once again poor. It’s been great to see him get significant minutes in pre-season, but as we edge closer to the opening match at Crewe we’re going to need a first choice back three start to come together, and he is not yet ready to be part of it.
14. Niall Canavan, CB – 7
For the third game in a row he was clearly the best defender on show. Started from the central position of the back three and sprayed the ball around at will, making some excellent switches of play to Riley on the right wing. If only Argyle had two other defenders who were as comfortable in possession as he.
Defensively, he did more to stand up to Torquay’s attacks than any of his partners. Won more headers and made more tackles than his defensive colleagues and looks to have guaranteed a starting spot at Crewe.
3. Gary Sawyer, LCB – 5
For Sawyer, see Peck. Too weak in the air – as he was against Parkway – and not good enough with the ball at his feet. Looked more comfortable than Peck when pushing forward, but still has to do better.
Defensively, he seriously struggled against the speed and strength of Torquay’s attack. They beat him with ease too often. Sawyer’s strong positional sense has allowed him to continue at left back for years now despite his advancing age, but without the extra support provided by four defenders at the back, he sometimes looked lost.
8. Joe Edwards, CDM – 8
Best player in the first half by quite some distance. Good defensive work at times to tidy up a few Torquay attacks, plus he was by far the most vocal member of the team. In fact, he was just about the only player you could see and hear constantly positioning his teammates. An obvious leader in the pack.
In possession, he was calm and composed. Started the game by keeping it simple, but as it became obvious that Sarcevic and Joel Grant were making little to no impact on the game he started to do their work for them. Drove forward, played passes to break the midfield line and tried his hardest to get Argyle going, but it was difficult for him with two passengers directly in front.
2. Joe Riley, RWB – 7
In Lowe’s 3-1-4-2, he was the only member of the four to play up to the required standard. Probably completed more dribbles than the rest of his teammates combined, often taking the game to Torquay. He held his width and pushed forward, offering Canavan and Edwards the outball they were badly lacking all throughout the first half.
Could have done more with the spaces he found himself in, but, given the total lack of support he received when he reached advanced positions, it’s understandable that he failed to create anything.
7. Antoni Sarcevic, RCM – 4
Sarcevic struggled here. His passing was not good enough, he doesn’t come to receive the ball often enough or well enough. He’s best working off the play of others who are good at that, like he did with Carey and Lameiras. If he is to fit into Lowe’s system, either he must drastically improve in possession or he must start at wing-back.
When Conor Grant came on in the second half, the contrast was stark. He did all the things that Sarcevic failed to do, and virtually everything good came through the Irishman. Meanwhile, Sarcevic looked lost with and without the ball.
16. Joel Grant, LCM – 4
Saved from a rating of 3 by a late flourish in attack, as he sent Jephcott clean through and then put McFadzean in position to deliver a superb cross in the last five minutes. Anonymous in the first half. His skills are nowhere near close to matching those required to play in that central midfield position. His passing total must have been in single figures in the first-half and he gave the ball away too often as well.
Moved up front in the second half but looked lost again. He could learn to play in that position but it’s so obvious that he’d currently fit in at wing-back better than any other role in this system. To be fair to Lowe, he was without a whole host of players tonight that might have forced him to play Grant there, but let’s hope he’s learned the lesson.
23. Ashley Smith-Brown, LWB – 3
From the very start of the match, Smith-Brown really struggled in the left-wing back position. Just like the contrast between Conor Grant and Antoni Sarcevic, the difference in style and performance between ASB and Riley was huge. The latter charged forward fearlessly, broke into the box and took on his full-back, pushing him permanently backwards and forcing him to spend more time thinking about defending than attacking. Meanwhile, whenever Smith-Brown received the ball he half-heartedly jogged towards the full-back, then cut back inside and passed it backwards.
Smith-Brown’s only good moment came when he swung a dangerous cross perfectly into the area, only for Canavan to fluff the header and Sawyer to smack the rebound just wide. He also looked unsure of his positioning in defence, sometimes standing off or pressing at the wrong times and being beaten too easily. The learning curve from here to a starting place ahead of Callum McFadzean looks huge.
29. Alex Fletcher, ST – 5
Fletcher toiled, but to little avail. Because of the total lack of control in central-midfield, Argyle were mostly reduced to aiming long balls at Fletcher in a return to what he had to endure under Derek Adams. While he looked more dangerous than his strike partner Lolos against Parkway – a game in which Argyle enjoyed midfield supremacy – here he struggled against Torquay’s strength and mobility.
Barely had a pass into feet from the moment the ball was kicked off, but he still should have done more to affect the game. Lolos did that by dropping deep, cutting out Sarcevic and Joel Grant, and working directly with Edwards to get the ball into attacking positions. Fletcher largely roamed around the Torquay box, waiting for the ball to break forward all throughout the first-half until his substitution.
19. Klaidi Lolos, ST – 7
Lolos took far more of the plaudits than Fletcher, but there wasn’t that much in it. Like Fletcher, Lolos’ touch was quite poor and he struggled to bring balls under control all night. The big difference between the two was the Greek’s willingness to drop back into midfield to receive the ball, which enabled him to find space, link up play and dribble at Torqauy’s back-line. He did this to fire away two shots, one of which was saved but the other nestled perfectly in the bottom corner, giving him his second goal in pre-season, both of which were fine finishes.
On his performances against Parkway and Torquay, expect Lolos to pick up some senior minutes once the season kicks off.
15. Conor Grant, RCM – 8, player of the match
No question that he was the best player tonight. The contrast between Argyle’s turgid midfield display in the first half and just the opening three minutes of the second said it all. Conor Grant is a player who actually has the skill-set to perform well in central-midfield, and it showed. While Sarcevic continued have no impact on the game, Grant was working time and time again to get Riley and Moore into attacking positions, pushing them beyond Torquay’s back line, in behind their defence and to the by-line. Had the delivery been there from those two, that would have been where Argyle would have created their chances from.
He took the game to the Gulls, driving at them in possession and flicking the ball around the defence into space. His crossing was good, though it still needs some work to improve it’s accuracy and consistency. At this point in time, he’s almost guaranteed to start alongside Danny Mayor at Crewe, unless a new signing is brought in ahead of him.
25. Scott Wootton, RCB – 6
Wootton has taken a lot of stick, particularly after his error at Truro, but his performance was fine here. He stabilised the right side of defence after Peck’s struggles in the first-half and looked far more comfortable in possession. Even more importantly, he actually communicated with the rest of the team: when Randell came on and was struggling under pressure, it was Wootton who was shouting and telling him what to do to play his way out of danger.
I’m still firmly of the opinion that trading Wootton out for a better model is the right thing to do here, but at least he showed against Torquay that he could be a back-up option in defence. Then again, ask me the same question in a few weeks and we’ll see if I have reversed that statement.
22. Tafari Moore, RWB – 6
Like Wootton, Moore wasn’t too bad here. The highlight was in attack; like Riley, he took the game to Torquay and interchanged with Conor Grant well down the right. However, he did still look like a wing-back rather than a winger, starting from positions that were too wide and too deep, while he relied on Grant to put him in attacking positions rather than engineering them himself. Meanwhile, once he had entered attacking positions his crossing was far from good enough to create chances.
HOWEVER, in defence he was unreliable once again. Twice, crosses came in to the back-post and Moore had no idea where Torquay’s striker was. Then, for Torquay’s temporary third – which was ruled out after the linesman adjudged the cross to have gone out of play – his positioning and communication was poor. With Joel Grant’s best position likely coming on at right wing-back and Joe Riley well ahead of Moore, it’s probably for the best that Moore gets a loan spell to help further his development.
17. Callum McFadzean, LWB – 6
McFadzean only had half-an-hour on the pitch but showed what he is going to bring to the team. He struggled without his partner in crime Danny Mayor on the left to help him in the same way Conor Grant was aiding Moore, but he still played with purpose. He buzzed around with energy and looked to take on his full-back every time there was an opportunity, quite the contrast to Smith-Brown.
It was only in the dying minutes that McFadzean was finally able to get into some good attacking positions. First, Jephcott freed Sarcevic to dribble into space – an area where Sarcevic is strong, rather than requiring him to be the person to free others into space – draw the man and play the ball into McFadzean, overlapping on the left. He hit it, but from a difficult angle only found the side netting. Then, Joel Grant finally came alive, delivering a wonderful switch of play to find the wing-back. McFadzean beat his man and whipped in a brilliant low cross along the six-yard box that only needed a slight touch. It got one, but from Torquay’s defender and rolled narrowly past the far post.
20. Adam Randell, CDM – 5
Randell thrived against Parkway, but under considerably more pressure against Torquay he struggled. Pushed into going backwards rather than forward, he was routinely set upon by players bigger and stronger than himself and failed to make much of an impact on the game. Argyle certainly missed Edwards’ calming, more physical presence one he departed the pitch.
Randell looks to have a bright future, and he will probably make a few appearances this season, but it’s a very early stage in his career and he would likely struggle. Yet, as it stands, Argyle are an injury to Joe Edwards away from having to promote Randell to a starting position once the season starts. While Lowe should look to get Randell some significant minutes on the pitch when the season gets underway, that would be a bold move and Argyle might suffer in his early matches while he made the rapid transition to professional football.
24. Luke Jephcott, ST – 5
Jephcott is still struggling to play as a striker in Lowe’s system. He was virtually anonymous against Truro and Parkway from that position before spending 45 minutes toiling against Torquay. Aside from his flick to set Sarcevic away, he made no impact on the game and looks out of his depth at the moment.
Jephcott obviously has time on his side, given he’s only at the beginning of his second year as a professional, but he’s going to have to pick up some specific skills, and fast, if he wants to make an impact on Lowe’s team this year.
26. Cameron Sangster, LCB – n/a
Sangster came on late as Argyle ended this game with a team closely resembling the XI that would feature in the South West Peninsula League last season. Despite being a central midfielder, he came on for Sawyer and slotted in on the left side of defence. Unsurprisingly he didn’t look especially comfortable there. However, it’s quite likely he slotted into that position because there were no other positions available to substitute him in to.
30. Tom Purrington, RCM – n/a
Purrington came on at the same time as Sangster, but unlike the latter he was finally able to get some minutes in central midfield, and he didn’t look too bad. Definitely an improvement on Sarcevic as he went looking for the ball a bit more and played a couple of intricate passes through Torquay’s midfield line.