Plymouth Argyle’s 1-1 draw with Shrewsbury was disappointing on face value. Granted, every point’s a prisoner, and that’s even more relevant when you’ve just been promoted and are looking to build. But Shrewsbury aren’t the best side Argyle will face at this level, and if the Greens really want to make a statement and challenge at the top this season, this is the sort of game they really ought to be winning.
Still, it’s five points from three games and an unbeaten start. Things could certainly be worse. Get a positive result against Hull next week, and the point against Shrewsbury could be seen in a very different light indeed. But that’ll be tough, and Ryan Lowe may well need to find his best eleven in order to take the game to the Tigers. That’s far from settled.
Varying levels of performances, and some potential injuries in defence and midfield, may make Lowe’s decision straightforward in those areas. However, the conundrum becomes slightly deeper when it comes to the strikeforce. Argyle have four main options at present for the two striker positions, and there’s an argument that each of them has done enough to earn a starting berth next weekend.
Telford in the thick of it
Having become the only player to score more than once for Argyle this season, including a dramatic equaliser at AFC Wimbledon last weekend, few could argue that Telford didn’t deserve his opportunity from the start against Shrewsbury. And he was certainly heavily involved in the game as it progressed.
This was most notable in the first half. On a couple of occasions he found himself with a shooting opportunity in the area, and both times he was denied by Matija Sarkic in the Shrewsbury goal. The first, a shot on the turn, wasn’t one you’d expect him to find the net with, but he’ll certainly be disappointed not to have done better with his second chance. After seeing his initial header palmed away, Telford put the follow-up from point-blank range too close to Sarkic, who was able to execute a superb double save.
Sarkic, incidentally, was outlined as a potential weakness in our Opposition View this week before playing a blinder. Just our luck I suppose.
Anyway, the series of events demonstrated exactly what Argyle will get with Telford. He certainly possesses that helpful striker’s knack of being in the right place at the right time – just look at his movement to get on the end of Conor Grant’s cross for the aforementioned equaliser against Wimbledon. However, even though he is Argyle’s joint top goalscorer this season, he certainly ought to have at least one more. The last miss against Shrewsbury was a bad one, and it followed a one-on-one he failed to put away against Leyton Orient, which would have put Argyle 3-0 up on the night.
Argyle almost find themselves in a catch 22 situation with Telford. There’s a nagging sense that the goals will flow even more once he gets into the swing of things with a run of games. Certainly, the foundations for that are very much present. However, with plenty of other options in the squad who can take his place, Lowe will have to consider whether the potential payoff would be worth the wait for everything to click.
Nouble finding his feet
We’re certainly getting a sense of exactly why Argyle signed Frank Nouble this summer. Following his winning goal against QPR on debut, there was a sense that he could combine the qualities Luke Jephcott and Ryan Hardie showed last year, with strong finishing and an ability to make powerful runs into the channels.
You’d have to be very harsh to say it hasn’t worked to at least some extent. Granted, Nouble has been quiet in periods of games so far, but he was instrumental in the comeback against Wimbledon, and the fact he hasn’t scored since his QPR goal hasn’t been for the want of trying. He had a chance on Saturday, but under pressure and on his weaker side you wouldn’t expect him to find the net. That he didn’t is no bad reflection on the player.
There is perhaps an argument that Nouble would be better suited to certain games above others. His comparatively low amount of chances suggests he isn’t the sort of striker likely to poach too many goals, à la Telford. But his physical presence is enough to cause trouble for plenty of defences across the coming months. Perhaps in games where Argyle don’t expect to see much of the ball, such as against Hull, playing Nouble with Panutche Camara in behind to sweep up the second balls could be a good source of attacks.
Either way, Nouble is still finding his feet at Argyle. And like so many, he’s given himself a solid platform to build upon.
Hardie and Jephcott poised
With all of the combinations tried so far this season, it’s easy to forget that Argyle already have a strikeforce proven to be successful in the current style.
A combination of internationals, ineligibility and injury have meant that we have yet to see Hardie and Jephcott line up together this season, but that surely can’t be far away. After the successes of last term, combined with the way that their skills seem to complement each other so well, many would argue that Hardie and Jephcott still make up Argyle’s best option for the striker positions. For now at least, I include myself in that.
In any case, it does go to show that there are far worse headaches Lowe and Argyle could be experiencing. If the manager decides to stick with Nouble and Telford, he’ll be comforted knowing that he has tried and tested replacements available. If he switches it up, he’ll now know that his two replacements have shown so far this season that they can cut it when called upon. And if there’s an injury as we’ve seen with Jephcott so far? Adequate cover is in place. It makes such a difference to 2017/18, for example, when any injury to Ryan Taylor made the attack far less potent.
Ultimately, Argyle’s strikeforce is in a strong place, with four decent options all vying for a first team place. Considering many strikers feed off confidence and like going on a run of scoring, the only downside is that Lowe can’t pick all of them.
Well, unless he goes completely mad with the attack, of course. Would you bet against it?