Winner: Antoni Sarcevic
The return of Argyle’s number 7 to the midfield was vital to the performance that Argyle delivered in what turned out to be a routine win over Northampton. Though the results have vastly picked up since the Shrewsbury game, not many Argyle fans can truthfully say it has been a joy to watch us win. The largely counter-attacking style has seen us often camped back and looking to get chances on the break.
Today however, this changed. Sarcevic’s pace and energy, combined with his willingness to burst forward both with and without the ball, ensured Argyle were pushed much higher up the pitch. Argyle have noticeably scored fewer set-pieces this season and that has been in part due to the ultra-defensive style of play on show. However, with Sarcevic leading them, Argyle played twenty-yards further up the pitch against Northampton without ceding the sort of space that allowed Oxford exploited last weekend. This helped Argyle win both the two free-kicks from which Bradley headed home.
Aside from his good movement, Sarcevic was comfortable in possession and solid in defence, with only a couple of wayward passes and heavy touches going astray.
Winner: Sonny Bradley
Argyle’s lack of goals from set plays this season has mostly been due to having less set plays to begin with. When a game like today came along however, which Argyle controlled rather than simply reacting to, Mr Back-Post himself was on hand to ensure we took all opportunities that were handed to us.
Twice he towered above Northampton defenders, twice he made no mistake in heading home to secure all three points; he can even count himself unlucky to have not netted a hattrick. Bradley now has ten goals for Argyle, which makes him the third highest scoring defender for Argyle this century.
With 10 goals, Bradley is Argyle’s third highest scoring defender this century behind Paul Wotton and Graham Coughlan
Bradley isn’t just a winner because of his attacking involvement. Credit must also be given to his defensive performance which was solid and understated at all times. Though Bradley struggled at the start of the season – particularly mentally, as he regularly lost his discipline at critical points in matches – he is now firmly back in his groove and hopefully set to press on for another successful season.
Winner: Remi Matthews
Whilst Argyle dominated the game, Northampton did counter a couple of times and on each occasion, the loanee was on hand to make a good save. Only right at the end did Northampton finally put a chance past Matthews, only for Chris Long to fluff his lines and skew his effort wide. That is not to mention his response to Northampton corners – one of their attacking strengths – as he plucked them out of the air with ease all night. Indeed, his kicking was also more than satisfactory, finding an green shirt more often than not.
A good game by anyone’s standards then, but all the more impressive when you consider the background. Matthews had not one but two sore knees going into the game and was visibly hobbling in the warm-up. To battle through the pain barrier so excellently, and do all he had to so well, was an impressive feat. Argyle fans can only hope he continues to recover well and not suffer any reoccurrences ahead of Saturday’s match away to Pompey.
Loser: Ryan Edwards
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Ryan Edwards at this point in time. He’s been excellent for the last couple of months, forming a key component in the unbeaten run between Shrewsbury and Bradford. He has been forming a partnership nicely with Sonny Bradley and has stopped almost everything that came his way, making several goal line clearances along the way.
Yet, due to a frankly dubious red card against Oxford, his place returning to the team could be at threat due to how well the others have performed in his absence. Adams is not a manger who often, if ever, likes to change a winning side. It would be hard to push Antoni Sarcevic out of the midfield based on his performance, while Yann Songo’o has performed so well over the course of the season that it would appear harsh to bench him to allow for Edwards to return. Unless Adams were willing to bench Fox and return Songo’o to his adopted home of defensive midfield, the centre-back may well find that he has to play second fiddle for the first time since his move to Argyle.
As good of a season as he is having, the victory over Northampton makes it significantly less likely that he will make an immediate return to the side once his suspension is served.
Loser: Lionel Ainsworth
Argyle performed well tonight and on the surface it would appear churlish to look for too many negatives. However, the reintroduction of Antoni Sarcevic proves that even when a team is improving, it’s never too early to look for solutions to improve it even further. Whilst Ainsworth may not be a natural starter, he is certainly a player who can provide a lot from the bench. Whilst both winning and losing, his electric acceleration and crossing ability makes him a useful asset to spring from the bench – or at least it should do.
Ainsworth has created a chance every 69 minutes for Argyle, a better rate than any other player
Whilst Argyle by and large controlled the game, the last fifteen to twenty minutes did get a little stale. This was the perfect opportunity to bring on the diminutive winger, to add some spark on the counter and ideally grab that all important third goal. It is not as if Ainsworth cannot create chances: indeed, he has created the third highest amount of chances (7) out of any Argyle player this season, with only set piece specialists Carey and Fox ahead of him. It is important that, having made the choice to build a large squad rather than a small squad of higher quality, that Adams fully utilises his squad, as he did so masterfully last season. We especially do not want a repeat of the 2015/16 season, when a lack of rotation led to a months long injury crisis through autumn and winter. Next time Argyle are in a similar situation, it would be good to see Ainsworth bought on at an earlier stage, both to effect the game and rest other frequent starters.