Following Argyle’s 4-0 defeat to Oxford United, Aly Whiting assess the winners and losers from a damaging defeat:
Loser: Derek Adams
Adams stuck with the same system that has delivered an uptake in results over the last six games, however following Edwards’ sending off he made the wrong call. Deciding to push forward in the search of an immediate equaliser, Argyle came close a couple of times – predictably at the instigation of Carey – but ultimately threw the game away. From the beginning of the second half, Oxford hit Argyle on the counter attack and time again, fully utilising the space Argyle afforded them to ram in three second half goals and create chances for at least two more. Whereas Argyle’s recent success has been built upon a solid rear-guard, Saturday afternoon was a reminder of the heavy defeat to Scunthorpe in August. Regardless of the merits of the red card, pushing forward too soon simply left the defence exposed and tired out the midfield, providing Oxford with ample opportunities to deliver the knock-out blow. It may not be popular, but quite often the best tactic when facing a long spell with ten men is to bunker down, avoid losing sight of the game and preserve your energy for a late push in the last quarter of the match – especially when it’s the system your team has been successfully deploying for more than a month.
Winner: Graham Carey
Argyle’s talisman returned to the team and in the first half it was as though he’d never been away. Unsurprisingly he was the team’s main attacking outlet and came closest to drawing the Greens level with a free-kick that rebounded off the post and then Eastwood’s head before rolling behind for a corner. His raids down the right provided multiple moments of concern for Oxford in what was a positive end to the opening 45 minutes. Quieter after the break as Oxford took a firm control of the game, Carey nevertheless represented the attacking light that shone the brightest on an otherwise dark day. Maybe not his best performance, but given the circumstances a winner on the day.
Loser: David Fox
Unsurprisingly for Fox, he was not at his best on Saturday as Oxford’s Jack Payne found all over Argyle’s midfield, causing all sorts of problems. As has been the case in recent weeks, the 33 year-old’s defensive positioning was suspect and, despite a promising first half, the second was a totally different story. Argyle pushed themselves even higher up the pitch and left both the midfield and defence exposed to Oxford’s counter attacks, unlike last weeks promising display at Bradford. At his best with the ball as his feet – as he reminded everyone when splitting Bradford’s defence in half with a single pass – Fox has struggled to exert the same levels of influence on matches as he did last year in a different position and system.
With Songo’o dropping back to cover Edwards, Fox was never able to provide the same levels of defensive cover, allowing Payne to dominate midfield and ultimately put Argyle to the sword. Regardless of a red card or change in formation, players should be able to adapt in light of the circumstances on the day – Fox was unable to do that.
Winner: Toumani Diagouraga
Ever since arriving at Argyle on a free transfer six games ago, Toumani has been tremendous in the heart of midfield alongside Songo’o and Fox; his defensive awareness and skill on the ball have made him a fans favourite at Home Park. On Saturday he did not disappoint, using his experience and providing total commitment on a day when Argyle had to fight for 80% of the match with ten men. Adams has done a great job when it comes to identifying and signing news players to improve the team, and Toumani is a shining example of that.
Argyle’s defeat to Oxford was their first loss since Diagouraga arrived in the South West in October
His Cruyff turn in the second half was one of many skills he has showed off during his short spell – once again getting the fans on their feet – and he gave his all to the cause, going off with just fifteen minutes left after running himself into the ground. A sterling effort from a midfielder who continues to improve Argyle’s performances.
Winner – Yann Songo’o
On his day he can be exceptional, and this season he has shown what a good player he can be, adjusting from his preferred position of central defence to a holding position alongside Fox and Diagouraga. He enjoyed a quiet start to the game as Argyle sparred with Oxford, though he made one fantastic slide tackle that almost created a counter-attacking opportunity. After Edwards’ sending off, Songo’o reverted to central defence alongside Sonny Bradley where he won the vast majority of his aerial battles and did his best to stand up to the wave of Oxford attacks against which he was provided no protection. With Edwards now out for two matches, most Argyle fans will be confident to have Songo’o as the backup centre-back, even though it may not have been the case last season.