Argyle are on some run. It’s now just one defeat in the last 12 League One games, and Saturday’s encounter against Shrewsbury Town was possibly the pick of the lot, with Argyle dispatching of a side in the automatic promotion places for the second week in succession. That win in Shrewsbury, which consigned Town to only their second defeat at home all season, also saw Derek Adams’ side come from behind to win for the first time since April. The Pilgrims, rock bottom of the league as recently as two months ago, now find themselves tantalisingly poised just five points adrift of the final play-off place.
The success has been so good that all of the niggling complaints which took place during the slightly less fun times at the start of the season seem to have disappeared, almost completely. One particular comment I and many others made as Argyle were trying to turn their car crash of a season around was directed at the style of play. With Argyle on a dismal run, Adams did all he could to drag his seemingly doomed side back into contention, but that came with any potential excitement being sacrificed. Ultra-defensive performances like the 1-0 victories over Bradford City and AFC Wimbledon did help turn the Argyle oil tanker around, but something was lacking, there can be no doubt about that. But all of those complainants, myself included, seem to have gone rather quiet now.
Why? What’s changed? Well, put simply, Argyle have begun to excite their fans again both with their results and the manner in which they are achieving them. Since the start of December, Argyle have scored 22 goals, averaging almost two per game, having scored just 16 at an average of 0.8 per game in the 20 previous fixtures. And plenty of those have been perfect fits for anybody’s highlights reel. Graham Carey has, of course, chipped in with stunners against Oldham Athletic and Blackpool – the latter of which is still up there with the best I’ve seen – Ryan Taylor netted a beauty to secure victory against Walsall, Ruben Lameiras’ bullet of a strike set us on our way against Blackburn Rovers and so on. The performances of Carey and Lameiras when the game was already up against Bury in January were almost offensively good, such was the level of domination on the day. The truth is, those bemoaning Argyle’s style of play have kept quiet recently because there has been very little to moan about. Quite the opposite, in fact.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the turnaround in style occurred, but the reintegration of Lameiras and another attacking threat, Antoni Sarcevic, has clearly been key. Sarcevic, as he has demonstrated countless times, allows Argyle to play their football at least ten yards further upfield, and Lameiras has come on in leaps and bounds since his surprise inclusion against Oldham, and has finally had the chance to show exactly why many members of the Green Army were excited to watch him during pre-season. Both have also added the very handy bonus of a few goals lately, taking the burden away from Carey, Argyle’s only real creative outlet before the recent run.
We also need to look once more at the return from injury of key players, and in particular Taylor. The ex-Oxford United striker’s presence in the air is exactly what a Derek Adams team is crying out for, and indeed was crying out for during the period he was recovering from the broken ankle he picked up on opening day. Taylor may not be a prolific goalscorer, although that’s not to say he’s profligate in front of goal, but as Argyle’s record has shown, he doesn’t have to be. Taylor gives Argyle’s attack a whole new dynamic, and allows those behind him the creative freedom they simply weren’t offered when Argyle had Jake Jervis, Nathan Blissett and Nadir Ciftci as options for the central striker role. Argyle have also benefited from Jamie Ness’ timely return, as he finally starts to find his feet, topped off with his first goal for the club by netting the equaliser at the weekend. All of this, plus the sudden downturn in the amount of suspensions, has allowed Argyle to excite the fans and play with the freedom and style they have been over recent weeks.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent it was force majeure leading to Adams setting his side up to park the bus on a number of occasions, rather than stylistic choice. Argyle did indeed try to play this way at the start of the season before switching things up, but simply did not have the personnel to carry it out to a successful level. Now it’s working, and it’s simply a joy to watch. Even the slightest possibility of this becoming a special, promotion winning season is testament to the amazing work that has been done to turn the campaign around.
Now, Argyle need to continue with these performances consistently. The Greens, three wins in three, now face AFC Wimbledon, three defeats in three, and we all know not to take that one for granted based on recent years.